GAME NOTES: The Kansas State Wildcats tip off the 2013-14 season at home on Friday night, as they take on the Northern Colorado Bears in non-conference action.
Northern Colorado had a modest run in the Big Sky Conference last season, going .500 in league play with a 10-10 record, but overall it struggled mightily and finished at just 13-18. The Bears hope to get off to a faster start this season, as they went just 1-6 to open 2012-13.
On the other hand, Kansas State was outstanding a season ago in Bruce Weber's first year as head coach, finishing 27-8 overall and 14-4 in the Big 12 Conference, rising as high as No. 9 in the AP poll. The Wildcats' efforts landed them in the NCAA Tournament field for the fourth consecutive season, but they had their earliest exit of that run after getting upset by 13th- seeded La Salle in the second round, 63-61.
Each side has beaten the other twice in the all-time series, although the squads have not met since the 1937-38 season.
Northern Colorado had one of the Big Sky's most impressive scoring attacks last season with more than 70 points per game, and with the return of its top three performers, a similar output this time around seems likely. Derrick Barden is a sturdy anchor in the frontcourt, posting 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game while shooting 54.3 percent from the field (including 47.2 percent from 3-point range). Tate Unruh (13.5 ppg) matched Barden's scoring output and was nearly automatic from the foul line (.905). Tevin Svihovec (11.9 ppg) brings distribution skills to the table, handing out 3.2 assists per contest. Connor Osborne (6.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg) started every game last season, and is the team's active leader with 56 blocks.
Despite Kansas State's outstanding season in 2012-13, it comes into this year unranked due to the loss of a few key players, including Rodney McGruder (15.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg), who graduated, and Angel Rodriguez (11.4 ppg, 4.9 apg), who transferred to Miami-Florida. Shane Southwell (8.4 ppg) will be looked to as the go-to option in his senior season, and he has proven to be reliable from long distance (.436 3-point field goal percentage). Will Spradling (7.4 ppg) joins Southwell in the backcourt, while Thomas Gipson (7.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg) is the team's most experienced forward. With plenty of unknowns on the roster, true freshmen Jack Karapetyan, Nigel Johnson, Marcus Foster and Jevon Thomas could all have an opportunity to make an impact from the outset.
Although Kansas State's talent has been depleted significantly from this time last year, which could ultimately cost it down the road in the difficult Big 12, it still boasts enough firepower to dismiss a team like Northern Colorado.
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