"We've had a goal since the day we got here: to win a Big 12 championship. That has not changed, and it will not change."
The words are those of Kansas State basketball coach Frank Martin. But if those words are to come true in 2011, the Wildcats need to start accumulating victories, and no better place to start than today in College Station, Texas, against the No. 10 ranked Texas A&M Aggies.
It was several games ago that Martin said, "You've got to keep teaching, you've got to keep communicating. It's like telling my children something and having to repeat it, and repeat it, and repeat is several dozen times before they comprehend and a habit is created. It's no different with these players. You have to keep communicating and reaching out to them."
The talk has now turned toward 3-1 and 16-2 Texas A&M and a 1 p.m. tipoff this afternoon on ESPN and on the Aggies home floor where they are a perfect 11-0 this year.
To most, K-State had hoped to have A&M's record instead of the 1-3 Big 12 and 13-6 overall records that they own roughly two-thirds of the way through the season.
But Martin will be the first to tell you that records and preseason rankings have never been a part of the Wildcat conversations.
"We've never had a single conversation about that," said the Wildcat coach. Then taking a page out of Bill Snyder's notebook, he added, "We talked about today, and what we have to do today to get better for tomorrow."
But Martin did add, "Do players talk about the rankings away from the court when they're at their apartments? Sure they do. Do they talk with their families and on Facebook about records and rankings? I'm sure they do. But when we're here at work we don't care if we're No. 3 or No. 333. We're only working to get better today."
For certain, K-State needs to be better today than they were in its last game day at Missouri when 24 turnovers led to a double-figure defeat on a day where there was a lack of toughness against the pressure defense of the Tigers. The question of toughness has been discussed and debated all season in the Wildcat camp, and especially in the last nine games when K-State has gone just 4-5.
Could that lack of toughness be the result of recruiting from the AAU ranks, which has the reputation of being a league for individuals and not necessarily team play?
Martin admits, "In AAU ball, whether you win or lose, there is always another tournament. You don't see that development of a sense of urgency to win. In high school, you lose in that one tournament and it's over. In summer basketball, there's always another tournament and there is minimal practice time, which leads to little structure in the game."
That's especially true with such a youthful roster: "We just have to stay the course. If you start listing concerns with such a young team, it will never end. It's just a matter of continuing to grow. There's not a single thing that worries me. I'm worried about a lot of things."
No. 10 Texas A&M is off to the best start in the history of the program at 16-2. The lone losses have been to Boston College, 67-65, and on Wednesday to Texas, 81-60, snapping a 13-game win streak.
In that loss to the Longhorns, A&M's Nathan Walkup offered, "We got punked. We came out soft."
Coach Mark Turgeon added, "We were a half-step slow and got our head down early. It's the first time we haven't competed to come back."
• In the last four-plus Big 12 seasons, Texas A&M has won 44 games. In the first 10 seasons of the league the Aggies won just 44 games.
• K-State will need to demonstrate a degree of toughness when it comes to rebounding as Texas A&M leads the Big 12 with a plus-11.6 rebounding margin and has won the rebounding count in every game prior to Wednesday's loss at Texas.
• A&M's leaders are 6-7 sophomore Khris Middleton (15.8 points, 4.7 rebounds), 6-8 junior David Loubeau (11.2, 5.2) and 6-7 senior Nathan walkup (10.4, 5.8).
Points per game 74.6 73.1
Def. points per game 64.8 58.9
Field goal percentage 44 45
3-point percentage 37 35
Free throws 59 72
Kansas State faces a rugged week with the 2-2, 12-5 Baylor Bears coming in for Big Monday at 8 p.m. on ESPN, before the Wildcats journey to 18-0 Kansas on Saturday for a 6 p.m. start on ESPN.