If there is one game in the first five of Big 12 Conference play that Bruce Weber is worried about, it’s this one.
No. 16 Kansas State heads back out on the road on Wednesday to face a TCU team that’s struggling to find its place in the league, but managing to hold opponents to low numbers on the scoreboard.
The Horned Frogs (9-7, 0-3) have held each of their first three Big 12 opponents to less than 65 points, including a 50-41 loss to Baylor on Saturday.
Weber said TCU coach Trent Johnson is finding ways to keep his team’s games close.
This has the potential to be a trap game for the Wildcats (13-2, 2-0).
“They’re going to play very deliberate,” Weber said. “(Johnson’s) smart. Right now, he’s undermanned, he’s got some guys hurt, and they’re trying to keep the scores down because they don’t have numbers, they don’t have depth. They isolate you a lot and you’ve got to guard one-on-one.
“It’s a huge game for us. Of all the games in this mix it might be the most important because you always have the fear of how you’re ready mentally.”
Mentally, the Wildcats are riding high after their road win over West Virginia on Saturday.
But within that confidence, Weber said his team has to understand its capabilities and not get too caugght up in the success.
Senior guard Rodney McGruder said doing that comes down to focusing on one opponent at a time.
“You’ve just got to take it one game at a time,” he said. “If you want to be successful in anything in life, you’ve got to take one step at a team — you can’t leap.
“You’ve got to stay together and go out there with confidence and a swagger about yourselves. Coach always says, ‘if you’re a Top 25 team, play like a Top 25 team.’”
The Wildcats are doing just that — winners of six straight — and are one of the hottest teams in the country since defeating No. 8 Florida on Dec. 22 in Kansas City. K-State has quickly risen up the ranks to No. 16, and now sits as one of just two teams ranked in the Big 12.
Junior forward Shane Southwell said the difference between the team now, and early in the season, is that it is fighting harder than ever.
“It was a new staff, new system, and the two teams we lost to, to be honest, were better than us at that point in time when we played them,” he said. “Right now, I think we are doing good because we are just moving around in the motion and still defending the way we do.”
The Horned Frogs are led by sophomore Kyan Anderson, who scores 12.1 points per game and is leading the team in nine categories.
TCU has struggled on the offensive boards this season, an area where the Wildcats are ranked among the best in the country. But against West Virginia, K-State held the Mountaineers to four total rebounds in the first half before allowing them to pick up nine offensive boards in the second.
Weber said it’s an area he’s worried about since the season began, and something West Virginia exploited with its quickness.
“One of the things early in the year, we worried about was we offensive rebounded, but other teams didn’t, and then it kind of settled down,” he said. “They got us scrambling a little bit, and three of them, which I told them was disappointing, were on free throws. And that’s killer.”
Looming beyond TCU are home games against Oklahoma on Saturday and Kansas next Tuesday — each tied with K-State as the only unbeaten teams in conference.
Weber said those games will mean a whole lot more if they can take care of business against a hungry TCU team.
“I hope they’re confident, but you have to have that little bit of fear that anyone can beat anybody,” he said. “TCU, they’re going to want to play. They play close with everybody. We have to come ready to play and ready to guard.”
Throughout the season, Weber has preached consistency and his Wildcats sticking to their own style of play. When they do those two things, he said it gives them a chance to be successful.
“We’ve got to have a great mindset of what we are,” he said. “We’ve talked about our brand, and that’s defense and guarding people.
“If you go on the road and we play great defense, it will give us a chance to win no matter what happens on offense.”
K-State vs. Texas
game time changed
The tipoff time for the Jan. 30 game between Texas and Kansas State has been moved up an hour to 7 p.m.
The game was originally scheduled to tip at 8 p.m., but was changed for TV purposes. The game will still be broadcast nationally on ESPN2, as originally scheduled.