Multiple times over the past several years, I thought Bruce Weber was just about done at Kansas State. Moreover, many Wildcat fans wanted him out. Full disclosure: I felt he needed to go, too.
The knock on Weber has been that he could win with players he inherited, but couldn’t build his own power conference program. He inherited Bill Self’s players at Illinois and led them to the 2005 national championship game versus North Carolina. He inherited Frank Martin’s players at Kansas State and led them to a No. 4 seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Then KSU steadily declined, and as the 2018 NCAA Tournament began, K-State was a No. 9 seed, expected to do nothing beyond win one game.
Then UMBC knocked off Virginia in the first 16-over-1 upset in men’s basketball history. (A 16-1 upset had occurred in the women’s game 20 years before, when Harvard stunned Stanford in 1998.)
One week later, Weber was coaching for a spot in the Final Four. His Cats clawed their way to the Elite Eight and knocked off Kentucky along the way. It was a luck-aided journey to the Elite Eight, but hey, Kansas State was there to take advantage. Someone, somewhere, gets a “bracket break” every March. Teams and coaches need to pounce on those opportunities when they emerge. Kansas State didn’t get all the way to the Final Four in San Antonio, but it did match what Frank Martin’s 2010 team did.
Improbably but genuinely, Weber had done something significant, having teetered on the brink of disaster numerous times in previous seasons.
What’s even more improbable: Weber is producing a better season in 2019 than he did in 2018. Weber has a chance in these next four weeks to give himself an immortal place in the history of Kansas State and Big 12 basketball… for good reasons, not bad ones.
If you mention those two words to any college basketball fan, most will be able to tell you what you are referring to. If you mention those two words to any Big 12 college basketball fan, 100 percent of respondents will know what you mean.
The Kansas Jayhawks have won at least a piece of the Big 12 title for 14 straight seasons. The last coach to deny KU a share of the Big 12 crown was Eddie Sutton of Oklahoma State in 2004. Sutton’s name will constantly come up as long as “The Streak” still lives.
Which Big 12 coach has the best chance to be the streak-stopper this year? It is Bruce Weber.
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His Kansas State team keeps taking the court, keeps locking down opposing offenses, and keeps winning Big 12 games. The Wildcats have their own streak — eight straight conference wins — after beating Baylor on the road on Saturday night. Kansas State does have to visit Phog Allen Fieldhouse, so the Wildcats might give up one game to Kansas, but they lead by two in the loss column. Kansas State really could do this. Bruce Weber really could be the man to end this run by Bill Self.
It is a remarkable possibility. Actually turning possibility into reality would become a phenomenal “rise from the ashes” story.
Remember how bad things seemed to be for Kansas State a few years ago. Weber had problems keeping his players in line. Disciplinary complications led to Marcus Foster transferring out of the program to Creighton. Ugly off-court realities and inconsistent on-court results had KSU fans (very reasonably, I might add) clamoring for Brad Underwood to be brought in to save the program.
I supported the idea. I won’t lie or deny here. I was right with a lot of K-State fans on this issue.
Now I have to give Weber full credit for not only coaching better, but for finding a way to make halfcourt defense the anchor of his program. He obviously decided that was the best way for Kansas State to succeed, and he has implemented his plan brilliantly. His offenses don’t have to be spectacular; they just need the timely infusions of offense provided by Cartier Diarra, Barry Brown, and Dean Wade.
Bruce Weber has a lot of work left to do in order to put an end to “The Streak.” It’s not over until Kansas says it’s over.
Nevertheless, Kansas State has the opportunity of a lifetime. So does Bruce Weber.
That we are even in this position of possibility is something no one expected two years ago.
Give a man credit for reviving his coaching career and standing on the doorstep of history in Manhattan, Kansas.
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