“Probably the top 10.”
Senior forward Nino Williams said it best after scoring 15 points in an upset win over in-state rival No. 8 Kansas.
Where would this K-State team be if it played to their full potential night in and night out? Where would this K-State team be if they bought in from the start of the season? Where would this team be if effort was never an issue?
We will never know, which, to be frank, is a real shame. We don’t even know if the exemplary play against Kansas is even the best that K-State can play.
So far, though, the game against the Jayhawks was one of the Wildcats’ best offensive performances, overshadowed only by outstanding defense against Kansas’ perimeter players.
There wasn’t a second half scoring drought that crippled the team like it did against Iowa State in Ames, Iowa or in both games against West Virginia.
It was just a solid 40 minutes of basketball all around.
So, you wonder, is Nino’s assumption (which was said as more of a punchline and less of serious calculation) correct?
Let’s look at the losses.
Long Beach State, K-State’s first loss of the season, would have been decimated by a team playing two-thirds as good as K-State was playing Monday night.
As for the Maui losses, Arizona was and is a really good team. That game goes down as K-State’s best loss of the season, if there is such a thing. Effort was not the issue there. Losing by 20-plus points to Pittsburgh may have been the result of a letdown after such a close, emotion-filled loss to Arizona.
However, the Tennessee, Georgia and Texas Southern losses were all effort-based downfalls. The Big Monday K-State would be 3-0 against those teams.
Just putting away beatable opponents early in the season probably would have been enough to keep K-State dancing in NCAA Tournament for a sixth-straight year.
Sure, with their record, K-Sate’s conference play would still be a disappointment. But the postseason would have been an attainable goal for this K-State team instead of something that might just be mathematically possible — maybe.
Plus, who know what the microcosms of not having a bad nonconference are for this team’s fragile psyche?
Maybe confidence on the court earlier in the season alleviates the locker room trouble later in season? Maybe that stuff was doomed to happen from the beginning?
However, to answer the original question, if K-State put that kind of effort day in day out, it would be special.
The Wildcats have talent. Even with their inconsistencies, you don’t beat the people you’ve beaten this season because of lack of talent.
People forget that however great the 2008-09 Elite Eight team was, they were a team. Sure they were led by a special player in Jacob Pullen, but it wasn’t the talent that beat Xavier in two overtimes. It was the effort.
This K-State team has three options.
First option: they rally behind the Kansas game and go on a run that finds them dancing and happy once again in March. The fires would be temporarily put out, and weeks of wintertime misery would be forgotten by K-State fans.
Second option: the Wildcats stay on the good side of inconsistent and find their way into the NIT where this season is given a proper ending to its madness by K-State losing to a Florida or some other big name school who has also fumbled its season.
Third option: K-State gets blown out by Iowa State and Texas. The team, reeling once again at this point, meets angry and improved TCU and gets bounced in the Big 12 Tournament play-in game with a final record of 14-19. The Kansas goodwill vanishes and a dark offseason awaits.
K-State has the power and the ability to easily fall in any of the three options.
At this point, it’s about the effort. Like it has been, like it always will be.