Frank Martin Proves His Worth… AgainPosted by dnspewak on February 22nd, 2012
Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent. You can find him Twitter @dspewak.
Since the day he accepted the head coaching position at Kansas State five years ago, Frank Martin has played the underdog role. After he replaced Bob Huggins, detractors accused KSU’s athletic department of hiring Martin solely to retain Michael Beasley and Bill Walker. They said he’d fall flat after those two stars left. He’d earned the job based on his connections rather than merit, they said, and he was just a crazy-eyed, wild-mannered coach who threw clipboards and acted like a showman on the sidelines.
After that 2007-08 team reached the NCAA Tournament, Martin did indeed lose both Beasley and Walker to the pros. And yet his program hardly missed a beat, as he recovered from a poor start the next year to salvage an NIT appearance in 2009. Hardly anybody thought that team could finish .500 in Big 12 play, much less reach the postseason. From there, Kansas State took off. Martin’s team reached the Elite Eight in 2010, and after his top-five squad tumbled in 2010-11, he found a way to push the right buttons for a late-season surge and a third-place finish in the league (and another NCAA appearance).
So when we wrote less than two weeks ago that Kansas State’s season came down to a three-game stretch, there shouldn’t have been any doubt that Martin could get the job done. Even after his team dropped a home game to rival Kansas, the Wildcats have responded with two major road victories over Baylor and Missouri to all but seal an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.
In that loss to the Jayhawks, most of the deficiencies we used to describe Kansas State’s mid-season swoon came alive. Rodney McGruder did not play especially well, the team’s offensive execution was horrid, and the Wildcats could not keep Kansas from attacking the offensive glass. Since then, though, Kansas State has figured out how to play Frank Martin basketball. It stifled Baylor on Saturday, stealing a road win by limiting the Bears to 39% shooting. But the true Wildcats really emerged on Tuesday night, stunning third-ranked Missouri by winning the rebounding margin and bullying the Tigers in every way.
McGruder scored important basket after important basket, Jamar Samuels cleaned the defensive boards and the team as a whole played flawless offensive basketball. When Missouri cut into KSU’s lead, somebody always had an answer, whether it was Will Spradling, Thomas Gipson, or McGruder. On the other end, Missouri rushed its shots and fell victim to the Wildcats’ patented half-court pressure. Kansas State played harder than Missouri in every way, and it showed.
That’s how Frank Martin’s teams win. They fight you, bully you and simply outwork you. With two home games against Iowa State and Oklahoma State and a road contest at Texas A&M, Kansas State could easily win out before the Big 12 Tournament. The sweep at the hands of lowly Oklahoma and second-half collapses at Iowa State and Texas are distant memories, as is the home loss to Kansas. Like he’s done numerous times since his hire in 2007, Martin has conquered adversity once again. He can scream, curse and violate FCC rules on ESPN all he wants, but his players respect the heck out of him and play as hard as possible for him. In any sport, that is a recipe for a rock-solid college program.