By Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Picture a Frank Martin-coached basketball team and the first vision is tenacity and toughness on the defensive end. This year is no exception.
In a year that K-State's offensive accuracy has been iffy at times, its defensive play has been extremely steady.
In a 9-1 start to the season, the No. 6 ranked Wildcats are allowing only 62.5 points per game, and are holding teams to 38 percent shooting overall, which includes a chilly 32 percent from 3-point range.
Those are numbers that lead Martin to say, "You can't be disappointed with that."
Only No. 1 Duke has bruised the K-State defense with an 82-point showing, while six opponents were held in the 60s and three in the 50s - Virginia Tech (57), Washington State (58) and Alcorn State (55).
In the Martin era, K-State is 23-0 in games where it holds opponents to 60 points or less.
Individual leaders at the defensive end include:
• Defensive Rebounds: Rodney McGruder (42), Jamar Samuels (37) and Freddy Asprilla (28)
• Steals: Jacob Pullen (20), Will Spradling (10) and McGruder (9)
• Blocked Shots: Jordan Henriquez-Roberts (14), Asprilla (13) and Curtis Kelly (9)
Martin, however, stops short of pointing to a defensive specialist saying that the K-State concept is a team concept.
Quizzed about missing the defensive stopper that Dominique Sutton provided last year, Martin said, "Rodney (McGruder) has been pretty good, but our defense is not about a guy. It's about a team. The way we play, we want five guys on the same page and we've done a pretty good job of that and winning individual matchups."
Saturday was no exception as the Wildcats held Loyola-Chicago to 60 points in an eight-point K-State victory.
"On nights like this, you can get mad at everything that went wrong, but at the end of the day you've still found a way to win on the road," said senior Jacob Pullen.
Already this season, K-State has road wins at Washington State and Loyola, plus a neutral site victory over Gonzaga.
LONG, LONG, LONG RIDE HOME: K-State won the game against Loyola-Chicago on Saturday, and celebrated afterward with a mini-Pullen reunion, but then the smiles turned to frowns on Sunday.
Scheduled for a charter flight home, the snow and wind conditions in Chicago kept the K-State flight grounded, so the team opted to bus home in what would normally be a 12- to 13-hour trip.
But not too long into their journey, the Wildcats were stalled for nearly four hours on Interstate 55 near Springfield, Ill., by a 20-car pile-up.
After leaving Chicago at 7 a.m. on Sunday, the team arrived at the Manhattan airport Monday morning around 1:15 completing their 18-hour bus ride, and arriving home just in time for the start of finals.
BAD WEEK: Martin calls this finals week that K-State is in an "impossible week."
He explains, "You have to mix and match practice times, plus understand that it's a stressful week for the players in that it's the culmination of a semester of work and getting their grades. It's a week where I am very understanding about academics. I want them to finish the semester like I ask them to finish games."
• For the first time in the 15-year history of the Big 12 Conference, there are six teams ranked in the Top 25: No. 3 Kansas, No. 6 K-State, No. 9 Baylor, No. 13 Missouri, No. 22 Texas and No. 25 Texas A&M. On Dec. 21, K-State will face No. 22 UNLV. The Rebels lost for the first time over the weekend at Louisville.
• In the four-year history of the Big 12 - Pac 10 Hardwood Series, the Big 12 holds a 27-20 advantage, which includes a 7-4 advantage this year. K-State is 2-2 all-time with two losses to Oregon and two wins over Washington State.
• Jacob Pullen ranks 8th in the Big 12 in scoring at 16.3, seventh in assists at 4.0, fifth in steals at 2.0, and seventh in 3-pointers at 2.0 per game.
• K-State ranks second in the league in attendance at 12,528 per home game. That only trails Kansas at 16,709 per home date.
LEADERSHIP FAR, FAR AWAY: Asked about K-State's leadership this year, Martin recently replied, "It's in Israel, it's in Puerto Rico, it's in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. That is where our swagger is. That is where those three seniors - Denis Clemente, Luis Colon and Chris Merriwether - are. They did not take anything for granted. That is where our swagger is at right now."