The expectations are very high for No. 12 Kansas State, as the Wildcats return every significant player from last year's squad that reached the Elite 8 and they added two players to fill in the gaps. The Wildcats open the 2018-19 season Friday when they host Kennesaw State at Bramlage Coliseum.
The Wildcats return 94 percent of their scoring and 91 percent of their rebounding from 2017-18. All the starters return, including Dean Wade, who led the team in scoring (16.2 points per game) and rebounding (6.2 per game). Wade missed all but a few minutes of K-State's run through the NCAA tournament with an injured left foot.
He's fully healthy now, and ready to show why he was a preseason Big 12 player of the year.
"I went out there and dunked one first thing," Wade said when asked about the first thing he did when he was cleared to practice.
"(Rebounding) is really (the) main focus for me. I just had to work hard in the weight room this offseason and gain some strength. I'm going to go after every rebound. Last year, I didn't go after every rebound, only the ones that went in my area. That is a big thing for me, to go out of my area and get all the rebounds.
But Wade is not the only reason head coach Bruce Weber is excited about his seventh season in Manhattan.
"You're always excited at this time, but for us probably a little more because we have a lot of veterans back," Weber said at Big 12 Media Day in October. "We have some experienced seniors in Barry Brown, Dean Wade and Kamau Stokes who have started since their freshmen years. You have the experience factor and the leadership of those guys--probably as good (at leading) as I've ever coached.
"They're all good workers, which helps us. We have basically the whole team back and many of them started on a team that went to the Elite Eight."
The last time the Wildcats came off an Elite 8 run, they finished the next season 23-11, including 10-6 (third place) in the Big 12, and got bounced in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"Every team is different," he said. "We're going through the learning process, figuring out each role and who the other guys are going to be. We will see what happens, but it's a fun time of the year and we're excited, looking forward to hopefully an exciting season for K-State basketball."
The Wildcats' biggest weakness was rebounding, where they finished last in the Big 12 and 340th in the nation. But junior Austin Trice, the leading rebounder in junior college last year, should help there.
"They got to the Elite Eight last year without me," Trice said. "Now, Coach Weber says he needs rebounding. I just plan on running the floor hard, rebounding everything that comes off the rim and not letting anyone get in my way."
Kennesaw State (1-0 after a victory over Division III Oglethorpe) finished 10-20 last season. The Owls are led by junior guard Tyler Hooker who scored 10.8 points per game. He was second on the team with 38 steals.
The Owls are coached by Al Skinner, a former Division I national coach of the year and two-time BIG EAST Conference Coach of the Year (with Boston College). He enters his fourth season as the Kennesaw State head coach, and carries a 420-348 record all-time.