To say the K-State men’s basketball team has caught the conference by surprise this season would be an understatement.
Flash back to Jan. 21. The Wildcats, picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 in the preseason coaches poll, were just handed an 83-65 home loss to Baylor. The loss dropped K-State to 0-4 in conference play and, after a disappointing non-conference showing, left the Wildcats with zero marquee wins.
If you’d have told me then K-State would be in the middle of the NCAA Tournament race as the month of February came to a close, I would have said you were out of your mind.
Fast forward exactly one month. Since going winless in their first four attempts, the Wildcats have won eight of their last nine contests and have posted a sparkling 7-1 mark in conference play – including a perfect 4-0 clip in games away from Bramlage Coliseum.
Unfortunately, if they plan on making a second straight trip to the Big Dance, they still have plenty of work to do. The depleted state of the conference, coupled with K-State’s early-season meltdown, caused the Wildcats to plummet in the RPI rankings. It’s no secret they have made significant progress, but there’s still plenty of ground to be covered.
With four games left – two at home and two on the road – K-State’s remaining away games are unfavorable, to say the least. The Wildcats take on No. 8 Missouri tonight in Columbia, Mo. Sure, K-State embarrassed the Tigers last month, handing them an 88-72 loss in Manhattan, but Missouri is arguably the hottest team in the conference right now.
The Tigers haven’t lost since their last meeting with the Wildcats, and they’ve won in impressive fashion. In their current six-game winning streak, the Tigers have beaten opponents by an average of 12.2 points – including wins over Texas and Kansas.
Long story short: the team K-State faces tonight is one of the toughest it’s seen all season. The Wildcats have fared well in Mizzou Arena lately, winning three of their last four, but they will need to be virtually flawless in every aspect of the game to escape with a win this time around. Not to sound pessimistic, but it will probably take another explosion similar to Denis Clemente’s showing at Texas to pull off the upset.
K-State has the numbers working in its favor against Missouri, but that won’t be the case at all when the Wildcats head to Stillwater, Okla. to take on Oklahoma State on March 3.
Since the 1988-89 campaign, K-State is a dismal 1-12 in Gallagher-Iba Arena. Since Dana Altman’s squad earned a 75-62 overtime win in 1993, the Wildcats have dropped nine straight in Stillwater. If K-State can’t get a win tonight at Missouri, beating the Cowboys will be imperative.
Frank Martin has shown the conference his team has the capability to battle away from its home floor, and that’s a trend that must continue. The Wildcats only have a few chances left to show the selection committee they belong in the 64-team bracket this March, and they can’t afford to let any of those chances get away.
Justin Nutter is a junior in mass communications. Please send comments to email@example.com.