It's called conference play ... an eight week, 16-game marathon of Big 12 games that count like no others that this 2007-08 Kansas State team has played.
Each one really, really counts toward a multiple of trophies, seedings and postseason invitations handed out during a month of madness ... March Madness ... to those teams that excel in January and February.
Kansas State just may be the youngest team in Big 12 history with six true-freshmen, plus a junior college transfer in Andre Gilbert, all set to enter their first dose of Big 12 hoops. Kansas State coach Frank Martin says there's no way to prepare his youthful Wildcats for action … they just have to go play.
"It's like that 2-year-old kid that sticks his finger in the electric socket for the first time," Martin said. "I don't care how many times you as a parent tell him, 'Don't put your finger in there, it's going to hurt,' they are going to stick their finger in there eventually. And that's kind of what we're getting ready to go through here. We've prepared. The players have prepared."
From the outside looking in, rival coach Bill Self of Kansas admits, "You would rather go into any type of tough part of a schedule with talent and experience, but if you had to pick one of the two, I'd definitely pick talent, and they certainly have that."
But the fact is, there are plenty of Xavier-type teams lurking ahead on K-State's schedule. Teams like the Musketeers that whacked the Wildcats by 26-points on Dec. 31.
At no point in the season does K-State need the likes of David Hoskins more than now. A fifth-year senior, who has been through the wars.
"He was such an emotional and strong personality," said KSU assistant coach Brad Underwood. "He had so much experience and received so much respect. He had weathered so many storms and the young guys knew that."
But Hoskins is sidelined with a knee injury and is likely out for the year.
Record-wise, Kansas State is exactly where it was a year ago with a 10-4 non-conference record. The 2007 Wildcats went on to go 10-6 and place fourth in the Big 12 standings, plus won another in the Big 12 Postseason Tournament. Still, it wasn't good enough to get into the NCAA Tournament.
With that in mind, these "Diaper Dandy" Wildcats must learn the importance of a strong start to the Big 12 season, and it won't be easy. K-State plays at Oklahoma on Saturday, and then returns home to play nationally ranked Texas A&M on Jan. 19. A minimum of a split is needed in these first two games.
The Wildcats will play five of their first eight games at home hosting A&M, Iowa State, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma State, to go with road trips to OU, Colorado and Missouri. A 6-2 mark would be nice, but at least a 5-3 record is a must.
The 'Cats need at least three road wins, plus a winning record at home, which would put the Wildcats at that 10- to 11-win level for a second straight year.