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Wildcats Go from "Box Set" to "Pinch Post"

Editor's Note: "Sports Extra" begins a two-part look at coach Frank Martin's decision to change offenses at mid-season going from, in Wildcat terminology, a "box set" to a "pinch post" system. Today, we visit with head coach Martin on why he opted to make the rather dramatic move, and Saturday assistant coach Brad Underwood will explain how the offense fits Kansas State's current roster.

By Mark Janssen

MANHATTAN, Kan. - It was January 12 and Kansas State had just lost to Colorado for the first time in the last 10 meetings, and the first time in Bramlage Coliseum since 2005.

But more than just the 74-66 loss was the fact the Wildcats played so poorly - 40 percent shooting, 33 percent from 3-point range and 15 turnovers to fall to 0-2 in Big 12 play.

"I was sick to my stomach," said K-State coach Frank Martin. "I didn't like the direction we were headed."

At the time, 6-foot-10 Freddy Asprilla had left the team, 6-8 Curtis Kelly was suspended, and there were early rumbles about the unhappiness of 6-9 Wally Judge.

While 12-5 at the time, Martin knew that K-State's "box set" offense was not the answer with the current personnel.

For the past four years, Martin said, K-State assistant coach Brad Underwood had lobbed out the idea of a more spread offense - the "pinch post" - that Johnny Orr used at Iowa State 20 years ago, and Dana Altman had used in his Creighton/Oregon coaching system.

"I was more receptive to listening this time because the stuff I did believe in wasn't working and didn't fit our personnel," said Martin. "I knew we could have beaten a lot of schools playing the way we were, but we were not going to beat the best teams. We were not going to beat the big boys playing the way we were. It just wasn't going to happen. The more Brad talked the more I liked what I was hearing."

For Martin, it took some swallowing of ego.

"I've always been a smash-mouth offensive coach who liked to post up and play strong at the rim," said Martin. "But with our new roster, we were going to be limited because we no longer had enough big, strong bodies. It was no longer a strength of this team."

In games against quality competition - Virginia Tech, Gonzaga, Duke, Washington State, Florida and UNLV - K-State averaged over 18 turnovers per game and shot under 41 percent in four of those half-dozen games that the Wildcats had gone 3-3 in.

With a young team, Martin said, "We had guys who didn't understand how to move or play without the ball, so our turnovers were high. We were giving games away because of our decision making and turnovers."

Still, even Martin says, switching offensive directions 17-games into a 30-game regular season took some strong thinking.

Helping his logic was seeing Bob Huggins make a similar move at K-State five years ago when at mid-year he opted to play 6-7 Cartier Martin and 6-5 David Hoskins at the center and power-forward positions. 

"I thought he was nuts ... completely nuts, but because he did, it gave me the courage to do it," Martin said. "We were depending on Jason Bennett and Luis (Colon), but there came a point of the season we had to move forward. Those guys were not going to help us at that point in their careers."

So now, K-State has moved to the "pinch post" offense, which Martin calls a version of Tex Winter's Triangle Offense that Orr put some tweaks to.

"It fits this team," said Martin. "With two guards like Jake (Pullen) and Denis (Clemente), you wanted the ball in their hands. This offense gets the ball out of people's hands. We have bigger guards so we're pressuring the rim with cuts instead of dribble-drives."

On the overall change of systems, Martin said, "You can't do those things if you don't trust. I'm not going to listen to Brad if I don't trust him. I'm not going to listen to Dalonte (Hill, associate head coach) if I don't trust him, and the players aren't going to listen to us without trust."

It has taken time to find a comfort zone as the offense has not been pristine. In K-State's last eight games (a 6-2 record), - they have lowered the turnover count to 13 and they have enjoyed shooting games of 56, 51 and 46 percent, but also others of 36, 34, 41, 40 and 31 percent.

What the offense has done is put the spotlight on Jacob Pullen to work within the system, or when the shot clock strikes 10, he has the opportunity to freelance with the court spread.

What Martin said K-State now has to do is get back to total team play. So much time has been spent on installing the new offense he says it has taken time away from focusing on being a better running team and playing consistently on defense.

But overall, Martin is pleased with the way the Wildcats have adjusted to the new style of offense heading into Saturday's 11 a.m., start against Missouri in Bramlage Coliseum when fourth place in the league standings will be on the line.