Editor's Note: "Sports Extra" concludes a two-part look at coach Frank Martin's decision to change offenses as mid-season going from, in Wildcat terminology, a "box set" to a "pinch post" system. Yesterday, Martin visited about the whys of the rather dramatic mid-season move, while today assistant coach Brad Underwood explains why it better fits K-State's current roster.
By Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Getting a coach to change philosophies at mid-stream is like ... well, paddling up that stream.
First, coaching egos will normally not allow such a notion, and secondly, it seldom works in the middle of a 30-game season - certainly not in the heat of competition of a league like the Big 12.
"Frank (Martin) deserves a lot of credit to change within a season," said K-State assistant coach Brad Underwood. "About the time we played Colorado (Jan. 12), our offense had become bogged down, and with a slightly different roster than we started the season with, we were just not as effective as we thought we were going to be."
With the massive Freddy Asprilla, Curtis Kelly, Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and Wally Judge dotting the early-season roster, the thinking of the coaches was the box-set with two "bigs" at the low post and two Wildcats on either side of the free throw line would give K-State a high-low offense that would work magic.
K-State was 12-5 on Jan. 12, but off to a 0-2 start in Big 12 play, and owners of just a 3-5 record against the best eight teams played during the first half of the season. The Wildcats are now on a 6-2 run in the Big 12 Conference entering today's 11 a.m., tipoff against the Missouri Tigers with fourth place in the league on the line.
With the departure of Asprilla, and later Judge, an offensive scheme that Underwood had been pestering Martin with for the last couple years was all of a sudden taken more seriously.
"It gave us a chance to play smaller and spread the floor, yet it keeps a pretty good assault at the rim without starting the offense at the rim," said Underwood of the Wildcats new "pinch post" scheme. "It's an offense designed to spread the floor and create spacing along with simultaneous ball movement and player movement.
"You have cutters going to the rim and players are in constant movement," explained Underwood. "There's the availability to set screens at the elbow, which is a hard place to handle a screen."
Underwood added, "What Frank liked about it was being more fluid and more efficient. From an efficiency standpoint, it allowed us to play smaller and create some mismatches."
The offense has especially benefited Jacob Pullen, who has averaged better than 22 points per game in the 11 games the "pinch post" has been in system.
"As crazy as it sounds, the offense has helped Jake in that it keeps the ball out of his hands. One of the things Jake does as well as anyone in the country is move without the ball," said Underwood. "He does a very, very good job of creating opportunities at the rim for himself. It seems that in every game he has an uncontested layup. It would be hard to find a point guard in the country playing any better than Jake."
Plus, Underwood said, the "pinch post" has helped others get involved in the offense in particular games.
Rodney McGruder has had games of 22, 16 and 15 points, plus five others in twin figures; Jamar Samuels has enjoyed a high of 22, plus five other games of at least eight points; Will Spradling has had a high of 17, with two other games of at least nine points; Curtis Kelly has had four games between 16 and 12 points; and, Nick Russell, Jordan Henriquez Roberts and Martavious Irving have all taken turns of being in twin figures.
"Changing in the middle of the season is hard to do, but we put a lot of faith in our players to understand it, and learn it. They were committed to it whole-heartedly from day-one," said Underwood. "Texas Tech (a 94-60 win, shooting 53 percent overall and 59 percent from 3-point range) is the first time we ran it, and any time you have success there's the tendency to buy-in."
Interesting to the offense is that K-State has shown discipline with six, seven and eight passes before putting up a shot, yet the Wildcats have taken more shots attempts in eight of the 11 games in the "pinch post" set.
"It's sort of like football. We have a good time of possession," said Underwood. "The kids are buying in because they know they're going to get their shots for this area or that area, which they like."
It's not written in stone, but the winner of today's 11 a.m., game on ESPN between 8-5, 22-6 Missouri and 7-6, 19-9 Kansas State could be the fourth place team in the league and winner of the first-round bye at the Big 12 Championships.
Missouri won the first meeting, 75-59, with five scorers between 14 and 10 points. Shooting a frigid 3-of-16 from 3-point range and committing 24 turnovers, K-State was paced by Jacob Pullen's 16 points.
Just how good have these teams been in recent history?
K-State has won 70 games in its most recent three seasons, which is a school record; Mizzou has 76 wins, which matches its best-ever three-year run.
If the teams leave Bramlage Coliseum tied today, the final week of the season will have K-State going to Texas and hosting Iowa State, and Missouri going to Nebraska and entertaining Kansas.
1951 Final Four Team to be Honored
Kansas State will honor its 1950-51 Final Four squad at halftime of the Missouri contest.
Ten members of the legendary team - Ernie Barrett, Joe Condit, Bobby Garcia, John "Hoot" Gibson, Lew Hitch, Jim Iverson, Dick Knostman, Perk Reitemeier and Bob Rousey - as well as the families of the late Glenn Channell, Ed Head and Don Upson will join assistant coach Fred "Tex" Winter in attendance at the game.
Led by Hall of Fame head coach Jack Gardner, the 1950-51 team posted a 25-4 overall record and is the only K-State basketball team to play in an NCAA Championship game.
The team was led by captain and consensus second team All-American Ernie Barrett, a member of the Kansas State Athletics Hall of Fame, and included All-Big Seven selections Hitch and Stone. Barrett averaged a team-best 10.3 points in 29 games, while Stone and Hitch posted 9.6 and 8.8 scoring averages, respectively. Just a sophomore in 1950-51, Knostman would go on to become one of the program's all-time greats, earning consensus second team All-America honors in 1953.