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What used to be the Kansas State athletic department's biggest weakness now arguably is its greatest strength. From Michael Beasley going No. 2 in the NBA draft in 2008 to the Wildcats winning 22 games last season, Kansas State basketball continues to make strides. The trend should continue as coach Frank Martin's squad appears primed for what could be its best season in recent memory. Other than Darren Kent (9.0 ppg last season), every key member of the Wildcats' 2008-09 team is returning this season. That includes second-team All-Big 12 guard Denis Clemente and third-year starting guard Jacob Pullen, who, unlike last season, will have a high-quality post player to pass to in freshman Wally Judge.
Denis Clemente and Kansas State could be doing a lot more celebrating this season.
No one is predicting that Judge will be as good as Beasley, who now plays for the Miami Heat. Still, he's a McDonald's All-American who fills a glaring need for the Wildcats down low. Judge (6 feet 9/248 pounds) needs to add a considerable amount of muscle and bulk, but because he's so highly skilled, he should be able to help K-State immediately with his ability to score. Curtis Kelly, who averaged 2.4 points in two seasons at Connecticut before transferring, is expected to start alongside Judge in the paint.
A transfer from Miami, Clemente averaged 15 points per game last season and tied a Big 12 single-game record with a 44-point effort in a victory at Texas. Although his temper got him in trouble at times, Clemente was regarded as one of the best guards in the Big 12. Pullen could earn such praise if he begins to show more consistency. Pullen has shown flashes of brilliance - especially against top competition - but he's also capable of disappearing; he shot just 38 percent from the field last season. Still, this is a veteran backcourt that should get even better with the addition of freshman Rodney McGruder, a 6-4 slasher who can score from anywhere on the court.
Even though they fell just short of the NCAA tournament last season, the Wildcats tied for fourth in a good league and ended the season with a ton of momentum. With all of the key pieces returning, there's no reason Kansas State can't finish third or fourth in the conference and make a run to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. This team could end up being better than the one that featured Beasley and Bill Walker.
Preseason rankings were compiled by basketball writers David Fox, Mike Huguenin, Jason King and Steve Megargee.