Name an MVP of K-State's first 16 games to the season and it's hard to argue with No. 22 Rodney McGruder. That would have been true prior to Saturday's 76-62 loss at Oklahoma State, and even in that defeat, it would have been true afterward as the 6-foot-5 sophomore was the Wildcats' lone bright spot.
McGruder tallied 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, which included three 3-balls. He also led the team in rebounds with six, which matched his season average, and committed just one of KSU's 21 turnovers.
"Rodney plays with tremendous energy," said KSU coach Frank Martin. "He takes pride in his jump shot, and he works on it. The team works hard at screening for him, which means they trust that he can score."
Heading into tonight's tipoff at 8 against 12-4 Colorado in Bramlage Coliseum on ESPNU, McGruder has averaged nearly 16 points and 7 rebounds in the last five games against UNLV, UMKC, North Florida, Savannah State and O-State.
"I'm pleased," the humble Washington D.C., native said of his play, which has vastly improved over last year's averages of 3.9 points and 2.8 rebounds.
"I'm most pleased with my rebounding and being able to help the bigs out. I take pride in rebounding. It can be tough in there for the bigs, so the rest of us need to be willing to chip in."
From a guard position, McGruder leads the team in rebounding at 6.5 per game, and has been the team leader seven times through the first 16 games.
"Rodney has been a star for us," admitted teammate Jacob Pullen. "He's been playing a complete game."
That complete game has included leadership, which McGruder admits doesn't come easily.
"A couple of the guys talked to me and encouraged me to step up," said McGruder. "Especially with Jake and Curtis (Kelly) out (with suspension), I've tried to step up and be a spoken leader."
McGruder added of his overall game, "I'm just playing with more focus and I know what tough games are like. I know how to practice and prepare for the physicality of what games like Duke and Florida, and the Big 12 will bring."
While K-State started the year at No. 3 in the nation after last year's Elite Eight run into the NCAA Tournament, it has fallen to No. 21 with its record of 12-4.
"I don't think we've lost our luster at all," said McGruder. "We're continuing to work hard and we're taking it game at a time. It's not like we're letting teams slip by us because we're looking down the road.
"People remember what we did last year. We've had a target on our back, and will continue to carry that target," McGruder said.
"We beat a lot of teams in the Big 12 last year and they're going to want to get us back. We just have to be ready, and I know we will be."
CU is one of those teams as the Buffs lost to the Wildcats 68-51 in Manhattan, and 87-81 in Boulder.
In K-State's four losses they year, it has averaged just 58 points on a chilly 38 percent shooting overall, 21 percent from 3-point range, and having at least 21 turnovers in three of the four games against Duke, Florida, UNLV and Oklahoma State.
In addition, the 'Cats have been out-scored by an average of 40-29 in the collective second halves of those four games.
PULLEN AMONG TOP 30:
K-State's Jacob Pullen has made the Top 30 listing for the John Wooden Award.