Frank Martin made it quite clear here at Wednesday's press conference: "There's nothing easy about playing a Larry Eustachy team. They've got good players, fifth-year seniors, and unbelievable skill. They're not going to give you an easy basket. Everything is going to be a grind. I think we're in for an absolute fight. Larry wouldn't allow the game to go any other way."
Martin went on to say, "You hear a lot of folks say we're the hardest playing team in America. Well, Larry's teams were the hardest playing teams when he was at Iowa State," said Kansas State coach Frank Martin. "That's because they were on television all the time. You watch his team play right now, they play just as hard. The only difference is they're not on TV as much as the so-called BCS schools."
That will be KSU's challenge Thursday at 11:40 a.m. (central time) when it plays the 25-8 Golden Eagles at the CONSOL Energy Center in the NCAA's East Regional.
Martin said of Kansas State's entry into the 2012 NCAA Basketball Tournament, "I feel really good. We have played our best basketball during the last month of the season. When you play at this time of the year, that is what you want to see."
Coming off a humbling 82-74 loss to Baylor in the Big 12 Championship, Martin said, "This team has responded well to adversity. I know that they are excited about playing."
Southern Miss is making its first NCAA appearance since 1991 and still looking for its initial tournament victory in its third try. While with only eight losses all year, four of those came in the final month of the season when they closed out regular season play with a 5-4 record.
Conference-USA Coach of the Year Larry Eustachy does know what winning's all about in the tournament as he coached his Iowa State team to the Elite Eight Round in 2000.
The Golden Eagles are led by 6-2 junior Lashay Page with an 11-point scoring average, while 6-6 junior Jonathan Mills was a member of the league's All-Defensive team and Neil Watson was the league's Newcomer of the Year and 6th Man Award recipient.
While saying that Southern Miss will be one of the "toughest" teams K-State has played this year, he called entering NCAA play an "adrenaline rush" and added, "You do not get into the tournament by mistake. Every team in this thing believes in who they are. Now you have to go out and instill your will on a team that is trying to do the same thing against you."
KSU's Rodney McGruder said of the challenge at hand, "They're a tough team. They're kind of like Missouri, kind of undersized. But they play hard. We just have to try to match their intensity. They're a tough team. They're kind of like Missouri, kind of undersized, but they play hard. We just have to try to match their intensity."
Jamar Samuels added of the Golden Eagles, "Probably the best rebounding team – the best rebounding team in Conference USA. That shows a lot. We know what we have to do, and that's pretty much play defense and rebound. It should be a great matchup at the end of the day."
OLD FRIENDS REUNITE:
Old acquaintances have come together in Pittsburgh as Darnell Dodson of Southern Miss and K-State's Jamar Samuels and Rodney McGruder played on the same D.C. Assault AAU program in the Washington D.C. area.
"Darnell is my guy. I've known him since high school," said Samuels. "It's pretty cool to match up with him. We haven't been talking for a good past two years. Hopefully, I'll be able to see him before we play."
And, Neil Watson of the Golden Eagles is a Kansas City, Kan., native and close friend and former AAU teammate of K-State's Will Spradling.
Either Rodney McGruder or Jordan Henriquez has led K-State in scoring in each of the last six games. McGruder has averaged 19 points and 12 points during that stretch. While not leading the team in scoring in any of the games, Jamar Samuels has also averaged 12-plus points in his last seven games and Angel Rodriquez just over 10 points in his last six contests.
Will Spradling has averaged four assists in the last seven games.
RECORD 21-10 25-8
RPI RANKING 48 21
POINTS PER GAME 71.4 71.6
POINTS ALLOWED 63.7 64.9
FIELD GOAL PERCENT .443 .416
3-POINT PERCENTAGE .342 .358
FREE THROW PERCENT .666 .736
REBOUND MARGIN +4.9 +4.6
G – Angel Rodriguez, 5-11, Fr, 8.0, 3.2 (assists)
G – Will Spradling, 6-2, Soph, 9.5, 2.9 (assists)
F – Rodney McGruder, 6-4, Jr, 15.4, 5.3
F – Jamar Samuels, 6-7, Sr, 10.3, 6.6
C – Jordan Henriquez, 6-11, Jr, 7.2, 5.3
G – LaShay Page, 6-2, Jr, 11.5, 3.3
G – Maurice Bolden, 6-2, Sr, 9.9, 5.3
G – Rashard McGill, 6-5, Jr, 2.7, 2.9
G – Angelo Johnson, 6-0, Sr, 9.5, 3.0 (assists)
F – Jonathan Mills, 6-6, Jr, 9.7, 6.2
With a victory, K-State would play the winner of the Syracuse (31-2) vs. North Carolina-Ashville (24-9) game on Saturday at the CONSOL Energy Center. The time has not been announced. Syracuse is the No. 1 seed, but will be without 7-foot center Fab Melo, who has been ruled ineligible for the entire tournament.