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Wildcats Not Out of It Yet

By Mark Janssen

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Yes, we know that Kansas State plays its basketball games in halves, but for giving definition to this Big 12 basketball season, we're at the end of the first quarter.

Yeah, we're already four games into the 16-game Big 12 grind with a dozen to go.

At 1-3, K-State's not where it wants to be, for sure, but the good news is that there is plenty of hoop time to recover.

While Frank Martin has shouldered the blame for being a "bad coach," we're not buying that here. He also says it's been a season filled with "unnecessary drama," which is something one can agree with.

While 13-6 isn't a bad record, it's not what was expected, or wanted. That's especially true with the Wildcats' 4-5 record since December 18; that's really, really true with the current 1-3 Big 12 record.

This isn't an attempt to make excuses, but handling a high degree of expectation and/or hype for the first time can be difficult. Even for those used to winning huge, it can be difficult - see 2010 Texas football.

This is a bit hard to believe, but the last time K-State opened a year ranked among the Top 15 teams in the nation was, get this, 1975-76. Yes, the years of Chuckie Williams and Mike Evans when the Wildcats opened a year ranked No. 14.

Since then, only once - No. 25 in 2007-08 with the arrival of Michael Beasley and Bill Walker - had a KSU team been ranked in the Top 25 entering a basketball season.

This year, the Wildcats were tabbed No. 3 in the nation and that's not to mention being favored to win the Big 12 title by 10 of the other 11 Big 12 coaches. Yes, the league coaches were that high on K-State.

Those expectations can be a heavy load for a team returning only Jacob Pullen, Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels as players who had been more than just a role player in the prior season.

For whatever reason, or reasons, that trio of players has provided more "drama," taking a word from Martin, than leadership.

In their absence, with the exception of Rodney McGruder, the fresh faces have experienced an expected dose of growing pains.

Not to make excuses, but this point should not be forgotten.

The returning next in line scholarship Wildcats included 21-year-old Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, 20-year-old Martavious Irving, 19-year-olds McGruder and Nick Russell, plus the cast of first-year players.

Those lads are filling the Nikes left behind by Wildcat men: 24-year-olds Denis Clemente, Dominique Sutton and Luis Colon, and 22-year-old Chris Merriewether.

Yes, that team of a year ago had talent, but it was also a lineup of age.

Words/phrases like "immature" and "need to grow up" have been tossed around during the last couple months, and comparatively speaking, for good reason. It is a much younger cast of Wildcats, with again, only three of them playing significant roles a year ago.

Even before the opening tap to the season, goofy things happened with this basketball team, and honestly, they haven't stopped.

If the Pullen, Kelly, Samuels triangle was going to be the team's foundation, it crumbled as they have been on the floor together in just nine of 21 games, including exhibition action. If Wally Judge was going to be a fourth focal point, that grouping of four has taken the court together in just four of the 21 games.

As strange as it sounds, only McGruder, Henriquez-Roberts and Will Spradling have played in every K-State game.

While it's easy to slip into a panic mode, let's all remember this. Bob Huggins' team in 2007 started the year 2-2 at the quarter pole, but finished 10-6. And in 2009, the Wildcats false-started out of the gate with a 0-4 record, but ended up 9-7, and with a first-round bye to the Big 12 Championships.

This team does have some instant "maturing" and "growing up" to do in the Big 12 standings as the Wildcats find themselves three games back in the loss column to Texas A&M or Texas (depending on the outcome of Wednesday's game), and yes, Kansas.

K-State's next four games will be pivotal in setting the tone for the rest of the season. K-State plays at Texas A&M, Baylor, at Kansas and Nebraska to finish out the first half of the season. Winning at least two of those games would put the 'Cats at no less than 3-5. No, that's not where they wanted/intended to be, but also not out of the hunt to be a top-four team at the end of the conference year.