It wasn't pretty, but Saturday's 76-64 victory of Colorado was a much-needed, workmanlike win. To throw out another cliché, we needed to avoid losing yesterday's game more than we really needed the win. At this point, a victory over Colorado is not going to enhance our tournament resume, but a loss to the Buffaloes would have been disastrous.
Also important, the win pushed us to 9-7 and, when Texas and Oklahoma State lost later Saturday afternoon, ensured us a first-round bye in the Big 12 Tournament next week in Oklahoma City. Not only does that make three-straight years in which K-State has finished in the conference's top four, but it sets the stage for us making a run in OKC toward a tournament berth. More about that later.
What I liked...
...the second-half blitz to put the game away. In the first half, the team looked like a team that thought it could just show up and go through the motions. Or maybe it looked like a team that had been partaking in Fake Patty's Day down in Aggieville. Either way, Frank Martin clearly got their attention at halftime, as it was clear from the beginning that the Wildcats were a different team in the second half.
...a +13 margin on the offensive glass. Keep creating extra possessions, gentlemen.
...Denis Clemente's stat line (except turnovers). He had 24 points on 8-18 shooting, made 50 percent of his three-point attempts, was 4-5 from the free throw line, and had three assists. A tip of the hat, Mr. Clemente.
...big dunks for Jamar Samuels. I've been waiting this whole conference season for JamSam to start rattling rims again, and yesterday we finally got that. Once Samuels puts on a little weight in the offseason, he could be a big factor next season. And it wasn't just the dunks; JamSam had 17 points
What I didn't like...
...actually, this first one is more like "what I felt bad about." That something is Darren Kent's performance in his Senior Day game. You could tell he wanted to knock down a few shots so bad, and they just...wouldn't...go...IN! Credit to DK for contributing by grabbing six rebounds and blocking a shot. Now just relax and get it done in OKC, Darren.
...freakin' free throw shooting. We have to do something about this after shooting 61 percent yesterday. Frank has forgotten more about basketball than I'll ever know, but surely there has to be a way to get these guys knocking down some charities, right?
...our defensive "effort," in the first half. Colorado shot 74 percent from the field. I can't do that against air. Not that I'm a great basketball player or anything, but still, that's insane.
What it means and where we're going...
The roller-coaster ride of the regular season is now over, but if we thought that was wild, we ain't seen nothin' yet. Thanks to KU and OU winning yesterday after we won our game, we are the four seed in the Big 12 Tournament. That's important for two very different reasons. First, as mentioned before, this is the third straight year we've finished in the conference's top four. For a program that is still in the building stages, that's a huge sign of progress. Also, considering that we were picked to finish eighth preseason and were considered in a transition year after Michael Beasley and Bill Walker left, it's very important that Frank Martin showed what he can do with the group of players he had.
Second, it sets us up for a chance at a tournament run in OKC. The conference tournament is a grind no matter what, but our chances of making the big run we need would have been significantly limited if we would have been forced to play on Wednesday next week. Instead, we can wait until Thursday, where we will likely match up with a Texas team that had to play the day before against Colorado. That won't be easy by any stretch, but our guys have the confidence of knowing that they beat UT on its home floor this season. If we can get by that one, everybody knows who our likely semifinals opponent is. Let's let things play out before we start talking about that one, though.
One other thing to note is that we still have an argument for the NCAA Tournament right now. Granted, it's not a powerful argument, but it's a straight-faced argument. If we can win in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament, I think our argument becomes very hard to ignore. Of course, at that point, I vote we just go ahead and win the whole thing on Saturday, so we can bring home a trophy to go along with an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.