KANSAS CITY, Mo. --- When Kansas State meets Texas A&M in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal round game at the Sprint Center in the final contest of Friday night, it will begin for the Wildcats what first-year head coach Frank Martin aptly calls "the next season." And as the young squad embarks on yet another new experience, they'll be comforted by a certain familiarity upon reaching the court: Wildcat fans. Lots of them.
Martin believes they'll be everywhere, just as they hit the Sprint Center in gobs for a non-conference pasting of Florida A&M back in mid-December.
"Absolutely, K-State people can't wait to get into that building and represent us when we take the court," Martin said. "There is going to be a lot of purple in those seats. We've won on that court. We feel comfortable about lining up and winning on that court."
Big 12 Player of the Year Michael Beasley has been in big games before having helped to deliver four state championships to four different high schools. While the 6-foot-10, 235-pound star freshman continues to stomp some school records that were established decades before he was born (he enters averaging 26.5 points and 12.5 rebounds with a Big 12-record 26 double-doubles) he dignifies individual exploits with a blank stare.
The phrase "Big 12 Tournament," well, that conjures a smile.
"I think about a championship," Beasley said earlier in the week. "That's all we're going for."
Asked playfully whether he would guarantee a title, Beasley, allowing himself a carefree moment after an arduous practice, replied, "You guys are some jokesters."
As for Beasley and the Wildcats? They're approaching March with utmost seriousness. There's no other way. Bill Walker still remembers the sinking feeling as he sat with his teammates in a private room in a Manhattan restaurant about this time a year ago. They watched the NCAA Tournament Selection Show and waited for an announcement. The Wildcat Nation remembers all-too well how that one turned out.
"There's not a perfect formula," Walker said. "Last year we were fourth in the Big 12 and got skipped over. Things happen. We've got to take care of business."
K-State was ranked 44th in RPI and 27th in schedule strength on Thursday night. Coming off a third-place Big 12 finish in the regular season (the school's highest league finish in 19 years), most projections insist the Wildcats enter the Big 12 Tournament as a virtual lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1996.
"I know this, the No. 3 seed in every BCS conference in America is in the NCAA Tournament," Martin said. "We should be, too."
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