February 5, 2009

Martin's team has regained confidence

Kansas State wasn't feeling very good about itself the evening of Jan. 21. Frank Martin's Wildcats had just been lit up by nine LaceDarius Dunn 3-pointers in an 83-65 blowout loss at the hands of Baylor on their home court. K-State was 0-4 in the Big 12 Conference, and Martin admitted that his Wildcats were searching their souls to find something. Four games later, it's clear they've found it.

K-State hasn't lost since that night. The Wildcats' current four-game winning streak started with a 77-75 overtime win at Colorado. That victory was followed up by a 88-72 domination of Missouri, an 85-81 overtime thriller at Texas and a hard-fought 65-50 triumph over Iowa State back in Bramlage Coliseum.

Yes, Martin's Wildcats, now 15-7 overall and 4-4 in league play, have come a long way since starting 0-4.

"You start off with four losses, a few of them by double digits, and as a young team you look at yourself thinking you're pretty good after you win a lot of games to start the season," sophomore guard Jacob Pullen said. "You start taking those losses, and it settles you down and brings you back down to earth.

"After we got hungry again, we came out and worked like a different team. We got back to doing the things we were doing before."
Two weeks ago the Wildcats were simply searching for their first league win, now Pullen and company are back to talking about much, much bigger goals heading into the second half of Big 12 play.

"We want to finish in the top three (in the Big 12). We feel like we have a team this year that started out slow but feel we could still finish anywhere from 12-4 to 10-6," Pullen said. "I feel like a 10-6 or 12-4 record could get us in the top three (seeds) in the Big 12 Tournament and sneak up into the NCAA Tournament anywhere between a six and a 12 seed. Being in the top three of the Big 12 with having Baylor, KU, Oklahoma and Texas in the top 25, then there's Missouri … if we can slip into the top three, that would really say something."
Pullen may be right, but the Wildcats still have plenty of work to do if they hope to reach that lofty goal. At 4-4 K-State currently sits in a tie for fifth in the league with Nebraska, a team the Wildcats lost to earlier this season in Lincoln. Oklahoma State (3-4) would also be tied with those teams in the loss column. Neither Kansas or Oklahoma have lost in league play, and the Wildcats still sit two games behind Missouri.

Despite Pullen's comments its likely far too early to attempt to make any NCAA Tournament projections. If Martin had his way, the media would spend much less time trying to project the field of 65 and simply let things play out.

"You sit in the locker room by yourself and watch TV, and (the experts) all have their opinions on who should be in and who should be out, and I think it's the biggest farce," Martin said. "The bottom line is if you win games in the Big 12, you're going to be in. If you don't win games in the Big 12, you're not going to be in. As much as I love watching basketball, it hurts this time of year. They have all of these experts. They have all the answers. The bottom line is you have to win the games on the schedule. If you're in the Big 12 and you do that, everything will take care of itself."

That said, Martin is not a coach who's shy about discussing tournament goals with his team. Despite losing much of the production from a team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament a season ago Martin made clear that he expects this team to reach postseason play again.

"We don't practice to stay home in March. That's not what we do. Just because Mike Beasley, Bill Walker, Blake Young and Clent Stewart aren't with us doesn't mean we go into this year thinking we aren't good enough and hope we're better next year," Martin said. "If I do that, I should be fired the next day. If we do things the right way, we believe we can win every game on our schedule, and that's the way we approach it."

Any tournament discussion two weeks ago would have seemed premature, at least, and possibly silly to some. Now, with the Wildcats riding a wave of momentum, no goal seems unrealistic to those on the Wildcat roster.

"I think we have the confidence. Everybody on our team has a little more confidence," sophomore Dominque Sutton said. "Frank is just letting us play. We're not afraid to make mistakes. We'll just get back on the defensive end and get the ball back.

"I think we were a little nervous coming into the Big 12. Now that we're eight games in, I think we've just calmed down, and everybody has confidence."

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