Howard, Hawaii & Player Evaluations

30 Dec

As the Baylor and Washington football teams engaged in a shootout that would go down as one of the most prolific offensive bowl games of all time, the little bar across the bottom of screen scrolled the score of a much less competitive basketball contest.

Kansas 89, Howard 34.

Howard is next on Kansas State’s schedule, right before it hits the tough trio of Kansas, Missouri and Baylor. How will Frank Martin keep a team that he has cited as being immature and unfocused at times from looking ahead to 2012 and its tantalizing slate of conference rivals?

After all, it is not as if Kansas was even Howard’s worst loss this season. At Indiana on Dec. 19, the Bison lost 107-50. The team is 4-10 overall and 1-9 in road games.

Junior guard Rodney McGruder said Kansas State has a tendency to play to the level of its competition. As one might surmise from the above numbers, that would not bode well for the Wildcats.

Glen Andrews and Calvin Thompson are Howard’s leading scorers, contributing 11 and 10 points per game, respectively. Mike Phillips pulls down almost 7 rebounds per game, and Alphonso Leary grabs 5 per game. Andrews has only played in four games this season but has started each one. Thompson missed three games with a groin injury earlier in the season. Since Howard now has both of those guys available, it stands to reason that the team could improve as 2o11 wraps up and 2012 begins.

Still, it should not be enough to create much of a problem for Kansas State, who is ranked No. 25 in the ESPN/USA Today poll and receiving votes in the AP poll. The Wildcats are talented and deep, vastly improved with much more room for improvement still.

Rodney McGruder played his best basketball of the season in the Hawaii tournament, particularly with his 28-point effort in the championship game over Long Beach State. Jamar Samuels scored in double figures each game of the tournament and rebounded well also. Angel Rodriguez showed flashes of potential by contributing 17 points against Southern Illinois and 16 points against UTEP, leading his team in scoring both nights.

Of course, the one characteristic Martin really wants out of this team is consistency. So far, he said, the approach of McGruder and point guard Will Spradling fits into that category. As far as the play of individuals in games, the Wildcats have work to do.

  • McGruder gave a great showing in Hawaii, but he struggled to make shots earlier in the season.
  • Big-bodied freshman forward Thomas Gipson looked fantastic early on, but his impact in games has decreased recently, as he scored just 16 points between the three games of the tournament despite starting each one.
  • Rodriguez already has people comparing him to Denis Clemente, but the freshman often gets ahead of himself, tearing down the court out of control and either putting up bad shots or losing the ball. The way he took over in the first two games of the tournament, though, gives an idea of his ability as a player and a leader.
  • Jordan Henriquez has looked much more confident and powerful in the post than he ever did last season, but his production has been a bit variable. That said, his size and newfound aggression at the rim make him one of the most promising players on this team.
  • Spradling has a knack for knowing when to shoot. He dishes it off to teammates but sometimes pulls up immediately for a 3-pointer if it is in the rhythm of the game and he feels good about the look he has at the basket. That “basketball IQ” and work ethic that Martin said Spradling’s coaching dad instilled make it hard to think anything but good will come from Spradling this season.
  • Samuels has had a bit of a hard time scoring underneath, but he still puts points on the board because he gets in good position at the rim, takes the fouls, and makes his free throws. Multiple times this season he has scored in double figures with the majority of his points coming at the free throw line. He is also rebounding fairly well. His senior season is shaping up nicely.

As stated earlier, the Wildcats should have no problem with Howard. As far as the Big 12 opponents after that … well, I will borrow every coach’s philosophy and analyze this team one game at a time.

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