Cats Better Than Expected?

The super-stars are gone, but Kansas State's basketball team is role-playing itself into contention for a first-division finish in the Big 12 Conference. Balance has been the key with potential scoring from each of the five floor positions.

Two months ago, the Big 12 Conference basketball coaches picked Kansas State to finish eighth in the preseason 2008-09 Big 12 standings

At the time, the ranking seemed fair with the Wildcats heading into the season without the mega-stars of Michael Beasley and Bill Walker on their roster.

It's now nearly one-third of the way into the season and Kansas State has been a winner in seven out of 10 games, having lost the others by a total of nine points – by 2 to Kentucky and Iowa, and by five to Oregon.

Multiple coaches have talked of Kansas State's athleticism, which includes Rick Scruggs, whose Gardner-Webb team was abused by the Wildcats last Sunday, 107-48.

After playing Oklahoma to within four, and Virginia Tech to within three, coach Rick Scruggs said of the Wildcats, "This is by far the strongest team we have seen this year from top to bottom. It was a mirage of three pointers and rebounds and everything you can talk about, great pressure defense and a well-coached group.

"They are fun to watch on film and they are terrible to play against. I hate having to play against them because as a coach you know what is coming and you try to tell your players but they just aren't ready for it because we don't have those kinds of athletes to practice against."

K-State doesn't have the super-star talents of last year, but what it does have is a nine-man depth that would compare with most in the Big 12.

Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente are K-State's 1-2 scoring punch with respective averages of 15.1 and 12.5 per game, followed by Jamar Samuels, who adds 10.4 off the bench.

Just a bucket away from twin figures are Fred Brown (9.0), Dominique Sutton (8.5) and Darren Kent (8.4). And while not consistent scorers, Luis Colon has shown the capability of scoring 18 in a single game, plus hits 60 percent of his shots, while Ron Anderson nets 59 percent from the field.

Add Chris Merriewether to the mix, and the Wildcats have nine players, who average at least 12 minutes per game.

Demonstrating the balance of the team, Clemente has led the team in scoring four times, while Pullen has been tops three times and Fred Brown twice. Kent, Colon and Samuels have also at least shared top scoring honors once.

The Wildcats have the same type of balance on the backboards as Anderson (2), Kent (2), Sutton (2), Colon (2), Samuels and Pullen have all been leaders on the glass.

Other pluses to the team include three 3-point threats in Pullen (23), Brown (20) and Clemente (16), plus it has demonstrated the ability to get to the foul line 26 times per game.

If there is a concern area, it's in ball handling as the Wildcat commit an average of 14 turnovers per game, and have barely better than a 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

On the plus side is the fact K-State's quickness forces its opponents into 20 turnovers per game.

There's no reason to believe that K-State will finish non-conference play with anything but a 12-3 record. That's the good news, but the bad news is it will not have a truly quality win among the 15.

That means going at least 8-8 in Big 12 will be a must to have a sniff at the NCAA Tournament.

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