Kansas State lost the only game it played in the Big 12 tournament, then after winning a game in the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats were rocked by a ruling regarding the eligibility of their only senior starter.
Jamar Samuels was not allowed to participate in a third-round game against top-seeded Syracuse after the Kansas State administration learned of a potential NCAA violation involving an impermissible benefit. The issue surfaced within 24 hours of the Wildcats' game against the Orange.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that Samuels' AAU coach with the DC Assault, Curtis Malone, wired Samuels $200 prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament. Malone, who acknowledged the payment, maintained the payment did not constitute an impermissible benefit because of his pre-existing relationship with Samuels and his family.
The Wildcats went on to fall 75-59 against top-seeded Syracuse, failing to generate any consistent offense, though they managed to trail by just one point at halftime. The loss capped a 22-11 season that included a 10-8 mark as the fifth-place finisher in the Big 12.
"Jamar is one of the greatest kids I've been around, OK," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "What took place was completely unfortunate. As a university, we have to take a stance and protect our university. Unfortunately, it put him in a tough spot. He has, in my opinion, done nothing wrong. You always err on the side of caution and not do something and look back on it and then regret your decision."
Nonetheless, Martin seemed upset by the suspension, a decision that could further erode a shaky relationship with Kansas State athletic director John Currie. The possibility exists that the friction could put Martin on the job market. He has coached Kansas State to four NCAA Tournament appearances in five years, winning at least one game during each trip.
The offensive shortcomings the Wildcats tried to mask all season usually involved poor shooting, both from outside and underneath attempting to convert stickbacks, as well the inability to protect the basketball with freshman Angel Rodriguez commanding the point.
Junior guard Rodney McGruder emerged as a go-to man and showed off that form with 30 points in the Wildcats' 70-64 victory against Southern Mississippi to open the NCAA Tournament. He again led Kansas State with 15 points against Syracuse but was limited to 5-for-13 shooting.
The return of McGruder, as well as junior center Jordan Henriquez, who was terrific down the stretch as Samuels closed with a tough postseason patch, makes Kansas State optimistic about next season. Henriquez and Will Spradling also return in the backcourt, and if Martin remains satisfied with his position at Kansas State, the Wildcats will be expected to contend in the Big 12.
Martin says decision to ban Samuels came from AD
--Although the decision to suspend F Jamar Samuels prior to a third-round loss against Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament was made by John Currie, the Kansas State athletic director did not speak to reporters following the game. That left coach Frank Martin to speak on the situation, yet he clearly wanted to deflect responsibility to Currie.
"If you want to know about the decision and the technicalities and all those things," Martin said, "Jamar in my opinion has done nothing wrong. But the school has to protect its integrity, and I wasn't a part of the decision. Speak with John (Currie) about that one."
Samuels received a wire transfer reportedly worth $200 from his AAU coach, Curtis Malone, prior to the tournament. Samuels dressed in street clothes and sat on the end of the Kansas State bench during the 75-59 loss to Syracuse.
--Not only did junior G Rodney McGruder, both a high school and AAU teammate of Samuels while growing up in Washington, D.C., feel bad for his good friend, but McGruder was hobbled against Syracuse after turning an ankle. "It was tough to play on," McGruder said after suffering the injury in the first half and returning to the locker room to get re-taped. "But I just wanted the victory, so I just tried to fight through it," he said.
McGruder still played 35 minutes and led the Wildcats with 15 points after scoring 30 in an NCAA victory against Southern Mississippi. Although the ankle injury limited McGruder's effectiveness penetrating the Syracuse zone, other Wildcats failed to convert opportunities. Kansas State snagged 25 rebounds, a season high, yet managed just 20 second-chance points.
--The 1-1 split in the NCAA Tournament leaves Martin with a 6-4 record in the event after four appearances in his five years as Kansas State's coach. He is 4-0 in openers and 1-3 in the round of 32. The only time he directed the Wildcats to a victory against a higher seed was in his first NCAA game. All-American Michael Beasley led 11th-seeded Iowa State to an 80-67 win over sixth-seeded Southern California in 2008.
22-11, 10-8, fifth place in the Big 12.
2011-12 SEASON RECAP:
The only defeat for Kansas State during nonconference play was in double-overtime against NCAA Tournament qualifier West Virginia. The Wildcats captured the Diamond Head Classic, their first tournament title under fifth-year coach Frank Martin. The same dominance, however, was not exerted in the Big 12. The Wildcats did score an impressive sweep over Missouri, yet they were saddled with a inexplicable sweep by Oklahoma. The inconsistency was mostly the result of a struggling offense, which rarely connected with any consistency from outside and had difficulty finding any rhythm. G Rodney McGruder was the exception as he ranked seventh among Big 12 scorers with a 15.4-point average despite playing a stretch of conference games with an infected toe.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"I couldn't ask these kids to have done more for us this year, the way that they fought and grew and accepted every challenge that the season threw at them, or what we, the coaches, threw at them." -- Kansas State coach Frank Martin.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THE GOOD NEWS:
Kansas State reached the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years under coach Frank Martin, who improved to 4-0 in that event in openers as the Wildcats defeated Southern Mississippi but then fell to Syracuse. At times the Wildcats could hang with the best in the country, claiming back-to-back road wins at Missouri and at Baylor when both Big 12 rivals were ranked in the Top 10. F Jordan Henriquez emerged as a force underneath, breaking the Kansas State career record for blocked shots and then starring in the postseason. G Rodney McGruder was more than solid, taking on go-to responsibilities that featured his strengths both off the dribble and spotting up. The Wildcats used wins in four of their last five Big 12 games to secure the NCAA Tournament berth as a No. 8 seed.
THE BAD NEWS:
Inconsistency plagued the Wildcats much of the season. Newcomers needed time to pick up on the traps and pressure Martin incorporates into his system while also toughening his players to the point they command the glass. Offensively, a sophomore slump for G Will Spradling prevented him from emerging as a long-range threat, while frontliners always had difficulty converting lobs, stickbacks and layups. The Wildcats seemed to turn a corner when their offensive execution was crisp throughout the Diamond Head Classic, which resulted in their first tournament title of any kind since 2007. The suspension of F Jamar Samuels, the team's lone senior starter, for the NCAA Tournament loss to Syracuse punctuated a disappointed ending.
Samuels was the only key contributor the Wildcats will lose, presuming no one jumps for another program and follow the likes of Rutgers' Wally Judge, South Florida's Ron Anderson and SMU's Nick Russell. Attrition is always a possibility since everyone is not cut out to play for the demanding and fiery Martin. Still, Kansas State should have the talent to be a potential Big 12 contender with McGruder, Spradling, Henriquez and G Angel Rodriguez all returning, along with three key subs, G Martavious Irving, F Thomas Gipson and F Adrian Diaz. It is important for Rodriguez to develop into a more dependable point guard after he showed flashes of greatness but was also prone to careless turnovers as a freshman.
--Junior G Rodney McGruder twisted an ankle in the first half of the 75-59 loss to Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament. Though he played 35 minutes, he was not able to attack offensively, going 5-for-13. His 15 points still led the Wildcats. McGruder netted 30 in a first-round win against Southern Mississippi.
--Senior F Jamar Samuels missed the Syracuse game after Kansas State officials learned of the possibility he may have accepted an impermissible benefit prior to the NCAA Tournament.
--Junior F Jordan Henriquez posted his third career double-double with 14 points and 17 rebounds, including 11 offensive boards, against Syracuse. The Wildcats went 0-3 in games in which Henriquez posted double-doubles -- all of them coming in the last six games of the season.