The career of Kansas State coach Bruce Weber was summarized poetically on Monday night at the “Octagon of Doom” in Manhattan, Kan. The stakes were that hated Kansas was in town, and a win would have put Kansas State into a four-way tie for No. 1 in the Big 12.
A win, and Kansas State is suddenly having a magical season, Weber is the engineer of a stunning mid-season turnaround, possibly the Big 12 coach of the year for the second time.
But then No. 7 Kansas (18-4, 7-2 Big 12) won that game, because Kansas almost always wins that game, and now Kansas State (16-6, 5-4) is alone in fifth place, with its next two games on the road against Texas (14-7, 4-4) and No. 15 West Virginia (16-5, 5-3).
Yes, “fire Bruce.” You hear a lot of complaining about Bruce — he’s one of the only coaches who routinely is referred to by his first name only — but then again there are a lot of excuses made for Bruce, by Bruce and others. Last night, after Holly Rowe told everyone Bruce was in a timeout telling his team “they’re just people!” in an effort to relieve their feeling of intimidation, Fran Fraschilla advanced the … we’ll call it “unusual” … notion that the reason Kansas State has so much trouble beating Kansas in Manhattan is that the K-State crowd is so good it makes the home team play worse.
But that’s just the sort of thing you get with Bruce, whose teams often seem like overachievers who should be overachieving just a little bit more.
Weber has a pretty good resume. He’s been the coach of the year three times in three different conferences, he’s won five conference championships (two Missouri Valley, two Big Ten, one Big 12), he’s been to a Final Four (2005) and he’s been the national coach of the year (2005). That his greatest successes have come with players mostly recruited by someone else is a fact that is often mentioned in these conversations and now, in his sixth season at Kansas State, he has assembled a roster with one all-conference-level player (forward Dean Wade), a generally good scorer in Barry Brown and … some other guys.
Which brings us to the Bruce Weber Paradox: Is it impressive that the team he has assembled is having the season it is having, or is it an indictment that this is the team he has assembled? How much credit do you get for (partially) coaching yourself out of a hole of your own creation?
Weber’s teams generally run disciplined offense and sound, if not necessarily disruptive, defense. Take a glance at the Big 12 stats, and you see an average team. The Wildcats are eighth in the Big 12 in scoring, fourth in scoring defense, third in field goal percentage, seventh in field goal percentage defense, second in turnover margin, last in rebounding margin, last in blocked shots.
What you take away from all this will largely depend on your pre-existing opinion of Weber. A lot of Kansas State fans jumped off the train a year or two ago.
But then a lot of them look out over the great expanse of college basketball and Kansas State history and think, well, all in all, this is not so bad.