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K-State to tip off against Drake

Arne Green
agreen@saina.com
Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber is eager to see how his Wildcats perform in Wednesday's season opener against Drake.

MANHATTAN — Kansas State coach Bruce Weber was thrilled to learn Friday that he had enough players to scrimmage five on five.

With Wednesday's season opener just days away, that in itself was a luxury he had not been afforded for better than two weeks. But it also drove home the point of how limited the Wildcats had been during that time.

"In a way, obviously it's helped us because that's how you've got to play the game," said Weber, whose Wildcats face Drake at 1 p.m. in the first game of the inaugural Little Apple Classic at Bramlage Coliseum. "But at the same time, it's a little scary because you realize how much you haven't gone through.

"I'm happy that we had Thursday 10 guys for the most part — we tried to be careful with a couple of them just getting back — and then Friday and Saturday. So you got a little more rhythm, got to play a little more (and) we got to scrimmage a little more on Saturday."

Even under the best of circumstances — no injuries or coronavirus pandemic — Weber had his hands full piecing together a roster with just four returning players and only one senior.

"We've talked about starting to build roles, starting to build our team, starting to build trust," he said. "Trust as teammates, playing with each other, but also building a trust of the coaches.

"So we have a good feel, but that's what the exhibition games and scrimmages would have been about, kind of putting those in. We're going to have to just kind of play it by ear."

The same is true of picking a starting five for the opener.

"I've got to see how a couple of injuries play out here the next couple of days before I make a decision," Weber said Monday morning. "I know what I'd like it to be, but I'm not sure exactly what it will be, because we've had some guys with some injuries (and) some guys that have sat out, so we'll see what happens in practice today and tomorrow."

The three returning starters from a year ago — senior guard Mike McGuirl, sophomore guard DaJuan Gordon and sophomore forward Montavious Murphy — are good bets to take the floor for the opening tip. Freshman point guard Nijel Pack and 6-foot-10 sophomore transfer Kaosi Ezeagu are other possible choices, along with 7-foot freshman Davion Bradford and returning sophomore forward Antonio Gordon. McGuirl is the top returning scorer after averaging 6.9 points a game last year, while DaJuan Gordon added 6.3 points and Murphy 5.2 to go with 3.7 rebounds.

The Wildcats will face a veteran Drake team that went 20-4 last year. The Bulldogs lost top scorer and rebounder Liam Robbins (14.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg) to Minnesota through the transfer portal, but return junior point guard Roman Penn, who averaged 12.1 points and led the Missouri Valley Conference with 5.6 assists per game.

Senior forward Tremell Murphy, who averaged 10 points as a sophomore before missing most of last season with an injury, also is back, and third-year coach Darian DeVries brought in big man Darnell Brodie from Seton Hall and Wisconsin-Green Bay graduate transfer Shanquan Hemphill at forward.

K-State will face Colorado at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the second game of the Little Apple Classic. Colorado plays South Dakota at 7 p.m. Wednesday, while Drake and South Dakota square off at 1 p.m. Friday.

DRAKE AT KANSAS STATE

Tipoff: 1 p.m., Wednesday, Bramlage Coliseum (12,528), Manhattan.

Records: Drake 0-0, Kansas State 0-0.

TV/Radio: ESPNU/Salina: KSAL-AM (1150).

Next up for K-State: Friday, 7:30 p.m., Colorado, Bramlage Coliseum.