Over the last six years, Kansas State has proven that if you doubt it, the Wildcats are probably going to prove you wrong.
K-State, a team that has finished in the top four of the Big 12 Conference five straight seasons, was picked to finish sixth this year in the preseason Big 12 coaches’ poll. It marked the lowest since 2008-09, when the Wildcats were picked eighth after making it to the second round of the NCAA tournament the year before.
So here the Wildcats are with a 10-1 record — off to one of their best starts in school history, have the second-best RPI in the Big 12, and are ranked 25th in the coaches’ poll after not receiving a single vote in the preseason.
“I believe we’re turning a lot of heads,” said senior forward Jamar Samuels.
“What I sense is a lot of people want to ask me questions now,” added K-State coach Frank Martin. “A month ago nobody had any interest in asking me a question.”
But the key for this program is to let the talk from the outside fall on deaf ears. And everyone jumping on the bandwagon — pay no attention to it.
“Don’t let the outsiders get to you,” Samuels said. “This team has been keeping it all in the locker room and all on the court. If we continue doing that we’ll achieve a lot this year.”
The public perceptions from this time last year to now are night and day different. Last season, the Wildcats, who host Howard on Saturday at 1 p.m., received their highest ranking in preseason history — expectations were arguably never higher.
“Last year’s team, everyone said we were the best thing since sliced bread before we even practiced. I knew we weren’t,” Martin said. “I knew we had a lot of hurdles to clear before we became a good team. I didn’t expect us to go through all the bumps that we created for ourselves but we had to go through it. If we don’t have that comraderie in the locker room we don’t overcome the hurdles that got thrown in front of us.
“I think with this team it’s the same situation. Nobody thought we were any good. That’s alright, we don’t pay attention to that kind of stuff. We worry about each other in that locker room, we’re committed to one another. That’s why we’ve been able to keep our focus on what’s important.”
The league’s coaches have taken notice of what the Wildcats are doing.
“The team that I think has been the most pleasant surprise for our league is K-State,” KU coach Bill Self said. “K-State is a double-overtime game away from being in the top 15, or top 12 and being undefeated.”
But K-State has blocked that talk out, and that’s what is part of the key to its success.
“The greatest empires of all time have always been defeated from within, not from the outside,” Martin said. “The fight you’re always fighting is the one from within, trying to build the foundation of trust and honesty, so guys can always rely on one another so nothing ever breaks down.”
Martin used the “Godfather” as an example.
“It’s like everyone always thought Clemenza was gonna be the one to turn on the family,” he said. “It wasn’t Clemenza. Like the old man told Pacino, he said whoever tells you of a meeting, that’s who turned on you. That’s the way it’s built. It’s all from within. You take care of the inside, you don’t have to worry about the outside, if you worry about the outside the inside gets no good.”
Right now the inside is pretty good at K-State.
“This team has been off the radar and come out of nowhere,” Samuels said. “It’s something special. This team really wants to show the world (how good it is).”