Big 12 Notebook: Kansas State Contending for a No. 1 Seed
They are no longer surprising to anyone.
The sixth-ranked Wildcats, led by an experienced starting five that includes guards Denis Clemente (right) and Jacob Pullen, are good and perhaps worthy of elite status. So much so, Kansas State has a shooter's chance of possibly securing the Big 12's second No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament along with No.1 Kansas depending on how the next few weeks finish out.
The Wildcats are No. 6 in the latest RPI estimate, but would need to be among the top four by the time Selection Sunday rolls around March 14. Third-year K-State coach Frank Martin, however, would prefer to stay in the moment which means focusing on Tuesday night's game at Texas Tech.
"We don't spend a lot of time thinking about it," Martin said during Monday's Big 12 Men's Basketball Media Teleconference. "But we've talked about it and we talk about that opportunity being the reason our next practice needs to be the biggest practice in our time we've had at K-State and our next game being the biggest game we've had at K-State.
"I hope we can be having this conversation Selection Sunday that morning. Then it becomes real. Then it becomes something we can spend time on and focus on energy on, but right now we talk about it but we don't dwell on it."
Clemente agrees with his coach.
"That would be a dream come," Clemente said when asked by FanHouse about possibly earning a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. "That's what you work so hard for, but it's really not our focus right now. Our focus is winning the next game and the one after that."
That's something the Wildcats (22-4, 9-3 Big 12) have seemed especially good at in recent week and especially on the road. Not only are they on a riding a five-game winning streak, but they are 5-1 in Big 12 road games. Only Kansas has a better road record in league play 6-0 to go along with an unblemished 13-0 in the Big 12.
They are the only two Big 12 teams with winning records in conference road games at this point in the season.
"For some reason we just tend to be more focused on the road," said Clemente, a fifth-year senior. "I'm not quite sure why that's the case, but we are."
Most contribute it to an experienced squad that also includes senior center Luis Colon and junior forwards Dominique Sutton and Curtis Kelly in the starting lineup along with Clemente and Pullen.
With Saturday's 83-68 win against Oklahoma at the Lloyd Noble Center, the Wildcats assured themselves of their first winning road record ever in Big 12 play and their first since the 1987-88 season. Kansas State has just one more road game after Tuesday night, but it's a big one against rival Kansas in Lawrence on March 3.
Kansas State, which has run off five straight road wins since losing the Big 12 opener at Missouri, has played with a swagger on the road that most league coaches have noticed.
"You can tell they are a really really confident team," said OU coach Jeff Capel. "You can tell they are a very tough team. Toughness is not pounding your chest and not necessarily just physical things. They have mental toughness and I think a big part of it comes because they have experience.
You look at Clemente being a fifth-year senior, you look at Pullen being a junior, Colon being a senior, you look at Curtis Kelly being a redshirt junior, you look at Dominique Sutton as a senior. That's their starting group and then you bring Jamar Samuels off the bench, who is a heck of a player and even a guy like Chris Merriewether, who is the embodiment of team and just the confidence that Frank has."
Collins gets the point at KU
From the first time you saw the quickness off the dribble drive as a freshman, there was never any doubt Sherron Collins (right) would have a relatively short career at Kansas before moving on to the NBA.
But instead of making a quick dash to the pros, Collins has become a model of consistency for the Jayhawks the last four years. It's paid off by him becoming the all-time winningest four-year player in school history. With Monday night's 81-68 win over Oklahoma, the Jayhawks have a 125-16 mark in Collins' four-year tenure.
Certainly he has been part of some highly successful teams with some very talented teammates like the 2008 NCAA championship squad, but he has always been critical to the Jayhawks success whether he has been starting or coming off the bench.
"He's the best guard we've had since we've been here, no question. He impacts the game in more ways," said KU coach Bill Self. "We've had other guards play some better games or whatever, but he's been really good for us and a model of consistency and a great leader, really as good a floor leader as what we've had.
"I'm really proud of him and for his group, to be able to have a chance to become the winningest group in the history of the school really speaks volumes to his leadership."
Collins actually tied the mark with Saturday's 20-point win against Colorado.
"It's a big deal," he said. "I am very appreciative of all the guys that helped me get this, including the coaching staff."
Knight eyes NIT
While seven or eight Big 12 teams are still in contention for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, the reality is Texas Tech is pretty much out of that mix.
But at 16-10, 4-8, second-year head coach Pat Knight (below) is desperate for his team to play in any postseason tournament. So if the NIT comes calling, he will happily pick up the phone.
"It would be great. I really haven't talked to these guys about the NCAA," said Knight, who assumed the head coaching job when his father, Bob Knight, stepped down. "Really I think anytime a coach takes over a program you are on a three-year plan. The first year is really no pressure, you are just kind of trying to feel your way. But each year after that you are on the hot seat, you are trying to improve.
"So this year we are really just trying to improve on what we did last year. We've done that and we still got a chance to add to that.
"To go to the NIT would be great because we haven't been to the postseason in two years," he continued. "You see what the NIT did for Baylor, if you ask Scott (Drew) because he had a lot of good guys returning, adding some good guys like we are going to have in the same situation next year. You've got a lot of really good games in the NIT. You get the TV exposure of being on ESPN. It would be a great honor."
No scholarship guarantees
Capel has certainly had trouble hiding his frustration with his Oklahoma team.
The Sooners have struggled with problems on and off the court, but after Saturday's lackadaisical home loss to Kansas State, he felt the need to remind his players that their basketball scholarships are only one-year renewable per NCAA guidelines.
Capel said Monday it wasn't as much a threat to his players as it was a reminder of his expectations.
"I don't know if our guys know it. I don't know if they think it," Capel said. "You have some guys, maybe every program has it, there is a sense of entitlement. They just think they are okay.
"I want guys who have competitive spirit. I want guys that it's not okay to lose, it's not okay to come back to practice after a loss smiling like everything is okay. It has to hurt, it has to mean something. It's always meant something to me. From the time I can remember, this game and winning has always meant something to me.
"I wasn't trying to send a message, it's just the reality of you know what, if you don't have that competitive spirit then our program is not the program you need to be in because that's the way it's been. There is a decision to be made, whether it's my decision or their decision or they just can't do it the way it needs to be done."
For the most part, the weekly Big 12 media teleconference is relatively straightforward, but Monday's call had a couple of funny moments.
The first came when a reporter attempted to ask Colorado coach Jeff Bzdelik how the remaining four games could set his promising team up for next season. But before making that point, the reporter made the mistake of saying the Buffaloes have nothing to play for this season.
Bzdelik was quick to take exception.
"First off, out of all due respect to you, I resent that statement about we don't have a lot to play for," said Bzdelik, whose team is 12-14, 3-9. "We are really blessed to play college basketball, we are very blessed to be able to do the things we are able to do. To go out there in front of large crowds, 10,000-plus people and play on TV. We still have a winning season within our grasps. We are very young team. Our goal is to get better every time we step on the court, so you can see why I'm not happy with the statement we don't have a lot to play for."
The second moment that surely brought a few chuckles was when Capel discussed the fire alarm that evacuated his team from its hotel early Monday before the Sooners were to face Kansas on the road.
The alarm went off around midnight and the players were forced to stay in the lobby for about an hour and half before being allowed to return to their rooms.
"I guess initially I thought it was a KU fan or something like that," said Capel, who played for Duke. "When I played in the ACC, when you went on the road you were never surprised if something like that happened. But I don't know if we are good enough that they would do that for us, thinking you would have do something like that. But it was pretty adventurous."