MANHATTAN — Bruce Weber is willing to admit that he’s not exactly pleased with the way Kansas State’s Big 12 schedule worked out.
The double round-robin format means each team will play 18 games from the first week of January through the first week of March. To fit it all in, teams will only get one week during that stretch when they play just once — the closest thing to a bye that they’ll get.
The 18th-ranked Wildcats had theirs after their very first game.
But if any team is built to deal with the rigors of conference life, it just may be Weber’s bunch of veterans. Not only have most of them been through the grind a couple times, there are a lot of them: An astonishing 11 players average at least 11 minutes per game.
“That’s a huge factor,” said senior Rodney McGruder, who scored all but two of his 28 points in the second half of the Wildcats’ win over then-No. 22 Oklahoma State last Saturday.
McGruder said one of the reasons for his late-game success was that the Cowboys had been worn down. Most of their starters had played at least 18 minutes in the first half — guard Markel Brown played 39 for the game — and foul trouble only served to compound their problem.
“Brown looked a little worn down at the end of the game, and we were subbing a little more,” McGruder said. “Guys were fresher. Depth is key. It’s key to any successful team.”
Depth is one thing.
Quality depth is quite another.
The Wildcats (12-2, 1-0 Big 12) have six players averaging at least six points a game, and three more chip in at least four a game. They’ve had five different players lead them in scoring though 14 games, making them one of the most balanced teams in the Big 12, if not the country.
In their upset last month of then-No. 8 Florida, the Wildcats got 17 points in 39 minutes from Will Spradling. But they also had eight players get into the game for at least 17 minutes, and constant substituting helped fend off every move the Gators made down the stretch.
Kansas State followed the win with a brief winter break, and when the team reconvened after the holidays, guards Angel Rodriguez and Martavious Irving had come down with injuries.
The Wildcats were able to withstand losing two of their best ball-handlers and distributors because they could rely on others. Nino Williams and Omari Lawrence had break-out games in wins over UMKC and South Dakota.
“You don’t beat Florida and not be very good,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford. “They’re very well-coached, they have some veteran players. Everybody is back from last year except one player. They’re very good. They’re supposed to be very good.”
He saw that first-hand last Saturday night.
“You got to have some other guys,” said Ford, who had been looking for some depth of his own early in the season. “McGruder’s not going to be able to win it every night by himself. You have to have other guys step up, and you have to give Kansas State credit for that.”
While the depth is a luxury, Weber said it also creates some problems.
For one thing, it’s hard to find enough minutes to go around.
Post players Adrian Diaz and D.J. Johnson have had trouble getting onto the court, simply because of the big guys playing in front of them. Same goes for Johnson’s fellow freshman, Michael Orris, who’s only played 36 minutes all season because of the log-jam in front of him.
“Adrian and A.J. we need to get in the mix,” Weber said. “One of those guys should have redshirted, but they were playing so well early. It was tough to do. We need to get one of those guys involved, because you never know what could happen. We’ve had injuries already and it could happen again.”
Especially with the schedule the Wildcats face the next couple months.
It starts back up again on Saturday, when they visit Big 12 newcomer West Virginia. Then another game on the road against TCU before returning home to face Oklahoma.
All in the span of a week.
Good thing for the Wildcats that they’re built for the grind.