If any engineers out there want to create the ultimate rollercoaster, they might just want to take a quick look at Kansas State’s season for the design and layout. The Wildcats, who begin postseason play tomorrow against 12th-ranked Baylor in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Championship, have had enough ups and downs to create quite the thrill ride.
They’ve had the biggest of highs — an 11-1 start to the year, a season sweep of a top-10 Missouri squad and a road win at then-No. 9 Baylor. They’ve experienced the lows — losing four games in Bramlage Coliseum, tying for the most home losses since the 2005-06 season, were swept by an Oklahoma squad that finished Big 12 play with a 5-13 record, and after a win at third-ranked Missouri, followed it up with a home loss to Iowa State. Sometimes when a big step forward was taken, the Wildcats boomeranged backwards.
Yet all of the above is what makes K-State such a dangerous team — particularly at this time of the year.
“If we line up and play we can beat anybody,” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “But we’re also humble enough to understand that if we don’t do things right anybody can beat us.”
As postseason play begins, K-State is one of those teams no one is really sure about — a team that will likely make fans and coaches of the top-seeded teams in the NCAA tournament nervous. A potential second-round matchup with a one, two or three-seed would likely create a sense of anxiety amongst K-State’s opponent. Because the Wildcats are that shark lurking in the water — the one no one really knows when or if it’s going to attack, or if it’s just going to leave everyone at peace. But if that shark attacks the way it is capable of, well…
“We understand if we do things right we can beat anybody,” Martin said.
The Wildcats, winners of four of their last five, including road victories over Missouri and Baylor, appear to be poised for a stretch run. The freshmen class — now that it’s March — are now essentially sophomores. K-State has developed a clutch, go-to player on the offensive end in Rodney McGruder. Jamar Samuels has become a leader and is playing some of his best basketball of his career. The Wildcats have a defensive force in the paint in Jordan Henriquez. They possess a fearless point guard in Angel Rodriguez, who is becoming more consistent by the day. And they have a defense that’s created a wall around the opponent’s basket.
“We’ve become the best defensive team we’ve had here at K-State,” Martin said.
But what may make this team more potent at this time of year is that they’ve taken some hits on the chin, gotten knocked down and gotten back up. The Wildcats have experienced the negatives and the positives — they’ve faced adversity and they’ve responded.
“What I am excited about is the way that we have handled adversity because we were young,” Martin said. “We went through difficult moments. That group as a whole (Will Spradling, Samuels, McGruder and Rodriguez) brought them closer together and it helped everyone do their jobs a little bit better. That’s what sticks out to me.
“We probably had more success than we should have early in the year so we saw the potential, then we also saw the ugliness. Now we’ve gotten back together and we’re stronger now because we’ve went through that moment.”
The Wildcats have some youth, but they also have enough veterans to assist the young guys in understanding the sense of urgency required in March.
There have been times when this team reverts back in the wrong direction. But the Wildcats understand the only steps they can afford to take from here on out are the ones that move them forward.
“What I’ve told them is we have to be more unselfish than we’ve been up to this point in the season,” Martin said. “We have to be more focused and more prepared because the next time we don’t find success the Big 12 season is done for this basketball team. From here on out, when you don’t win that next game that environment you’re in is done. You’ve got two more opportunities to lose. The next time you lose two games your season is done.
“We’ve got enough guys who have been around that they comprehend what’s in front of us. You don’t go at these opportunities with a hurt soul or these opportunities aren’t going to last very long. You’ve got to go at them enthusiastic and full of energy. It’s my job to manage it to make sure we maintain that edge to us to go out there and do it the right way.”
K-STATE (21-9, 10-8)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Rpg.
G — Angel Rodriguez Fr. 5-11 7.9 2.4
G — Will Spradling So. 6-2 9.7 2.2
F — Rodney McGruder Jr. 6-4 15.5 5.4
F — Jordan Henriquez Jr. 7-0 6.7 5.0
F — Jamar Samuels Sr. 6-7 10.3 6.8
BAYLOR (25-6, 12-6)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Rpg.
G — Pierre Jackson Jr. 5-10 13.5 3.0
G — Brady Heslip So. 6-2 9.3 1.3
F — Quincy Miller Fr. 6-9 11.5 5.0
F — Quincy Acy Sr. 6-7 12.1 7.2
F — Perry Jones III So. 6-11 13.1 7.5