It may be fitting that Kansas State, which has had difficulty scoring, is about to host No. 23 Iowa State, a team that lights up the scoreboard.
“We’re facing the best offensive team in the league, and we’re struggling offensively, so we have to bridge that gap somehow,” K-State head coach Jeff Mittie said Thursday. “We’ve got to play better offensively and keep them at a point total that doesn’t get away from us, because that’s what they’ve been able to do to people. They’re playing in the 80s, 90s, 100s.”
The Cyclones (16-5, 6-3 Big 12) are the No. 8 scoring offense in the country at 82 points per game, tops in the Big 12. They just hung 105 on Texas Tech, which scored 66 and still was run off the floor.
Meanwhile, K-State (13-8, 4-5) — which is all the way down at No. 224 in points per game — only mustered 30 points in a loss at West Virginia last weekend. It then scored 47 in a home loss to TCU on Wednesday.
For added perspective, K-State scores 62.4 points per game. Iowa State scored 59, 62 and 64 points in its three lowest-scoring contests of the season.
K-State began conference play in Ames, losing by 38 points. The Wildcats begin the second half of Big 12 play at 1 p.m. Saturday, hoping it goes better than the Jan. 2 meeting.
“With us struggling offensively, how can we get better offensively and at the same time defend them?” Mittie said. “That’s a big challenge for Saturday.”
CYCLONES RIPPING NETS
The Cyclones have scored at least 85 points in 11 games this season.
And they’ve dropped at least 90 in seven contests.
And they’ve broke the 100-point barrier twice.
Mittie paused to ponder a query about his confidence in K-State’s ability to slow Iowa State’s high-powered offense.
“I would not use the word ‘confident,’” he said with a smile.
He then continued.
“I would say that we’re still trying to put together that game plan to see where you can hold them as best you can,” Mittie said. “This is the most explosive offense in the Big 12, and it hasn’t just been in the non-conference, it’s been in conference season, too. It’s a big challenge to hold them down.”
Iowa State features Bridget Carleton, a stud 6-foot-1 guard projected to be the No. 29 pick in the WNBA draft in ESPN’s latest mock draft. She’s averaging a team-high 20.6 points, nearly seven more than any of her teammates.
Kristin Scott, a 6-foot-3 post player, is averaging 13.2 points per game. Guard Ashley Jones is scoring 11.7.
“What we learned the first time is that they have a deep team, they have multiple players they can go to,” Mittie said.
Junior forward Peyton Williams added: “I think they’re obviously beatable, but we’ve got to show up and play, especially in the first half.”
ALL OR NOTHING
There is a trend that’s emerged with these Wildcats.
It seems like either the supporting cast members all chip in, or none of them do. There hasn’t often been an in-between with this in games.
In the TCU loss, senior point guard Kayla Goth scored 17 points. No one else finished in double figures.
Goth and Williams led the team with eight points each at West Virginia. Chrissy Carr (seven points) was the only other Wildcat to score more than three.
It’s a stark difference from the upset of Texas, a game in which four Wildcats scored in double figures. Senior forward Kali Jones, who isn’t much of a scorer, dropped 10 in that contest, and junior forward Jasauen Beard, a bench player, added nine.
Three players scored at least 10 points in the loss to Kansas, but only one more scored more than five.
When K-State blew out Oklahoma by 30 earlier in the month, nine players scored. Four finished in double figures.
“This team seems to do things together, for good or bad,” Mittie said. “We have struggled together.”
Mittie said it’s a challenge for role players when they don’t get regular minutes. He tries to monitor that, but he also hopes for a more consistent output from the bench.
Thus far, it seems to be feast or famine.
“When we’ve had off nights, it’s been everybody having off nights,” Mittie said. “When we’ve had on nights, it’s been virtually everybody having on nights.”
When Mittie spoke about his team’s struggles following Wednesday’s loss, he made a comment about he and the coaching staff “not pushing the right buttons.”
Here’s a look at his in-depth evaluation process:
“What I do is sit down and review the film, take notes,” Mittie said. “Review it again. Try to take notes again, see if I’m maybe seeing it differently the next time. From an offensive standpoint, start to look at what’s working, what’s not working. What have we not done very well?”
He then tries to apply that by asking the question, “How do we simplify that?” For example, he wants to make certain concepts easier so struggling players can regain confidence.
Once he’s done thinking about all that, he’ll talk to his assistant coaches. He doesn’t like to begin with group discussions. He speaks with them individually and maybe they’ll hash it out as a staff later.
Right now, he said everything is on the table.
“You do it more when you’re struggling, but even when things are going well, you’re still trying to evaluate those things,” Mittie said. “But when you’re struggling, everything is open. When you’re going well, it’s ‘Hey, let’s keep the train on the tracks going this direction.’”
Mittie said his team focuses on three-game stretches. The loss to TCU ended one, the Iowa State game will begin another.
That doesn’t mean he loses sight of the end goal: March Madness.
“As a coach, what I try to do is be honest with them about where we’re at in the process,” Mittie said. “We’ve had a few of those talks. You always have that stated goal from the start — you always have that. I don’t think you just totally put that aside.”
ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme released his latest NCAA Tournament field this week, and the Wildcats were in the “Next Four Out” category. So, they have work to do.
K-State is No. 52 in the RPI rankings. Only three Big 12 teams are ahead of the Wildcats.
The good news for the Wildcats is that they’ll have opportunities to strengthen their résumé. The Big 12 provides those types of games.
Mittie said the bottom of the conference is better this season. He thinks there’ll be more wins in the middle and bottom tiers than in previous years.
His team sits sixth in the Big 12 with half of conference play to go.
“We’re right in the middle,” Mittie said. “Nine games left and we need to climb the ladder as best we can.”