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March 3, 2009
K-State faces yet another road challenge
STILLWATER, Okla. -- "One game at a time." "Win the next one on the schedule." "Every contest is a must win." By now Kansas State fans have heard it all. Throughout their month-long battle to stay on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, Wildcat coach Frank Martin and his players have shown themselves experts at saying all the right things, but now it appears the time for worn out clichés has come to a close.
With just two games remaining in the regular season, it's unclear as to whether Martin's not-so-deep well of coachspeak has run dry or if it's a matter of building a case for his players, but on Monday, the second-year head coach broke his silence on the topic of his team's postseason chances.
"There's not a team in the country that has a perfect resume," Martin said. "We've done some good things in conference play. We didn't start well. We've turned it around, and if you want to go on what we've done in our last 12 games, I'm not sure what our record is, but I think it's 8-4 in our last 12, which isn't bad. We've got four wins against top-50 RPI teams, if I'm not mistaken. That's more than a lot of teams on the bubble. I think we've done a lot of good things to put ourselves in the conversation."
Still, Martin is fully aware that you don't get to hang a banner commemorating the fact that you were once listed on Joe Lunardi's "last four in." Putting his team in the conversation isn't the goal here and it never was. In the end, things are cut and dry. On March 15, K-State will be in or it will be out, and if it doesn't find a way to get past 19-9 Oklahoma State in Stillwater on Tuesday, it will likely be filed away under the latter.
It's a sticky situation: win, and you might be in business, but lose, and you're probably out of luck. Then again, nobody ever said life on the bubble was fair.
"We're looking at this game thinking we need to win it, and every game, to try to get us into the tournament," K-State senior Darren Kent said. "From now on, every game really counts. We can't let this thing slip out of our hands now."
A win Tuesday would not only give K-State sole possession of fourth place in the Big 12, but it would allow the Wildcats to boast victories on the home floor of each of three teams listed directly below them in the league standings.
Such a fact would be hard for the selection committee to ignore, but despite his willingness to make a case for his team's postseason worth, Martin, still somewhat true to form, insists that the conference standings and his team's postseason resume are irrelevant to the task at hand.
In his mind, things are actually quite simple.
"We're trying to win (on Tuesday), and then we're going to try and win Saturday (against Colorado)," Martin said. "That's the only thing that's important to us right now."
WHAT TO EXPECT: Both the Cowboys and Wildcats still have a lot to prove at this point in the season, and the atmosphere in Stillwater should be nothing short of electric. With that said, K-State will need block out considerable crowd noise and concern itself with a very athletic and talented Oklahoma State team from whistle to whistle.
It's no secret that the Cowboys are capable of finding the basket in a hurry. Coach Travis Ford's team rank fourth nationally in scoring output and are particularly dangerous from long range, averaging nearly 10 converted 3-point attempts per contest.
Sure the ability to play solid defense always plays into a team's chances of picking up a victory on the road, but in this case, things will be personified.
"They score the ball really well from everywhere," K-State sophomore Jacob Pullen said of Tuesday's opponent. "They score from their wings and their guard positions very well. Turning them over and guarding the ball is going to decide the game."
The Cowboys' potent offensive attack is fueled by a trio of guards that combine to average 47 points per game, and each can score from a variety of spots on the court. Seniors Terrel Harris and Byron Eaton, each of whom are scoring more than 14 per contest this year, are unquestionably Oklahoma State's on-court leaders, but it's James Anderson, a sophomore, who has been the squad's most lethal option on the offensive end.
The Cowboys "Big Three" are responsible for more than 56 percent of the team's total points this year, and slowing the trio down will take a full, 40-minute effort.
If K-State can find a way to hold two of Oklahoma State's top three scorers to 10 or fewer points, it will give itself a solid chance of escaping Stillwater with its NCAA Tournament hopes intact.
At this point, living another day is the only thing that matters.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: Kent, dawning a mask to protect a broken nose, scored 13 points on 50 percent shooting against Nebraska on Saturday, while junior Buchi Awaji was 4 for 6 from the floor in a 10-point, nine-rebound performance.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE COWBOYS: Sophomore Marshall Moses posted a double-double in OSU's win over Texas, scoring 15 points and grabbing 16 rebounds.