Feb. 25, 2012
Commentary by Mark Janssen
K-State Sports Extra
Let's agree right now: K-State's men will be picked no higher than seventh in the 2013 preseason Big 12 basketball poll, and put the women .... ohhh ... how about eighth or ninth.
What is it about these Wildcat teams that make them perform absolutely at their best when the outsiders ... even the in-the-know coaches ... give K-State no chance to succeed?
• See K-State football: Picked eighth in the preseason coaches poll, and the Wildcats were eighth in the final BCS poll and second in the Big 12 Conference.
• See K-State men's basketball: Picked sixth in the preseason poll but are now coming off consecutive wins against Top 10 teams and have the opportunity to close the gap on fourth-place Iowa State with a win today in Bramlage Coliseum.
• See K-State women's basketball: Picked ninth in the preseason poll for the second year in a row, the Wildcats are a game out of second place this year, after finishing in a tie for third a year ago.
Some of the "Oh, we've been slighted" talk gets old from time to time, but recently the Wildcats have been slighted ... and seem to thrive on it. K-State seems to be at its best when playing with a chip on its shoulder and in a, "We're going to prove you wrong mode."
"It's really wonderful when you're at the pinnacle of your game and winning when you're expected to win," said K-State coach Deb Patterson. "But it's even more wonderful when no one expects you to do things and you see young people blossom and go well beyond the expectations. That's really cool when the light goes on and you see them say, `This can work.' "
K-State's men were headed in a different direction after losing to Oklahoma and then blowing a lead to Iowa State no more than three weeks ago heading into a four-game stretch at Texas, Kansas, at Baylor and at Missouri.
When the Wildcats faltered in the first two of those games, they seemed to be on the left side of the NCAA bubble going into games at No. 9 Baylor and at No. 3 Mizzou where the Tigers had not lost a game all year.
FINAL SCORES: K-State 57, Baylor 56; K-State 78, Missouri 68.
"At the end of the year, these are feathers that Rodney McGruder and Jamar Samuels can put in their hat and keep with them for the rest of their lives. They made our program better than it was when they got here," said Martin. "I talk about that all the time: whenever you leave, whenever your time is done, whatever you were a part of, is it better or worse than when you got there? If it's better, you have a lot to be proud of."
For certain, there's no backing down in the games of McGruder, Samuels, or the rest of the Wildcats. Don't believe it, just listen to MU's All-Big 12 candidate Kim English, "That was the game plan, that's how they win. That's their mantra. They're a physical team. We didn't punch back early, and when you do that, when you play good teams, it's an uphill battle all the way."
Now in the manner Bill Snyder approaches each and every Wildcat football game, Martin has his troops pointed to a strong finish against Iowa State today in Bramlage Coliseum starting at 12:30, followed by a mid-week game at Texas A&M and a concluding home date with Oklahoma State next Saturday.
"I say this all the time and people look at me like I have six heads," he said. "We don't practice any differently whether we are preparing for North Florida or Charleston Southern, or Big 12 games. We do the same thing every day. I'm a believer if you start changing how you approach, then your kids will say `Tomorrow's game the coaches think is easy, so we don't have to play as hard.' You get 35 or 36 opportunities, if you're lucky, as a team to play. If you can't go out there and bust your hump 35 times a year, that doesn't make you much of a man."
Patterson's women go to the home stretch of their season with a game today at noon at Missouri, one Wednesday at Iowa State, before Senior Night in Bramlage Coliseum next Saturday against Texas Tech.
At 9-6, the Wildcats find themselves just one game out of a tie for second place with 10-5 A&M and OU.
To such numbers Patterson candidly says, "I was very surprised last year, but very, very surprised this year. It's something I can't even measure. I'm really surprised to be in this position coming in a year that we went to the double round-robin in a conference like this. To again be in the mix for a top-three finish ... wow!"
In reality, Patterson and Martin probably won't be recipients of Big 12 Coach of the Year, but they should be in the conversation.
With the men picked sixth, Martin's `Cats defeated No. 21 Alabama, No. 6 Missouri, No. 9 Baylor and No. 3 Missouri. Never before in K-State history has a Wildcat team scored three wins against a Top 10 team in the same season.
Martin's teams have four Big 12 road wins, plus he has 19 through his first five Wildcat seasons. In the 10 years prior to the arrival of Bob Huggins six years ago, K-State had won just 10 league road games in the 16 previous seasons.
With the women picked ninth, Patterson's `Cats found the formula to topple No. 9 A&M, No. 10 Texas Tech, plus sweep a Kansas team picked two positions ahead of them.
Patterson's teams have won games at KU, at Tech, at OSU and at Texas heading into the next two travel games to Columbia and ISU.
Not bad for a couple teams perceived to be not very good two months ago.