Last season, Jacob Pullen was potentially a lasting bright spot in the afterglow of the Michael Beasley era at K-State. The young point guard from Chicago proved he had the skills to hang with the best athletes in the country. He averaged 9.7 points and 3.3 assists per game while being the spark plug for a Wildcat team that would be the first reach the NCAA Tournament in more than a decade.
Fast forward to this 2008-2009 season, and Pullen is a mystery to many fans. His scoring average is higher (13.4 ppg) and he is dishing the ball to his teammates at a similar pace to last season. Yet, this is not the same Jacob Pullen we thought we would see.
Everyone associated with Kansas State basketball knew this was going to be a tough year. You don't replace two NBA draft picks very easily at a school that has only seen a handful of players make it to the league. Jake Pullen was going to be the focus of a very young - albeit talented - squad. It was no big secret that he would relinquish the point-guard duties to Denis Clemente and move exclusively to shooting guard.
However, Jacob Pullen, the feisty gnat with a penchant for scoring buckets at a 40% clip has quickly become a frustrated sophomore that can't seem to find a rhythm on the court.
While we can't argue with his increased scoring average, his field-goal percentage has fallen off this season to 37.9%. At first glance, that's not a dramatic drop from last season, but his percentage in conference games is down to 35.1% compared to 42.8% last season. That's a sizable difference in the games that (should) matter most.
In Big 12 games during the month of February Pullen has struggled, going 4-11, 5-11, 4-12, 6-11 and 5-12 from the field. If you want to go back one game further, Jake put up probably his worst performance of the season, going only 1-13 from the field in that big win over Texas.
It's this increase in missed shots that have us scratching our heads and saying, "Something is wrong." The problem is, no one - especially Jake - has been able to find what it is and rectify it.
Does this mean Jacob Pullen is not an integral part to this year's K-State team? Absolutely not. Despite his decline in shooting percentage for the year, he is still a person that defenses have to keep an eye on. He has made some big shots at key moments and has been one of many reasons the Wildcats are not wallowing in the Big 12 cellar like some media outlets predicted.
What this does mean is that something needs to change. It's becoming apparent that Pullen does not feel comfortable or confident shooting the ball this year. Losing an inside force like Michael Beasley will do that to a young guard. Plus, the emergence of Clemente as point man has pushed Jake more to the wing and kept him without a clear path to the lane.
Not much can be done this season. Frank Martin can draw some plays to possibly give Pullen more open looks, but Frank hasn't even done that for Fred Brown, the team's most efficient three-point threat. I doubt he wants to waste too many offensive opportunities letting Jake try to find his touch this late in the season. The best thing to do is keep him from driving the lane and taking contested shots. For a guy with the scoring mentality of Pullen, that's hard to do.
While it is unlikely Martin will pull Jake from the starting lineup anytime soon, changes could be and will be coming this offseason. Will we see a Clemente/Brown starting lineup with Pullen coming off the bench? It's doubtful, but all options may be open.
Then again, with talented forward Wally Judge on campus, Jake will probably find more open three-pointers and clearer paths through the lane.
But, there is still much to do this season, and Jacob Pullen will play a part. Here's hoping the talented kid from Chicago re-emerges and leads this team into the postseason.