MANHATTAN — So much for tamping down lofty expectations.
Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber simply isn’t having it.
With his team’s season opener still a month and a half away, Weber already was taking prognosticators to task Wednesday during the Wildcats’ media day. And that for preseason rankings ranging anywhere from No. 8 by NBCsports.com to 14 on SI.com.
“It still baffles me a little bit that we have everyone back, we were in the Elite Eight, without our best player, with some of the best stats in the history and probably the best league in history of a 10-team league and we’re not rated as high,” Weber said. “Sometimes they don’t pay attention, I guess, but we’ll see.”
Indeed, there’s good reason why expectations surrounding the 2018-19 Wildcats are sky-high. After surviving as a bubble team late in the regular season, they caught fire in the NCAA Tournament, knocking off Kentucky in the Sweet 16 — all with All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade sidelined by a foot injury.
So with a veteran team that returns all five starters — six, considering that Cartier Diarra took over and excelled at point guard when Kamau Stokes was injured — Weber clearly feels comfortable embracing a front-runner role.
So do his players, though certainly with a more low-key approach. Wade, who had a breakout junior year in which he averaged 16.2 points and 6.2 rebounds, even sounded a cautionary note.
“We just try not to think about it, really, because there’s teams that were ranked (preseason) top 10 last year that were out of the top 25 in three weeks,” he said. “You can’t really trust those kinds of things, so we’ve got to go out there and prove that we deserve being top 15.
“We won’t worry about it until the time comes where we have to step out and play, and hopefully we’ll prove that we deserve it.”
The Wildcats also were picked second in the conference by Street and Smith, Lindy’s Sports and Athlon Sports preseason publications. But senior guard Barry Brown, a second-team All-Big 12 selection and a member of the league’s all-defense team, shrugged off any pressure to live up to the hype.
“We haven’t had the expectations before, so I feel that it could be easy to worry about them, but I’m not too worried,” said Brown, who averaged 15.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 steals. “We’re going to come out and play hard, I know that.
“When we do that and continue to listen to our coaches like we’ve been doing this whole year and even last year, I feel like we’re going to be fine.”
For Weber, it’s all about building on last year’s success, when the Wildcats finished 25-12 overall and fourth in the Big 12 with a 10-8 mark.
“I said a year ago, getting to the NCAA Tournament, winning one game, was a great motivator,” he said. “And I really believe that’s another step that we took, so it’s helped with our guys.
Diarra, a third-year sophomore who missed the 2016-17 season with an injury, agreed.
“I feel like anything is possible,” he said. “I’m riding with my group of guys to the end, and we can do whatever we want to do.”
The key, according to Brown, is for the Wildcats not to get ahead of themselves.
“It depends on us, how we come out every game, come out every practice,” he said. “We can cap ourselves or we can unlimit ourselves.
“We’re just going to take it day by day, but if we continue to do the things that are right for our team, there’s no ceiling.”
Even Weber, for all his bluster, is encouraging his players to enjoy the ride.
“We really focus on day to day, the journey, enjoying it (and) enjoying each other,” he said. “You’re never going to have this opportunity again.
“Keep improving, pushing yourself, playing together (and) sharing the basketball. If we can focus on that stuff, it’s fine.”