Getting a coach to change philosophies at mid-stream is like … well, paddling up that stream.
First, coaching egos will normally not allow such a notion, and secondly, it seldom works in the middle of a 30-game season … certainly not in the heat of competition of a league like the Big 12.
"Frank (Martin) deserves a lot of credit to change within a season," said K-State assistant coach Brad Underwood. "About the time we played Colorado (Jan. 12), our offense had become bogged down, and with a slightly different roster than we started the season with, we were just not as effective as we thought we were going to be."
"I was sick to my stomach," said K-State coach Frank Martin. "I didn't like the direction we were headed."
Four the past four years, Martin said, KSU assistant coach Brad Underwood had lobbed out the idea of a more spread offense – the "pinch post" – that Johnny Orr used at Iowa State 20 years ago, and Dana Altman had used in his Creighton/Oregon coaching system.
"I was more receptive to listening this time because the stuff I did believe in wasn't working and didn't fit our personnel," said Martin.
"I knew we could have beaten a lot of schools playing the way we were, but we were not going to beat the best teams. We were not going to beat the big boys playing the way we were. It just wasn't going to happen. The more Brad talked the more I liked what I was hearing."
With the massive Freddy Asprilla, Curtis Kelly, Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and Wally Judge dotting the early-season roster, the thinking of the coaches was the box-set with two "bigs" at the low post and two Wildcats on either side of the free throw line would give K-State a high-low offense that would work magic.
K-State was 12-5 on Jan. 12, but off to a 0-2 start in Big 12 play, and owners of just a 3-5 record against the best eight teams played during the first half of the season.
The Wildcats are now as hot as any team in the league entering the Big 12 Championships set for the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
With the departure of Asprilla, and later Judge, an offensive scheme that Underwood had been pestering Martin with for the last couple years was all of a sudden taken more seriously.
"It gave us a chance to play smaller and spread the floor, yet it keeps a pretty good assault at the rim without starting the offense at the rim," said Underwood of the Wildcats new "pinch post" scheme. "It's an offense designed to spread the floor and create spacing along with simultaneous ball movement and player movement.
"You have cutters going to the rim and players are in constant movement," explained Underwood. "There's the availability to set screens at the elbow, which is a hard place to handle a screen."
Underwood added, "What Frank liked about it was being more fluid and more efficient. From an efficiency standpoint, it allowed us to play smaller and create some mismatches." Still, even Martin says, switching offensive directions 17-games into a 30-game regular season took some strong thinking.
Helping his logic was seeing Bob Huggins make a similar move at K-State five years ago when at mid-year he opted to play 6-7 Cartier Martin and 6-5 David Hoskins at the center and power-forward positions.
"I thought he was nuts … completely nuts, but because he did it gave me the courage to do it," Martin said. "We were depending on Jason Bennett and Luis (Colon), but there came a point of the season we had to move forward. Those guys were not going to help us at that point in their career."
The offense has especially benefited Jacob Pullen, who has averaged better than 22 points per game in the 13 games the "pinch post" has been in system.
"As crazy as it sounds, the offense has helped Jake in that it keeps the ball out of his hands. One of the things Jake does as well as anyone in the country is move without the ball," said Underwood.
"He does a very, very good job of creating opportunities at the rim for himself. It seems that in every game he has an uncontested layup. It would be hard to find a point guard in the country playing any better than Jake."
Plus, Underwood said, the "pinch post" has helped others get involved in the offense in particular games.
Rodney McGruder has had games of 22, 16 and 15 points, plus five others in twin figures; Jamar Samuels has enjoyed a high of 22, plus five other games of at least eight points; Will Spradling has had a high of 17 and 13, with two other games of at least nine points; Curtis Kelly has had five games between 16 and 12 points; and, Nick Russell, Jordan Henriquez Roberts and Martavious Irving have all taken turns of being in twin figures.
"Changing in the middle of the season is hard to do, but we put a lot of faith in our players to understand it, and learn it. They were committed to it whole-heartedly from day-one," said Underwood. "Texas Tech (a 94-60 win, shooting 53 percent overall and 59 percent from 3-point range) is the first time we ran it, and any time you have success there's the tendency to buy-in."
Interesting to the offense is that K-State has shown discipline with six, seven and eight passes before putting up a shot, yet the Wildcats have taken more shots attempts in the majority of the games.
"It's sort of like football. We have a good time of possession," said Underwood. "The kids are buying in because they know they're going to get their shots for this area or that area, which they like."