Kansas State, off to a 1-3 start in Big 12 play, has dug itself a hole for the third time in the last four years, but it’s nothing the Wildcats can’t get out of. Wednesday night represents an opportunity for K-State to grab some shovels and begin the process of digging its way out, as the Wildcats will host Texas at 8 in Bramlage Coliseum.
“I don’t know if I’m concerned,” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “I don’t worry about our record, I never do, never have and never will. I’m worried about how we’re playing.”
That concern lies particularly on the defensive end of the floor. In the three league games where the 25th-ranked Wildcats have fallen short, they’ve allowed their opponents to shoot a combined 51 percent. In the last two games, opponents have combined to hit 30-of-45 (67 percent) from the floor in the second half.
“Defensively we’ve slipped,” Martin said. “We haven’t been as good defensively. Outside of the Missouri game our team defense has been just not as consistent as it was leading into league play. League teams have something to do with that. But we’ve got to get back to defending, doing a better job of sitting down and guarding.”
Turnovers have become an issue for K-State, which has just 40 assists and 52 turnovers in its three conference losses. In those games, the Wildcats (12-4, 1-3) have been outscored 78-57 on points off turnovers, and many of those mistakes have led to run-outs and easy baskets for opponents. As a result, the defense has also suffered.
“The turnovers, they’re killing us right now,” Martin said. “It’s unfortunate. We’ve got to cut our turnovers down. The only thing that concerns me about our turnovers that the guys leading us in turnovers per minutes played are Jordan (Henriquez) and Thomas Gipson. That can’t come from your center spot.”
The Wildcats hope to get these issues corrected against the Longhorns, who are off to a 12-5 start overall and are 2-2 in Big 12 play. Six of Texas’ 11 players on its roster are freshmen, which also means it has a lot of room to grow, so the Longhorns will likely get better and better as the season continues.
“When you have so many first-year guys you’re always trying to figure things out,” Martin said. “I think they’re deep enough into the season where you watch them play they have a consistency with what they’re doing.”
The Longhorns have won nine of their last 12 games, with two of those losses coming to top 10 teams — on the road at North Carolina and at Missouri.
They’re led by one of the Big 12’s top scorers in junior J’Covan Brown, who is averaging 19.1 points and has 66 assists to 37 turnovers. Sheldon McClellan, a freshman guard, is the only other Texas player averaging double figures, but three other freshmen average at least eight points per game, including point guard Myck Kabongo, who has 94 assists to 52 turnovers.
“They depend on J’Covan being an offensive machine for them, which he’s been,” Martin said. “Those other guys continue to grow into their roles. That’s what happens when you have freshmen. You can see the bright lights every once in a while, sometimes they’re not as bright but you kind of see that light shine better and better as the year goes on.
“They’re balanced, (coach) Rick (Barnes) has done an incredible job of creating depth on that team.”
The Wildcats have lost their last two games, a two-point defeat to No. 3 Baylor and a road loss to an Oklahoma team that was 0-3 in conference play at the time. But Martin said that’s the nature of the Big 12 — teams get knocked down at times, now K-State has to get back up and dust itself off.
“We’ve got to regroup and protect our home court,” he said.
TEXAS (12-5, 2-2)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Rpg.
G — J’Covan Brown Jr. 6-1 19.1 3.5
G — Myck Kabongo Fr. 6-1 9.8 3.4
G — Sheldon McClellan Fr. 6-4 11.4 3.4
F — Jonathan Holmes Fr. 6-7 8.8 5.5
F — Clint Chapman Sr. 6-10 6.1 5.7
No. 25 KANSAS STATE (12-4, 1-3)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Rpg.
G — Will Spradling So. 6-2 11.1 2.2
G — Rodney McGruder Jr. 6-4 14.6 5.4
G — Martavious Irving Jr. 6-1 5.9 2.0
F — Jordan Henriquez Jr. 7-0 7.4 5.3
F — Jamar Samuels Sr. 6-7 10.9 6.7