Always save the best for last, I say.
Why am I profiling our own team? Well, you never know when new readers might stumble across the site, and on the off-chance they've been hibernating and are unaware of the freight train that's slowly bearing down on the Big 12, I figured I might as well wrap up the season so far and look at where we're heading as the new year begins.
Before you click the jump, let me be the first from BOTC to wish you and all of yours a Happy New Year, and hereby dub 2010 the Year of the Cat. Under the leadership of Frank Martin, Brad Hill, Bill Snyder and John Currie, we're going to do great things this year, Cat fans.
The Story So Far
The Cats are putting the finishing touches on one of their best non-conference seasons ever. Our 12-1 start is the best since the 1957-58 season; our No. 12 ranking is the highest since 1973 and the highest entering conference play since 1965; and this is the second-best start in school history, trailing only a 17-0 start back in 1918-19.
Additionally, our nine-games-and-counting win streak is sixth-longest in the country, and the longest among teams that are not undefeated.
As you can see from the latest RPI WATCH, K-State has collected RPI Top 50 wins over Loyola, Dayton, Xavier and UNLV -- two of them away from home. In addition, we have RPI Top 100 wins over IUPUI, Washington State and Alabama, only one of which came in the comfy confines of Bramlage Coliseum. Furthermore, our only loss was to No. 16 Mississippi, an RPI Top 50 team in its own right -- and it came on a neutral court.
Also notable was a win over No. 13-ranked in Division II Fort Hays State, which marked a sort of turning point in the season when Frank Martin challenged his players to a higher standard of play. They responded by ripping off four straight wins over the best non-conference teams on the schedule, a season-defining stretch of play that vaulted the Wildcats into the Top 25 and established a firm base for our second appearance in the NCAA Tournament in three years.
Current Kansas State RPI: 4
Darren Kent (23 minutes per game | 9 points per game | 5.8 rebounds per game)
- Ron Anderson (18.8 minutes per game | 5.2 points per game | 5.3 rebounds per game)
- Buchi Awaji (10.8 minutes per game | 4 points per game | 1.9 rebounds per game)
- Fred Brown (20.4 minutes per game | 8.1 points per game | 1.6 rebounds per game)
- Abdul Herrera (4.5 minutes per game | 1.3 points per game | 1.3 rebounds per game)
- Justin Werner (5.4 minutes per game | 1.1 points per game | 0.5 rebound per game)
#0 Jacob Pullen
29.2 minutes per game | 19.8 points per game | 2.7 rebounds per game
#10 Victor Ojeleye
7.9 minutes per game | 1.7 points per game | 1.3 rebounds per game
#15 Luis Colon
15 minutes per game | 3.5 points per game | 5.8 rebounds per game
#21 Denis Clemente
32.6 minutes per game | 14.2 points per game | 2.5 rebounds per game
#23 Dominique Sutton
23.4 minutes per game | 7.5 points per game | 5.2 rebounds per game
#31 Chris Merriewether
9.7 minutes per game | 0.5 point per game | 1.5 rebounds per game
#32 Jamar Samuels
23.5 minutes per game | 11.8 points per game | 5.1 rebounds per game
#24 Curtis Kelly
23.8 minutes per game | 11.7 points per game | 6.3 rebounds per game
#2 Jordan Henriquez-Roberts
12 minutes per game | 3 points per game | 2.9 rebounds per game
#3 Martavious Irving
10.9 minutes per game | 3.2 points per game | 0.8 rebound per game
#12 Nick Russell
8.2 minutes per game | 1.9 points per game | 1.3 rebounds per game
#22 Rodney McGruder
11.5 minutes per game | 5.4 points per game | 2.3 rebounds per game
#33 Wally Judge
13.8 minutes per game | 4.8 points per game | 3.7 rebounds per game
My thanks to the Kansas State sports information department for the photos.
Going into the season, we knew the Cats had a chance to be pretty special. Darren Kent turned into a pretty good player, but if that is the only significant loss a team suffers in its roster, you're going to be returning quite a bit of experience. Ron Anderson and Fred Brown's contributions were slightly smaller, and as it turns out, we seem to already have replaced them with better players. Buchi Awaji almost was an afterthought.
So what you have is a team with a nice veteran core, most of them entering their third or fourth year in Frank Martin's system: Jacob Pullen, Luis Colon, Denis Clemente, Dominique Sutton and Jamar Samuels. Add to that a former five-star player who transferred in from Connecticut, Curtis Kelly, and a Top 25 recruiting class, and you have the makings of a contender.
