Kansas State and Drake will square off Nov. 25 in Manhattan, Kansas, to open their 2020-21 seasons. They are approaching their game from different perspectives but with the same goal: Make this year special.
Drake got revenge on a painful, 70-43 home blowout loss to Northern Iowa in last season's regular-season finale with a 77-56 victory in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
The turnaround had the Bulldogs thinking big things heading into this season.
"Our mindset has to change," said Roman Penn, who had a career-high 26 points in the rematch over the Panthers. "We have to look at the positive, not just the negative, then use the previous season as a (start) to this season."
They'll get to see if their summer's worth of hard work will pay off against the Wildcats.
"I know I've got somebody with me who is going to put in just as much work, trying to improve," said D.J. Wilkins, who spearheaded the Bulldogs' offseason workouts. "Just to see everybody else wanting to hop on just showed a testament to our leadership."
Kansas State had its worst season in 20 years, and then said good-bye to a trio of seniors and second-leading scorer Cartier Diarra, who transferred to South Carolina for his senior season. Only one player (Mike McGuirl) on this year's roster was part of the 2018-19 team that ended Kansas' 14-year run with at least a share of the Big 12 title.
The team will be largely freshmen and sophomores, with only one senior (McGuirl) and one junior (juco transfer Rudi Williams) on the roster. Three sophomores (forwards Montavious Murphy and Antonio Gordon and guard DaJuan Gordon) saw playing time last year, but they'll be counted on for improvement -- and leadership.
"Everybody needs hope," head coach Bruce Weber said. "Everyone needs a purpose, love and empathy. That's what I'm trying to do. Obviously, you want to win some games, along the way."
Weber will welcome his second strong recruiting class in a row, and he'll hope that inexperience will be offset with talent and height. Among the newcomers are 7-0 freshman David Bradford, 6-11 sophomore transfer Carlton Linguard, 6-10 sophomore transfer Kaosi Ezeagu and 6-9 freshman Seryee Lewis.
Weber is particularly stoked about Bradford.
"He might be the biggest surprise," Weber said. "He's got good hands. He's worked hard and he's another young man who has a big heart and a good personality. I think he has a bright future ahead of him."
--Field Level Media