Given that the general sentiment among a large portion of K-State fans was that this game represented a likely win, it's not surprising that the same portion of the fanbase is nearly panicking after losing to Missouri, 74-68, on Saturday. My advice, unsurprisingly, is "don't panic." Just because this team lost in Columbia doesn't mean it's not as good as we thought.
First, let's give Mizzou a little credit. No, they weren't ranked in the top 25, but Missouri at home the last two years is always a top-25 caliber team. With the style they play, it helps tremendously to have the emotion and energy of a home crowd behind you. When you're a little tired, or things aren't going your way, it's easier to get a boost from the home crowd. Teams may say they feed off the negative energy of a road crowd, but it doesn't work that way. And even if they did lose DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons, it's not like Mizzou suddenly had a bunch of junk basketball players.
Anyway, without venturing into moral victory territory, there are positives we can take from this loss. Hit the jump for those thoughts.
What I liked:
Playing tough on the road. Remember, folks, we got run out of that gym last year. We lost by 20, and it should have been worse. This year, we led by 10 in the first half, and by five in the last six minutes of the game. K-State played well enough most of the night to win this game, but coupled some crucial mistakes down the stretch with some big plays by Missouri.
Jake making a big shot. Too often, we've seen Pullen want to be the man down the stretch, only to throw up some ill-advised shot that didn't really help (see, e.g., at Baylor two years ago). On Saturday, he took it upon himself to put up a big shot when it was needed, and he drained it.
A (mostly) good day for Merriewether. Getting eight points from CM is a bonus for this team. He played a lot more minutes than Frank wanted him to -- and I'd like to see Martavious Irving start to get more of those minutes -- and for the most part he did a good job. I'm not going to get down on him about that turnover. It was a bad decision, but I know he realizes that and I guarantee he feels worse about it than any of us ever will. But everybody that took the floor for K-State made mistakes yesterday. We committed 21 turnovers. Every single one of those other turnovers that led to points counted just as much as the turnover Merriewether committed, it just so happened that the timing of his made it stick out.
Nearly winning despite some average games from our best players. Jake and Denis were 10-30 from the field and still managed 37 points. But we got absolutely nothing from our front line. Curtis Kelly continued his Jekyll and Hyde performance, playing only nine minutes. Luis Colon gave the effort we've come to expect, but he's out of his element in a fast-paced game like Missouri plays. Really, the only bright spot on the front line was Jamar Samuels and his 10 points, and even that was overshadowed by the fact that he fouled out. If this type of game for these guys turns out to be the exception, and given their performances up to now you would expect that to be the case, we're going to be fine.
What I didn't like:
Inability to finish down the stretch. Frank Martin's teams have shown progress in so many areas. The offense is smoother than it was two years ago. The defense is tougher. We got out of the gate fast this year rather than struggling through non-conference games. One of the last big hurdles is learning to finish games off down the stretch. Like it or not, it's not something that happens overnight. It's something that requires experience. Sherron Collins is deadly down the stretch because he's been there before, and he expects to make the big shot. Ditto Zaire Taylor. Every player says they want the ball in their hands with the game on the line, but few really, really do. Pullen has that type of mentality, but until Saturday, I don't think he'd ever made a big shot down the stretch in a big game. Let's hope that his three to tie it up with about a minute left is a sign of clutch play to come from him.
We led by 10 late in the first half, and gave up the lead and then some with a 15-2 run. We led by five late in the second half and only made something like two field goals the rest of the way. It's going to happen eventually, folks.
Jake going underneath that ball screen for Taylor. God, that's going to haunt me.
Complete disappearance by our bigs. Already been discussed some, so we won't dwell on it, but Good Curtis Kelly needs to reappear soon. Wally Judge has nowhere to go but up. Colon can play better than he did. JHR is still a freshman. When these guys put it together, it's going to be impressive. When they don't, Jake and Denis will have to carry us.
What it means and where we're going:
Imagine this hypothetical for a second. Instead of playing at Missouri for the first conference game, let's say we had played Iowa State at home to start and Missouri on February 6. Let's say we beat ISU by 12 or something. Everyone's feeling good, we beat Texas A&M and Colorado, then let's say we win two out of the three against KU and Texas and Baylor and win our other games. We'd be 7-1 going into Columbia in that scenario. If we had played that exact same game and walked out of there 7-2 we'd be disappointed, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. I'm convinced that part of the reason we're taking this loss so hard is that it was the first conference game (not to mention the fact that we were oh-so-close to winning).
The key right now is to make sure this game doesn't beat us twice. Texas A&M is a dangerous team that could beat us if we don't show up completely ready to play. We have to protect our home court and beat teams like A&M. If we are 2-1 going into next Monday's showdown with Texas, we will be just fine.