But I don't think anyone foresaw just how much progress those players would display in 2009:
- Pullen trekked to Europe during the summer with a traveling team, and he quickly emerged as its best player, leading the team in most statistical categories. He came back more mature and ready to step up as a leader -- and about three weeks ago, he just blew up. Pullen's the second-leading scorer in the Big 12 now and shows no signs of cooling off. If he keeps it up, he'll lead the team back to the NCAA Tournament and the Wildcats will contend for the Big 12 title.
- Colon suffered a series of setbacks, including a hand injury, undisclosed off-court issues that kept him out of the first nine games and a court appearance for unpaid tickets. But he's back now, netting his first start since last season against Cleveland State, and he understands his role: Collect rebounds, set a physical tone under the basket and hustle. He does all of those well.
- Clemente is struggling from behind the arc, but he is displaying senior leadership by finding other ways to contribute -- distributing assists, shooting short jumpers, driving the lane and stepping up his defense. Right now, he's deferring to the hot hand of Jacob Pullen and displaying a growth in his maturity from last season. But make no mistake -- the man from Puerto Rico will find his shot again, and when he does, pity the opponent facing him.
- Sutton probably has displayed more growth than any other player on the roster. Like Pullen, he took his game to a new level in Europe. While he had a slightly rocky start to the season, his strong play in all facets helped pull the team through a rough stretch early in the non-conference schedule. Lately, he's been filling up stat sheets -- getting steals, grabbing rebounds, smothering the opponent's leading scorer and throwing down some seriously sick dunks.
- Samuels showed flashes of greatness last season as a redshirt freshman, but never quite put it all together consistently. Now, he's starting to do that. Moving to the 3 has opened up his offensive skill set -- he's popping 3s, driving to the hoop and displaying a jump-shooting game. He's also more active in rebounding and on defense. Probably the only problem area with him right now is his erratic free-throw shooting, but on any given night, he has the form to make you pay at the line.
- Martin learned how to crack a smile during a game.
So, Pullen raised his scoring average to new levels, Kelly emerged as a threat to net a double-double in every game and Samuels joined them as a double-figure scorer. Even Sutton is becoming more of an offensive threat. The crazy thing is that we're still getting minimal contributions from the freshmen:
- Martavious Irving is a pleasant surprise, proving to be a force on defense and a threat from the perimeter.
- Wally Judge is beginning to show the skills that made him a McDonald's All-American, especially in the semi-breakout game against Alabama. But he's still very inconsistent in many areas.
- Jordan Henriquez-Roberts started the season very strong in Colon's absence, but the latter's return, coupled with the former's inexperience, are combining to limit JHR's minutes lately. Still, he has a ton of upside, and against lengthy teams such as Baylor, a 7-footer always comes in handy.
- Rodney McGruder is starting to pick it up on defense, and that's a great thing, because this kid has unlimited range and a sweet shot. The 22-point explosion against Boston University is just a taste of what will come from McGruder's offensive game.
- Nick Russell received a lot of praise in the offseason, but we're not yet seeing why. Of all the freshmen, he's had the least impact. But that's OK, because he's the point guard of the future, not the present.
Meanwhile, Victor Ojeleye and Chris Merriewether continue to serve an important function for Martin, who can bring them off the bench to provide instant hustle on defense, as well as to send a message to under-performing players to get their butts in gear. But as we get deeper into the season and the opponents get better, and also as said players start to have fewer lapses in quality play, the two should see fewer minutes down the stretch.
Projected Big 12 Starting Lineup
|Denis Clemente||Jacob Pullen||Dominique Sutton||Curtis Kelly||Luis Colon|
Projected Top Big 12 Reserves
|Martavious Irving||Rodney McGruder||Jamar Samuels||Wally Judge||Jordan Henriquez|
The Final Verdict
Look, I've seen Kansas and Texas play. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that we have a better-than-even chance to win the conference, because realistically, we don't. This team is built to do truly great things next year, based on what we expect to lose versus what we should retain.
But we're going to be a factor in who does win it. Both aspirants have to enter the Octagon of Doom this month, and while they might leave with a win, they certainly won't leave unbloodied or unscarred. Our schedule sets up nicely, in my opinion, and I think we have certain advantages over every other team in the conference, depending on the matchups from game to game.
I see no reason not to expect yet another first-day bye, which has become the standard for this program since Bob Huggins arrived. And right now, I don't see a team that looks like it definitively could pass us for the No. 3 seed.
Sure, the other teams will improve, but so will we.
My goals for the team are simple: Finish no worse than third, threaten for the championship into late February and make a run in the Dance. They're all eminently attainable, and who knows -- we might get hot in the Big 12 Tournament like Missouri did last year, and surpass those goals.
But accomplishing those minimum expectations will make for a really great season and set the stage for much bigger things in 2010-11, when KU and UT should be decimated by the NBA draft and graduation.
Big 12 preseason prediction: 4th
My predicted finish: 3rd
Best-case scenario: 1st