The senior forward entered the Big 12 tournament playing his best basketball of the season, recording double-doubles in four of the previous seven games. In the 13 times Samuels has managed the feat in his career, the Wildcats lost just once.
To open play in the conference tourney, however, Samuels was almost nonexistent except for playing 29 minutes. Most of his 10 points against Baylor came late in the game, after the 82-74 Wildcats' defeat was already decided. In addition, he grabbed no rebounds.
Kansas State coach Frank Martin declined to criticize Samuels during his postgame remarks, electing instead to credit the senior for his late-season play, which contributed to a fifth-place finish in the conference.
Words did not need to be expressed, however, for people to realize that Samuels' off game is another factor why the 21-10 Wildcats find themselves vulnerable as a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They open March 15 against Southern Mississippi (25-8), and if Kansas State wins, it would likely face top-seeded Syracuse (31-2) at the sub-regional in Pittsburgh.
"I'm disappointed," Martin said after the quick departure from the Big 12 tourney, "because the behaviors that we showed as a team (was) stuff that we had going on back in November and December, and we've gotten away from that."
Martin cited selfishness on the defensive end, where the Wildcats often were late covering shooters and poor at offering help, as a characteristic he thought his team shed with a strong finish down the stretch in Big 12 play. Kansas State thrives on its defensive intensity and relentlessness on the boards, yet it was completely manhandled by Baylor, a team it split with during the regular season.
"It's not good to regress, and I feel like we regressed a little bit," said sophomore guard Will Spradling, who missed all three of his 3-point attempts and continues to suffer through a shooting slump.
The Wildcats depend heavily on junior Rodney McGruder for production on the offensive end, though another junior, center Jordan Henriquez, has sparkled late in the season. Henriquez had 22 points and 14 rebounds against the Bears. It was an encouraging development Martin gladly accepted, though he knows his team must recover completely to make any kind of NCAA run.
"We get one more chance to get it right," he said, "and if we don't get it right, our season is over."
Big 12 tournament remains a trouble spot for K-State
--The quarterfinal loss to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament marked the fourth time in five seasons under coach Frank Martin that Kansas State has lost its opening game in the event. Martin stands 2-5 in the tourney after taking the Wildcats to the championship game in 2010. "I'm not a fan of conference tournaments," Martin conceded. "I never have been. I'm ready to go play somebody else. I'm sick and tired of watching Big 12 basketball to be honest with you. It's too good."
--One bright spot during the Big 12 tournament was F Jordan Henriquez, who erupted for 22 points and 14 rebounds against Baylor. Henriquez was not the best big man on the floor, but only because Perry Jones fulfilled his potential and scored a career-best 31 for the Bears. Over his last four games entering the NCAA Tournament, Henriquez averaged 15.3 points, almost nine more than his season average of 6.7. He also rates as the Wildcats' top interior defender. Earlier this season, he broke the Kansas State career record for blocked shots.
--Under Martin, who is in his fifth season, Kansas State has won at least 21 games each year. The Wildcats also finished with winning conference records each of those seasons. QUOTE TO NOTE: "Are we going to be worried about one game or 30 games? We've been doing this for six months. We know we can play with anybody when we play the game the right way. We didn't play it the right way (against Baylor)." -
- Kansas State coach Frank Martin.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Over coach Frank Martin's entire five-year tenure, opponents have been constantly impressed with how hard the Wildcats play, a trait that has enabled Kansas State to win with strong defense and second-chance opportunities on offense. This season, however, Kansas State has lacked those qualities more often than in other seasons under Martin. The defense came on late, in part because younger players had finally grasped the concepts, though question again surfaced after Baylor riddled Kansas State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.
The Wildcats often rely too much on G Rodney McGruder to score, either off the catch or the dribble. He is an underrated contributor, yet he should not be asked to carry a team. G Angel Rodriguez is a promising freshman who is too mistake-prone while running the point.
With the combustible Martin as coach, instability always exists in the Kansas State system, resulting in constant shuffling of personnel. It would not be unusual for anyone to leave. Two promising sophomores, F Wally Judge and G Nick Russell, left after last season and were missed this year. If the underclassmen return intact, Kansas State will have the ingredients to contend in the Big 12 next season as long as Rodriguez improves, G Will Spradling regains his long-range touch and C Jordan Henriquez flourishes on both ends with more consistency. McGruder is pretty much a given and will provide consistent effort and production.
REGULAR SEASON REVIEW:
A tournament championship, the first under Martin, at the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas, provided an encouraging lead-in to Big 12 play. Inconsistency, however, marred any attempt by Kansas State to contend. It needed a late-season push to finish fifth with a 10-8 record after an impressive sweep of Missouri was offset by an inexplicable sweep Oklahoma administered. The Wildcats were more focused on the road, where they finished with the same 5-4 record as they posted at home in conference games.
--Senior F Jamar Samuels entered the Big 12 tournament as only the sixth Kansas State player to ever reach the 700 mark in career rebounds. He failed to snag a carom, however, during the 29 minutes he played in the quarterfinal loss to Baylor. --Junior G Rodney McGruder entered the Big 12 tournament averaging 21.8 points and 5.8 rebounds over his previous four games, but he managed just 14 points on 5-for-13 shooting against Baylor. He grabbed just four boards as Kansas State was outrebounded 32-26.
--Junior G Martavious Irving scored nine points on 4-for-6 shooting while playing 15 minutes against Baylor, tops among the K-State subs. Only one other reserve, G Jeremy Jones, scored for the Wildcats, who typically rely heavily on bench production.