Picked sixth?

13 Jan

In a preseason poll of Big 12 coaches, the Wildcats were picked to finish 6th out of 10 teams in the conference. Even though Kansas State is 1-2 in conference play, surely those coaches – and others  – are now ditching their original doubts about the 2011-2012 Kansas State team.

Everyone questioned the caliber of the team going into this season because of the absence of Jacob Pullen. What would the team be like in the first year without him since Frank Martin became head coach?

To compound that worry, the Wildcats opened Big 12 play against three top 25 teams: No. 15 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, No. 6 Missouri in Bramlage, and No. 4 Baylor in Bramlage. But lo and behold, Kansas State ran right over previously undefeated Missouri, and even in losses to Kansas and Baylor, the Wildcats made it clear they were not going away easily.

  • At Kansas – well, let’s stop there. Hardly anyone other than the Jayhawks wins in Allen Fieldhouse, so let the record show that it is a difficult place to play. Regardless, the Wildcats could have won that game. Behind 35-20 at halftime, they had clawed within three points in the second half. If they had not allowed Kansas to get so far ahead early, who knows what would have happened? Also, the Jayhawks outrebounded the Wildcats 50-26. That is inexcusable. I am no statistician, but I do not think you will ever find a game in which a team got destroyed on the boards like that and came away with a win. Here’s the thing, though: Jamar Samuels, Jordan Henriquez and Thomas Gipson are strong, talented players. They can handle Kansas down low. They did not do so in that game, but to count the Wildcats out on Feb. 13 – the Big Monday rematch in Bramlage – would be silly.
  • Heading into the next game, against undefeated Missouri, not many outside the team seemed optimistic. In Dallas, about to head home from the Cotton Bowl, a fellow Kansas State fan in the elevator said to me, “This might be a rough weekend.” Then, of course, the Wildcats proceeded to completely blow out the Tigers in Manhattan. Six players scored seven or more points; four were in double digits. Kansas State blocked more shots, grabbed more rebounds, had more assists and absolutely shot the cover off the ball – as Martin might say. They got the lead early and stayed on the throttle well enough to get the win by a large margin. Sure, it might have been an off-night for Missouri, but that win was a huge confidence boost for Kansas State and a big step to showing that the Wildcats can contend for the Big 12 championship, regardless of what happened in the first game of the conference season.
  • Versus Baylor, the Wildcats just lost control. They went up by double-digits halfway through the first half, but their 20 turnovers simply killed them. The Bears went on 18-4 runs in both the first and second halves. That happened because the guys wearing K-State jerseys threw the ball to the guys wearing Baylor jerseys so they could go down and dunk it – that was how Martin explained it to me after the game. He was in disbelief that the team could not a defend its lead at the end of the game to close out a win at home. The positive takeaway from this game was an incredible performance by Rodney McGruder. He scored a career-high 30 points. While it was not enough, it gave an indication of what he can be to this team. Also, the Wildcats were this close to knocking off the No. 4 team in the country. They could have done it. The fact they didn’t – at least from where I sit – does not mean that they can’t in the future. It just means they have a little more growing up to do.
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