Wildcats look to be stronger up front, but can they break Kansas jinx?

Monday, November 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) _ When Matt Seibrandt hit the weightroom in the offseason, three numbers stuck in his head.

They had nothing to do with how much Kansas State's junior power forward lifts; they had everything to do with why.

The numbers are 22, 94 and 63 _ specifically, the Wildcats' 22-game losing streak to Kansas after the Jayhawks ended Kansas State's 2000-2001 season with a 94-63 blowout in the Big 12 tournament.

``That's always in the back of our minds,'' Seibrandt said as Kansas State prepared for Jim Wooldridge's second season as head coach. ``That was a hard way to end our season, when we fought so hard and played everyone in the conference so close.''

The bad news for Seibrandt and his teammates is that Kansas is still _ well, Kansas.

The good news for Wooldridge, whose first team finished 11-18 with wins over NCAA tournament qualifiers Hampton, Iowa and Missouri, is that the core group of that team has had a year to learn his triangle offense.

Besides Seibrandt, who averaged 9.7 points per game, the Wildcats also return all three of their top scorers: off-guard Tony Atchison (11.7 ppg), point guard Larry Reid (11.2 ppg) and forward Travis Reynolds (10.5 ppg and a team-leading 7.7 rebounds per game.)

Beyond those four, forward Quentin Buchanan (7.3 ppg) and little-used forward Ivan Sulic (0.6 ppg), Wooldridge's roster is composed entirely of new faces _ many of them in the frontcourt, where the Wildcats are counting on immediate help from juco transfers Pervis Pasco and Janeiro Spurlock and freshmen Marcelo Da Barrosa and Travis Canby.

The 6-foot-9, 218-pound Pasco is at the top of the list of newcomers, after averaging 18.9 points and 8.6 rebounds a game last year at Pensacola (Fla.) Junior College.

``We feel like he'll be the fastest big man in this league,'' Wooldridge said. ``I can't imagine anybody being faster than him. He can really extend your offense quickly.''

Wooldridge is counting on his bulked-up frontcourt to continue one trend for Kansas State while reversing another. Last year, the Wildcats held opponents to 40.5 percent shooting from the floor _ but shot only 41.2 percent themselves.

``One thing we must do this year is increase our field goal percentage, no question about that,'' Wooldridge said. ``We're hoping our skill level has improved, and if it has, and we continue to work on role identification and shot selection, then that percentage will increase.''

Role identification is also important in the backcourt. Wooldridge wants Reid to continue his role as a point guard who can score _ but also wants Reid to concentrate on running the team.

``Larry has been a scoring point guard throughout his career. We don't want to take that away from him,'' Wooldridge said. ``We hope that by adding the players we did in the backcourt ... that the diversity will help Larry.''

Reid, meanwhile, said that while his teammates still call him ``the quiet one,'' he's ready to take on more of a leadership role for the Wildcats.

``I do think I'm more vocal out there this year,'' Reid said. ``It's my job to try to get people into the right spots at the right time.''

Freshmen Marcus Hayes and Nick Williams could provide help at either guard spot _ but, Wooldridge said, they and the other freshmen on the Wildcats' roster will learn some hard lessons once Kansas State gets into Big 12 play.

``None of the new players have seen the type of competition they are going to experience in the Big 12 on a nightly basis,'' he said. ``There are no nights off in the Big 12.''

The juco tranfers should have it a bit easier, said Reid _ who's one himself, having played his first two years at Northern Oklahoma Junior College.

``A lot of junior college programs are comparable to the teams you'll find in Division I,'' Reid said. ``You can get a lot of experience playing against talented players.''