MANHATTAN — Gene Taylor realizes college basketball may soon face its reckoning. Kansas State’s first-year athletic director has read the Yahoo Sports reports, seen the player-buying allegations and followed the FBI probe that cast a pall over the game and revealed a culture of corruption.
As troublesome as all that has been to digest, however, it only makes Taylor all the more appreciative of the situation he inherited with Bruce Weber directing the Wildcats’ program.
“With what’s going on in the world of college basketball, I couldn’t be more proud of Bruce and his coaches and these kids,” Taylor said Saturday after K-State’s 77-67 win against Baylor in the regular-season finale. “They do everything you want them to do, both on the court and off the court. And to have somebody like that, have a program like that, we’re pretty lucky.”
As effusive as those remarks were, Taylor wasn’t done.
“I think it’s huge right now,” he added. “Not only do you have a coach that’s doing everything the right way, you have players that are good academically and they’re in the classroom and they’re doing things on the floor and off the floor.
“Every time I open the paper, I don’t worry about our logo or our stories being out there with a negative. That’s really important.”
Like all ADs, Taylor won’t conduct his full evaluation of Weber until the end of the season. But he already is planning to address ways to strengthen K-State’s nonconference schedule with the sixth-year coach — more on that topic later — so he clearly isn’t planning a coaching change.
Look, Weber’s job likely was safe even before Saturday, considering the Wildcats are expected to return all their key players from this year’s team. (Hey, Dean Wade, you aren’t planning on going anywhere, are you?)
Now that the Wildcats (21-10, 10-8) have secured a fourth-place Big 12 finish — that’s a two-spot improvement from a year ago — and likely reserved their spot at another Big Dance, Taylor says he is “absolutely” convinced progress has been made under Weber, who has amassed K-State records of 121-78 overall and 55-53 in the league.
“I’ve been really pleased,” he said, mindful that K-State was picked eighth in the Big 12 coaches’ preseason poll. “It’s been a fun team to watch.”
Not that everything is rosy with the Wildcats, of course. As aforementioned, Taylor’s primary concern involves the team’s schedule.
K-State has been bogged down all season by a nonconference slate that ranks 326th nationally. Playing opponents such as South Carolina Upstate (3-25, 344 RPI), American (6-24, 333) and Southeast Missouri (12-17, 258) did nothing to help the Wildcats’ postseason resume or excite fans. Even games against Power Five opponents Washington State (12-18, 174) and Vanderbilt (12-19, 117) proved burdensome.
“I think it’s really important for us to find ways to strengthen our nonconference schedule, and (Weber is) not opposed to that, trust me,” Taylor said. “The good news is with basketball you can kind of do that on an annual basis. You don’t have the four or five years where you have to schedule that far out.
“They’re working on it, so I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal, but we need to get that better for a lot of the reasons — for our fans, for RPI, all that stuff.”
The Wildcats’ 2018-19 schedule already includes noncon games against Tulsa and Vanderbilt — lackluster foes that K-State played this season — as well as a Thanksgiving trip to the Paradise Jam, which also includes Missouri, Oregon State and Northern Iowa, among others.
Still, Taylor knows that won’t cut it. More meat must be added for fans to find the slate palatable and show up in November and December.
Who knows what deals can be struck, but there are a number of schools K-State officials should contact, if they haven’t already.
Wichita State, for starters. This game should be an annual affair. College hoops fans throughout Kansas would relish a regular “State of the States” clash, don’t you think?
And what about occasional or frequent arrangements with former Big 12 rivals Nebraska and Missouri? These games would be mutually beneficial in terms of bolstering schedule strength and also generate considerable interest among those who miss the old Big Eight showdowns.
Even a neutral-site contest against Creighton might create some regional interest. It certainly would have this season, with former Wildcat Marcus Foster concluding his Bluejays career.
Or how about a Lucky Lavenders game against former K-State guard Tim Jankovich and SMU? That might not be the sexiest matchup, but it would give longtime supporters a chance to see a familiar face and give Topekans a chance to watch former Highland Park All-Stater Jahmal McMurray.
If you really want to dream big, how about a home-and-home with Frank Martin and South Carolina? Or Brad Underwood and Illinois? It’s hard to imagine Weber signing off on either of those matchups, but if K-State really wants to do right by its fans, those games almost certainly would pack Bramlage Coliseum.
“You just never know,” Taylor said. “It’s just a matter of who’s going to be out there this year that we can get (for) a home-and-home and who haven’t we really thought about. Are there other Power Five programs that we haven’t talked to? Let’s work on that and see what’s out there.”
K-State absolutely needs to do that. Extra attention must be paid to the schedule so the Wildcats avoid the issues they faced this year.
But in this day and age and in this time of college basketball unrest, those are the kind of issues you’re happy to address.