The Wildcats have ridden their 5-game winning streak and success in Hawaii to just get into the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll at #25. This is well-deserved for Frank Martin’s squad, which is sitting at 10-1. This is a long way from halftime of the Wildcats’ first game of the year, when they trailed Charleston Southern at home by 14.
But Martin is really starting to show his coaching chops, and has K-State looking like an easy NCAA team 11 games in. The Wildcats went 3-0 in Hawaii over the past few days with wins over Southern Illinois (83-58), UTEP (78-70) and Long Beach State (77-60). The first two have been notable mid-major programs in the past but seem down this year. Long Beach State, however, is a quality win as that team has beaten Pitt and (weakened) Xavier, and played Kansas close in Lawrence.
Since Michael Beasley was in Manhattan (and really Bill Walker the year before), K-State has had at least one All-Big 12 type player every year (Beasley, Walker, Jacob Pullen, Denis Clemente). The Wildcats don’t have that this year, but it seems Martin (a testament to his coaching) has turned that into the team’s strength. K-State is developing into a team with depth: right now the Wildcats go eight deep, with eight players averaging over 19 minutes/game.
Two freshmen have been nice surprises. Forward Thomas Gipson was making a big offensive impact until the past four games, where he has tailed off. But since that time, guard Angel Rodriguez has seen a big jump in his scoring (even though he went 0-6 in the last game). These two will continue to grow, and as they both become more consistent the Wildcats will have plenty of offensive options.
K-State will need to keep the solid play rolling along, as they enter the Big 12 with a tough stretch of games. They open on January 4 in Lawrence, and even though school will be out, I imagine Allen Fieldhouse will still be intimidating. They then get Baylor and Mizzou in Manhattan, followed by a trip to Oklahoma (whom the jury is still out on after a good start).
K-State should be able to stay in most games, even road ones, because of some of the things they’ve done well thus far. They’ve defended well, holding teams to 63 points a game and putting up a defensive rating of 88.4 (27th in the country). In addition they’ve rebounded well, averaging 41.6 (7th in the country). Their field goal percentage is pretty average, so the rebounding numbers aren’t inflated by a ton of missed shots.
The ceiling on this K-State team may not be that high without a star to take over in the tournament. But right now they are a solid team that should be a tough to beat on a nightly basis. Stay tuned.