Kansas State’s NCAA Tournament Chances Down to Three-Game StretchPosted by dnspewak on February 13th, 2012
Kansas State has eight days to figure things out. Starting Monday night, the Wildcats host Kansas and then travel to Baylor and Missouri, a stretch that will ultimately define Frank Martin’s 2011-12 season. After a surprising 11-1 start in non-conference play — which included a Diamond Head Classic title in Hawaii during Christmas —the Wildcats have stumbled against Big 12 competition. A signature win over the Tigers back in early January has kept it in contention for an NCAA bid, but two embarrassing collapses in recent weeks has slid KSU more toward the wrong side of the bubble. The latest blow came this weekend, when fellow bubble team Texas rallied from a double-digit deficit to outscore the Wildcats by 24 points in the second half.
This team isn’t playing like a typical Frank Martin squad right now. It’s not rebounding with tenacity or intimidating opponents, and most importantly, it’s not finishing games with authority. In a two-point loss to Iowa State on January 31, KSU offered little resistance to Royce White (22 points) and the Cyclones. The same thing happened on Saturday against UT in the second half — the smaller Longhorns even won the rebounding margin.
Now, Kansas State will face the Big 12’s three best teams in a row. Interestingly, KSU actually opened league play with this same trio, dropping two of three games. Instead of worrying about the competition, though, the Wildcats need to view this eight-day stretch as an opportunity. Kansas has already lost two Big 12 road games and nearly blew another one in Austin; Baylor’s suddenly looking very human, and the Wildcats already beat Missouri once this season. It all depends on how well Martin’s team defends and takes care of the basketball. Senior Jamar Samuels also may be the most important player for KSU during this next week. After scoring in double-figures in all but one non-conference games, Samuels has disappeared at times during the past few weeks. Lately, it’s gotten worse, as the forward has scored a total of four points in his last two games.
It’s also time for Rodney McGruder to shine. In some games, he’s looked like an All-Big 12 wing with his ability to create mismatches and take over games in the scoring department. Like Samuels, though, he’s disappeared lately by his standards. His production has dropped significantly during this last four-game stretch, as he hit rock bottom in a 1-9 effort against Texas A&M on February 4. Samuels and McGruder are part of this basketball team’s heart. If they don’t wake up at some point during the next eight days, their NCAA Tournament at-large hopes could all but evaporate.