Kansas State beat number one-ranked Texas 71-62 in Manhattan last night, and the highest compliment I can pay to the Wildcats is to note that they did so while playing far from their best game. Bob Knight wasn’t just being cantankerous, these two feeble and spasmodic offenses mirrored each other eerily and sequentially. In the first half the Longhorns were dreadful, missing a series of ill-advised shots on those few possessions where they didn’t commit a turnover. (Rick Barnes‘ leading scorer for the evening, Avery Bradley, had 11 points.) Over the first 12 minutes or so of the second half, that torch was passed to K-State, as Frank Martin’s team gave viewers reason to wonder if there’s a Plan B for this offense on a given possession if, wonder of wonders, they are not fouled. If you look at this box score and assume there must have been some good defense being played in this 80-possession game, keep in mind the two offenses helped this relatively low-scoring result along. A lot.
The exception to that ugly-offense rule was Kansas State’s offensive rebounding, which was superb against a front line that doesn’t exactly lack for size or athleticism. An ”assist” in Manhattan more often than not is delivered via the rim or backboard. Jamar Samuels led all scorers with 20 points, a result helped along by the four offensive rebounds he grabbed. By the same token freshman Rodney McGruder hauled down five offensive boards in just 23 minutes, while criminally under-utilized teammate Curtis Kelly found that the best way to get his hands on the ball was to wait patiently for Jacob Pullen (2-of-15–personally I think the beard is getting in the way of his shooting motion) or Denis Clemente (2-of-9) to miss still another shot. Misses aren’t the end of the world in Manhattan: K-State sets the standard on the offensive glass in the Big 12, having rebounded 44 percent of their own misses thus far in conference play.
Again, for a program that’s spent an eternity in the shadow of allegedly snooty neighbors to the east in Lawrence, beating the number one team in the nation without calling upon your best game is, of course, a triumph. This is easily the best Kansas State team I’ve seen. That being said I was more than a little surprised to learn that the Big 12 championship will now run through Manhattan. Really? There must be a typo in the standings that I’m looking at, because the ones I have here say that the Wildcats already have one conference loss; Kansas, as yet, has none. And when you’ve won or shared five consecutive regular season conference titles, I think you’ve earned the “road-goes-through” label until events decree otherwise.
Better to say that the Big 12 North is going to be way tougher for KU than it’s been in recent memory. And in the conference as a whole the Jayhawks, Longhorns, Wildcats, and Missouri all figure to cause each other pain, with Baylor’s outstanding offense and the traditional challenges of winning on the road functioning as additional wildcards.