WHERE WILL THE WILDCATS FINISH?

MANHATTAN, Kan. - In October, the Big 12 Conference basketball coaches overwhelmingly voted K-State as the favorite to win the conference basketball title. Now 15 games later, while 12-3, the Wildcats have demonstrated some inconsistencies, in particular, with their leadership. Can they right their ways and prove the coaches right?

K-State will begin to find out when it opens league play at Oklahoma State on Saturday.

It was in the preseason that pollsters disguised as Big 12 basketball coaches voted Kansas State to win the conference championship in men's basketball.

For the record, K-State received 10 of the possible 11 other votes (coaches could not vote for their own team), while Kansas received the other two first-place ballots to finish second, followed by Texas, Baylor, Missouri and Texas A&M to make up the top division.

If there would be a recount today, it's likely that the Jayhawks would gain the top spot with the Wildcats, likely, somewhere in the top-four mix for the fifth consecutive season.

For conversation sake, why will, or why won't, Kansas State finish at least as high as last year's second-place finish, if not prove the preseason poll right and win it all.

WILL …
because K-State has two proven all-Big 12 type players in Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly. In fact, both were on the preseason all-Big 12 team.
WILL NOT ...
because Pullen and Kelly … especially Kelly … have not demonstrated the consistent leadership, focus and decision making needed for an eight-week grind to the title.

WILL …
because the Wildcats are among the elite teams in the country with anywhere from a Top 3-17 ranking all year, and have found a way to defeat two ranked teams in Virginia Tech and Gonzaga.
WILL NOT …
because they have failed to win any of their top three challenges – Duke, Florida and UNLV.

WILL …
because Frank Martin-coached teams always play hard, as demonstrated this year by having the second best rebounding team in the league.
WILL NOT …
because the defense has yet found the ability to play as one cohesive unit. KSU's defense has allowed better than 63 points per game, which ranks eighth in the league.

WILL …
because K-State has the bodies, and numbers, to pound it inside to score.
WILL NOT …
teams are going to continue to hack the Purple "bigs" because of these absolutely amazing numbers at the foul line – Kelly (.514), Samuels (.576), Judge (.424), Asprilla (.344), Henriquez-Roberts (.400). Overall, KSU's team free throwing of .551 ranks among the poorest in the nation.

In the Big 12, K-State has the second most attempts (354), but only the ninth most makes (195).

WILL …
Pullen and McGruder can get hot from long distance …
WILL NOT …
but as a team, K-State is last in the league in overall shooting at .442.

WILL …
McGruder has been the bright surprise providing both scoring and being the leader of the team in rebounding, plus Samuels game seems to be coming around.
WILL NOT …
Judge, Asprilla and Kelly have not played up to expectations.

WILL …
Will Spradling, while sporadic, has demonstrated some nice abilities for a true-freshman playing the toughest position of point guard on the floor.
WILL NOT …
other guards, such as Irving and Russell, have demonstrated the same inconsistencies, but are not freshmen.

Keys to a No. 1-2 run:

• K-State's biggest key is Kelly playing to his abilities. Pullen will do his thing, but will Kelly provide a steadiness inside?
• K-State, as a team, must be at least a 62 to 65 percent free throwing team, which is still only mediocre by high school standards. Key stretches:
• To get off to a 3-0 start (at OSU, CU, Tech), because the next four games are dandies (at MU, at A&M, BU, at KU).

If the Wildcats can get off to a 5-2 start, there's no reason to believe they can't win six to seven of the remaining nine, which would give them no fewer than 11 league wins, which would match last year's total.

K-State has the good fortune to end the year with four of its last six games at home – KU, OU, MU and ISU, plus road games to NU and UT). Prediction: Like a year ago, 11-5, which like a year ago will place the 'Cats behind only the Jayhawks in the Big 12 standings.


Purple Pride Top Stories