MANHATTAN -- Call it the Dean Wade effect.
If you're looking for an elaborate explanation as to why the Kansas State basketball team has won five straight games and rocketed to the top of the Big 12 standings, you don't need to look much further than its senior forward.
Wade, the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, returned to the lineup four games ago and the Wildcats have been on a roll ever since. They have radically improved on offense, become even more stingy on defense and shown new degrees of toughness and poise on both ends of the court.
Here are some numbers that illustrate K-State's turnaround with Wade back at full strength.
During the first 14 games of the season, when the Wildcats started 10-4 and lost their first two Big 12 games, they ranked 268th nationally in adjusted offense efficiency. They have ranked 34th in the same statistical category during this winning streak. They are making 52 percent of their two-point shots (up from 48 percent), and they are shooting 34 percent from three-point range (up from 30 percent).
The Wildcats were exceptionally sharp on two-pointers in their last game, making 14 of 24 attempts against a Texas Tech defense that led the nation in two-point percentage.
K-State averaged more than one point per possession in just four of its first 14 games, yet has topped that mark three times in its past five games. Its overall scoring average (65.2) surprisingly has remained the same, but there is a reason for that. K-State has slowed its offensive pace to a crawl, seeing no more than 64 possessions in its last five games. The national average is 69.
Bruce Weber thinks that is a result of facing Big 12 defenses.
"It's not like we're saying don't push it," Weber said. "We aren't trying to jack it, but I think the defenses are all good in the (Big 12). Everyone guards. Every team has their style. You have to put time and preparation in, otherwise you are going to be behind."
That hasn't been a problem for K-State.
"It's just knowing what defenses like to take to take away and countering that kind of stuff," senior guard Barry Brown said. "We understand how to score against teams. We watch a lot of film. Coaches tell us how teams are going to guard us and sure enough they do exactly what they say."
Shortening games has made it more difficult than ever for opposing teams to score.
That has led to some elite defensive performances for the Wildcats. They have ranked in the top 10 of most defensive statistical categories all season, but they have been particularly good lately. They held Texas Tech (45), TCU (55) and Iowa State (57) to season-low point totals, and held Oklahoma (61) below its average. The Wildcats were at their best against the Red Raiders, limiting them to 0.74 points per possession, a K-State record during the Bruce Weber era.
K-State perfectly executed pressure man-to-man defense the whole way. Players knew when to switch, guarded the perimeter and kept guards out of the paint.
During one possession in the second half, the Wildcats turned away four driving Texas Tech players and forced the Red Raiders to try a highly contested mid-range shot.
So how has Wade made such a big impact?
For starters, his mere presence has opened up space on offense and made opposing teams play close attention to him.
A good example of this occurred against Texas Tech when he forced Red Raiders big man Tariq Owens to defend him at three-point line in the opening minutes. Wade caught him flat-footed and drove for an easy jumper.
His foot injury is a thing of the past.
"It's pretty surprising," Wade said. "I thought it would take me a few more games. I think a lot of it had to do with my teammates just being in the flow of the game. At Iowa State, I was worried about my foot a lot. Oklahoma and all those other games, I was just playing basketball and it felt great."
Wade has averaged 16.3 points during his past three games, but he's done so without taking shots away from his teammates. Barry Brown has averaged 20.4 points during K-State's winning streak, Xavier Sneed led the team with 18 points against TCU and Kamau Stokes and Makol Mawien have steadily contributed.
Wade is not only a gifted big man with range, he is a skilled passer. K-State has shown nice ball movement during its winning streak, often passing five times before putting up a shot. Even when they haven't gone in, they've mostly been good looks.
That wasn't always the case early in the season. The Dean Wade effect is noticeable.