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Basketball

PREVIEW: How Kansas State turned into a threat in the Big 12

Jan 21, 2017; Manhattan, KS, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers forward Sagaba Donate (50) is blocked out for a rebound by Kansas State Wildcats forward D.J. Johnson (4) and guard Wesley Iwundu (25) during a game at Fred Bramlage Coliseum. The Wildcats won the game 79-75. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Besides Baylor being ranked in the top five, is there a bigger surprise in the Big 12 this season than Kansas State’s 15-4 (4-3) start?

The Wildcats, who will invade Hilton Coliseum for tonight’s 8 o’clock tip (ESPNU), have turned a lot of heads this year and are a really neat story.

Bruce Weber, whose seat was getting pretty hot this offseason (to outsiders at least), didn’t go out and acquire a one-and-done recruit to save the day. There aren’t any transfers on this team. Kansas State has climbed its way to the top half of the Big 12 by doing things the old school way: player development.

“They have a lot of guys back and they have improved their games,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said.

For the record, Kansas State was picked to finish 9th in the Big 12 this preseason by the league’s coaches.

Last week, K-State went on the road to win at Oklahoma State before knocking of 7th-ranked West Virginia at home.

This team appears to be for real, which is why Vegas only has the Cyclones as five-point favorites tonight.

BUILT ON TRUST: Steve Prohm focuses on team bonds in advance of K-State

Drastically improved offense

Why is this team so much better this year compared to last?

K-State is a lot better on offense.

For example, the Wildcats have scored 80 or more points eight times this season. That totals the amount of games K-State went over 80 in all of last year combined.

“Coach Weber has done a great job offensively in the half court,” Prohm said. “They run with great pace. They post you up. They cut hard. They are just a tough-minded group. They brought a lot of guys back. All of those guys are better and their chemistry is really good.”

The biggest number to show Kansas State’s offensive improvement comes from behind-the-arc. Last season (in conference play), the Wildcats made only 30 percent of their long balls, which slotted them dead last in the Big 12.

This year, K-State is at 38.3 percent, which is not only ahead of Iowa State (36 percent) but good enough for third in the league. 

“Wesley Iwundu was a guy last year who was gap, gap, gap, gap, and now he is making threes,” Prohm said. “Their perimeter shooting is totally different to where last year, you wanted them to shoot perimeter jump shots.”

Kansas State is the only team in the Big 12 where all five starters are averaging double figures.

A long front line featuring Dean Wade (6-foot-7, 230) and D.J. Johnson (6-foot-9, 237) is sure to give Iowa State fits.

“He’s (Johnson) just an imposing, dunking workhorse down there who gave us trouble last year,” Prohm said.

Five things to think about

1 – How ridiculous has Monte Morris been during Big 12 play. 

First of all, he’s averaging a league high 39.4 minutes per game.

Of course, Morris is leading the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio at 45-to-6. Nobody else in the league even comes close to that.

All of a sudden Morris has also become one of the league’s top 3-point shooters too. When it comes to percentage, he’s fifth right now at 47 percent.

Morris is also averaging 2.7 steals per content (second in the league).

Iowa State’s senior point guard is in a special, special zone right now.

2 – Iowa State really needs an encore from Merrill Holden tonight.

As noted above, Kansas State’s front line has the size and talent to expose the Cyclones down low.

Will that happen? Jared Stansbury wrote a great piece on Holden yesterday.

A humble Holden changes Iowa State’s team

3 – While Iowa State has certainly struggled on the glass this year, the Cyclones have been equally good when it comes to turning the opposition over.

The Cyclones lead the league in steals at 10.4 per game and also turnover margin at +7.7. Next closest is West Virginia at +4.0.

4 – In Saturday’s win over West Virginia, Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu made history by becoming the first player in school history to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 steals in a career.

5 – KenPom.com is projecting a 72-68 Iowa State victory. The same service has Iowa State ranked 24th in the nation with Kansas State two spots behind at 26th.

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