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January 9, 2009They say turnabout is fair play, so as Kansas State head coach Frank Martin struggles to game plan for player of the year candidate Blake Griffin, he can't complain too much. After all, the shoe was on the other foot during last year's Big 12 opener when Martin brought a superstar of his own to Norman (Okla.). In fact, Martin contends it all set in just the other day: these things are cyclical.
"Now, I know what how other coaches felt when they had to prepare for Mike Bealsey," he said.
Preparing for Griffin and No. 6 Oklahoma is a tall task indeed. Griffin is the nation's top rebounder and ranks 12th in scoring average, while the Sooners, as a whole, rank 14th in scoring average and 15th in scoring margin.
Yes, the rocky road of game-planning leading up to Saturday's opener is a familiar one, but that hasn't made it any easier to travel down.
With that said, defense has been the strength of Martin's squad since the season tipped off, however, and though Martin recognizes what the Sooners do well, he's not selling his team short. In fact, some feel the Wildcats' style of defense is perfect for slowing down the Sooners.
"We have done a pretty good job at sticking to our game plan to eliminate or make it hard for the other guys on the other team that we are trying to take out of the game," Martin said.
It's all but impossible to take players such as Griffin out of a game completely, but that won't stop K-State from trying to do so. It's unclear just who will draw the majority of the game's minutes matched up with the physical Oklahoma native, but odds are the unenviable task will be shared.
It will likely be junior Luis Colon who spends the most time banging it out with the much stronger Griffin, but that doesn't mean Martin won't throw different combinations of players in the mix. After all, when it comes to situations like this, the second-year head coach hints that he may have a few tricks lingering in the sleeves of his five-button suit.
"We (look at) our individual tendencies and what they try to score when they have the basketball," Martin said. "We try to take that away and make them play through weakness. We try to do the best job that we can in preparing our players to different things that they do to get those guys the basketball."
Slowing down the hard-to-stop Oklahoma forward will be priority No. 1 on Saturday. That goes without saying, but it doesn't mean K-State can mail it in on the offensive end. Martin's team has shown some inconstancy in that area as of late, and stretches of poor offensive possessions won't go over well against an elite opponent like the Sooners.
It sounds simple, but to beat Oklahoma, Martin's bunch will have to score in bunches, a mission that players on the Wildcat roster say is becoming more possible. This is where the balanced scoring K-State exhibited during the non-conference slate will come in handy.
"We are starting to get a rhythm as a team out there (on the court) and are starting to share the ball well," senior forward Darren Kent said. "Everybody has been shooting it well, so that is nice. Hopefully that continues as Big 12 play goes on. The biggest thing is that we are playing as a team and that is the most important part to us.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: For the most part, K-State will stick to what it does best against the Sooners, and that's pressure. Plus, the Wildcats want to play Saturday's game, much like every game they suit up for, at a blistering pace.
K-State will need to run the court to have a chance to win this one, but it's the squad's pressure defense that will keep them in the game. Martin will stay on his guards to pressure the basketball in the backcourt in an effort to cause turnovers and fast break points. If that happens consistently, this contest will all of a sudden become very winnable for the Wildcats.
Then again, saying it is one thing. Executing, on the other hand, is another task entirely.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: Reserve guard Fred Brown scored a career-high 26 points in K-State's win over Chicago State. Brown has shown the ability to pour it in from a variety of places on the floor in his short college career, but his defense, which has improved recently, is what will buy him the playing time necessary to light it up against the Sooners.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE SOONERS: No surprises here. Griffin scored 20 points and snatched 16 rebounds in his team's 100-64 win over Maryland-Eastern Shore on Monday. Double-doubles have been the norm for Sooners' Mr. Everything this season, and players of Griffin's ability don't go into long slumps.