AMES — Throw a really bad Texas Tech team out of the equation for a moment.
Now, take a look at the current Big 12 standings. You’ll see a seven-loss (the most of any team in the league not counting Tech) Kansas State team at the top with a 4-1 mark since conference play began.
This is the same team that dropped three in a row (including an embarrassing home game to Texas Southern) from Dec. 28 to Jan. 3. Now, Bruce Weber’s Wildcats (11-7, 4-1) have rattled off four in a row in advance of Tuesday night’s road trip to Hilton Coliseum (6 o’clock on ESPN2).
What’s a guy to make of this Kansas State team? Is this a team capable of competing for a Big 12 title or are the Wildcats simply reaping the benefits of their early conference schedule?
Let’s play a little game of contender or pretender today at CycloneFanatic.com.
Three reasons why K-State is a legitimate contender
Marcus Foster – When he wants to be, Kansas State sophomore Marcus Foster is not only one of the most dangerous players in the Big 12 but potentially all of America. The 6-foot-2 guard is averaging 13.6 points per game (down from 15.5 a year ago) but has upped that mark back to 15.5 during the four-game winning streak. Due to foul trouble, Foster sat much of the second half in Saturday’s 63-61 win over Baylor and the Wildcats were still able to make a fierce comeback without him (led by Nino Williams’ 18 points).
Won in Oklahoma – This is the outlier when breaking down Kansas State’s resume. Take a Jan. 10 victory in Norman away and Kansas State’s three Big 12 wins would have been home games against TCU, Texas Tech and Baylor. Kinda blah, right?
But winning at Oklahoma was a real attention grabber.
“It was similar to our win at West Virginia,” Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s in an arena where not many teams are going to go in there and get a win. It’s a confidence builder when you can go on the road and beat a team that got first place votes. That’s going to breed confidence in your players and they are certainly confident right now.”
Figuring it out – Let’s address the elephant in the room.
So what exactly happened on Dec. 28 when Kansas State lost to Texas Southern 58-56, anyway?
“It was one of those games that was kind of a disaster,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “A Packers fan would have the same type of feeling. You just don’t understand how so many things could go wrong at one time. We had a hangover against Georgia and then went on the road against Oklahoma State who is a pretty good team.”
According to Weber, his team essentially hit rock bottom in that loss to Texas Southern, let it slip to Georgia, got its legs back vs. Oklahoma State and has been trending up ever since.
“We weren’t that far off and I said that all along,” Weber said. “Even Arizona when we go back (a 72-68 loss), just a little more experience, maybe focus and maturity, that’s worth a lot. To our kids’ credit, we aren’t always pretty but we do battle and we’ve been fortunate to make some plays and find a way to win.”
Three reasons why K-State is nothing more than a pretender
Marcus Foster – Based off of reports that were coming out of Manhattan during the non-con, can you really rely on this guy? In the losses to Georgia and Oklahoma State, Foster scored a combined two points in 38 minutes of action.
KenPom says so – The computers over at KenPom.com are NOT impressed with Kansas State’s body of work. Check out this tweet from CF contributor Kirk Haaland.
"K-State is 4-1 in B12 play. KenPom has them favored in just 1 remaining game (at TTU). He has them < 30% chance to win in 7 remaining games."
In fact, KenPom.com actually gives Iowa State an 87 percent chance of victory in Tuesday’s game with a projected final score of 75-63.
Besides Oklahoma, whom have they beaten? – According to CBS, Kansas State’s RPI is currently 95th. Kansas State’s best non-conference win was against Texas A&M on Dec. 20. Besides the Texas Southern game, Kansas State doesn’t really have a bad loss as Pitt (neutral), Long Beach State (away), Tennessee (away), Georgia (home) and Arizona (neutral) all have RPI’s in the top 70.
First things first, on Monday, I asked Hoiberg to assess Kansas State’s resume. You can read his response here:
“When you look at a couple of those losses, they lost to Arizona in a tight, tight, contested game,” Hoiberg said. “That’s a game that could have gone either way. I think Bruce said it today, they lost to Texas Southern and then had a hangover against Georgia and lost that one. They then went on to lose that first road game at Oklahoma State. That’s a team that has found itself. Bruce Weber teams are always going to defend. First and foremost, all over they floor they are going to be up in you. You’ve got to take care of the ball. You’ve got to be smart. They are playing better offensively now and Foster is a kid that is as gifted of a scorer as anybody in our league when he gets it going. Big Gipson is a guy in the paint who is really effective down there. Williams is playing well. They are a confident team right now.”
Is Kansas State a contender to win the Big 12?
In my opinion, the answer is no.
Is Kansas State a contender to possibly be a bubble team and make the NCAA Tournament? The Wildcats dug themselves quite a hole in the non-con but luckily for them, they do play in the best league in America and will have plenty of opportunities to raise a few more eyebrows the rest of the way.
To that question, I’ll go with yes, but barely.
If you listen to our podcasts on a weekly basis, you know that I like Kansas State more than most people. However, I don’t love them.
The fact that a first place team is a 10.5-point underdog in Hilton Coliseum on Tuesday night along with the KenPom projections should tell you everything that you need to know. Having said that, this Kansas State team has already proven that it can go on the road and top-tier Big 12 team. Marcus Foster is an elite player in this league and the guys around him are finally starting to gel.
Iowa State should win this game but can’t afford to just “show up” after a marquee win over Kansas on Saturday.
I see Kansas State’s 4-1 start to the Big 12 actually playing into Iowa State’s favor here. After all, how do you look past a game against a first place team?
That would be a very foolish thing to do.