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January 2, 2009With a trio of road losses and an unblemished record in Manhattan, it seems as if gauging the early part of Kansas State's season in a rather inexact science. The Wildcats, 9-3 on the year, stand in the exact place they stood a year ago at this time, but all bets are off when it comes to attempting to analyze the squad's early-season performance, as opinions of Coach Frank Martin's second K-State team are diverse to say the least.
Martin's Wildcats were recently dubbed the Big 12's most disappointing team by a national sports publication, a dubious distinction that, accurate or not, has most players in the K-State locker room shrugging their shoulders.
"That's why we don't listen to the media," senior forward Darren Kent said. "Yeah we saw it. Yeah, we printed it off, but we can't let that kind of stuff bother us. We had two NBA guys last year and the same record this year. Those are two totally different teams. You would think that would be a good thing."
Disappointing or not, this team is anything but similar to the one K-State put on the floor a year ago. Sure, there's the absence of Bill Walker and Michael Beasley, both of whom were selected in last year's NBA Draft, but the differences don't end there. Just ask Martin, who was also less than thrilled when he saw his 8-3 team tabbed as "disappointing" by a columnist who Martin points out is yet to see his squad play in person.
"People are big on comparing where you're at," Martin said. " . . . This year, we have more returning players. We're able to grow in areas where last year's team wasn't ready to grow in yet because there was a lack of understanding about how we wanted to play."
Whether this team reaches the same level of success as the one that came before it or not, the growth it is experiencing seems to be, if nothing else, widespread. Yeah, it's been written into the ground and verbally pounded into smithereens, but "balance" is a buzzword around the year's Wildcats for a reason.
K-State currently boasts half a dozen players with scoring averages better than eight points and six different Wildcats have scored 20 or more in a game this season, a number that leads the Big 12 by far.
"It's the same thing we've been saying all year, that on any given night, anyone can come out and explode and have a big game for us," sophomore Jacob Pullen said, who leads K-State in scoring, said. "You can't guard just one person on our team, because if you stop them, then we have someone else step up and we still have a chance to win the game. It just speaks to how well we play as a team."
Disappointing? Again, that just depends on who it is you're asking.
"I couldn't be happier with these guys," Martin said. "These guys have probably grown more in the first two months of the season than any team I've ever coached before."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Another non-conference home game brings another overmatched opponent to Manhattan, and barring a Wildcat meltdown, Saturday's game should yield a familiar result. With that being said, this contest is being viewed as the first leg of a conference-play entrance exam and some subjects need more studying than others.
"Our biggest thing is our offense," Martin said. "When we set our defense up, we've been pretty good. Usually, when we play good offense, we have a chance to play good defense."
Idaho State, 4-10 on the year, is allowing its opponents 72.5 points per game, which ranks 258 out of 330 Division-I teams, so the K-State offense should have no problem appearing Big 12 ready against the Bengals.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: Sophomore forward Dominique Sutton recorded the first double-double of his short career during K-State's last game, an 82-55 win over Wagner. The way this season has gone so far, however, it's almost impossible to predict which Wildcat will lead the team in scoring. Pullen has been K-State's most consistent scorer so far this year, as his 15 points per game lead the team.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE BENGALS: Junior guard Amorrow Morgan poured in 18 points for Idaho State in the Bengals' overtime win over Northern Colorado on Thursday. Morgan was a perfect 3 for 3 from 3-point range in the victory and shot better than 53 percent from the floor.