While yesterday's game with Texas A&M may not have been one of those so-called "must-win" games, it presented K-State with a multitude of opportunities.
Opportunity #1: Defend home court
Opportunity #2: Defeat a top-10 team
Opportunity #3: Remain undefeated in conference play
All of those were evident before the game even began. After tipoff, the Cats were presented with another opportunity: the chance to prove they could win with Michael Beasley limited by foul trouble. Beasley picked up two fouls before the first media timeout, one a soft call by the refs and the other a stupid reach-in that shouldn't have happened. I should note that I don't feel bad about calling an action of one of our players stupid because Beasley himself said it was stupid.
K-State took advantage of all the opportunities presented. On to my specific reactions.
What I liked...
This section is going to be pretty hard to narrow down, for obvious reasons.
Let's start with Frank Martin. I said earlier that the quality of this season would depend on how well Martin did coaching the incredible talent he puts on the floor every night. So far, he has acquitted himself very well, thank you very much. Last night, Martin did two things that impressed me. First, he recognized that our big men would not match up very well with A&M's bigs down on the low block, but that conversely A&M's bigs didn't match up very well with our bigs on the perimeter.
"Because of matchups, we weren't going to post up as much," Martin said. "The thought process was 'Make their bigs guard us on the perimeter.' "
The strategy worked to perfection Saturday, as Beasley and Walker went a combined 7-for-14 from 3-point range.
So Beasley and Walker avoided the low block and forced DeAndre Jordan, Joseph Jones and Bryan Davis to defend unfamiliar territory. That was a real switch from the pound-it-inside strategy we saw last week at Oklahoma, but it was the right strategy.
The second move has been talked about thoroughly, mostly because of how well it worked. After Beasley picked up his second foul, Martin could have, and earlier this season would have, parked him on the bench for the entirety of the first half. The problem is, Beasley is no good to the team on the bench, so Martin made the calculated risk to substitute Beasley offense-for-defense every chance he got.
"I'm stubborn," Martin said. "Throughout my whole high school coaching career, if somebody picked up two fouls in the first half they were done. It's part of my growth and trust in our players. But more important, it's a credit to Mike that he continued to play at a high level and not commit any more stupid or silly fouls."
(By the way, that link is to Bob Lutz's column in today's Wichita Eagle. As you may recall, Lutz is a BOTC favorite.)
The strategy worked well, as Beasley scored eight points in nine minutes of action in the first half and didn't pick up another foul. One sure mark of intelligence is the ability to admit to being wrong when presented with overwhelming evidence that your position is flawed. As she read that sentence, my girlfriend probably just said, "And that is proof that my boyfriend is the biggest idiot in the world."
Anyway, congrats to Martin on another game well-coached. Keep it up, sir.
Second on my list of likes is yesterday's crowd at Bramlage. I hope to get a report from ksubailey on the atmosphere at the game, but from watching it on the Worldwide Leader (who got to it five minutes late because of a worthless Big 10 game...thanks) the crowd sounded great all day. I could tell the joint was packed to the rafters, and it was really loud. If we have that kind of atmosphere at every home game, Bramlage will be a rough place to get a win.
Our shooting continues to improve. Bill Walker said in the KC Star today that the shots seem to be coming easier because the team has the offense "down pat." The numbers bear him out, as the Cats knocked down 52 percent of their field goals and 45 percent of their three-pointers. I can't say that I loved our shot selection, as we hoisted 22 three-pointers and last week I observed that we would be well-suited by keeping that number to 20 or less every game. But who am I to complain about shot selection in a 21-point win over a top-10 team?
Blake Young really stepped up yesterday. In the newspaper article I linked in the gameday thread, Young talked about his lack of scoring this year. Most of the time, we don't need and probably don't want Young trying to be the leading scorer on this team. But yesterday with Beasley in foul trouble, Young did a great job of stepping up and hitting a few open shots. But his hustle and rebounding were even more impressive, as he grabbed nine rebounds and probably just as many loose balls. Young can be a huge asset to this team without scoring 20 points per game, and he proved it yesterday.
While we're talking about role-players, I really should mention Andre Gilbert. It's easy to forget about a guy who doesn't play with a lot of flair and doesn't score a lot of points, but it's important to have a guy who realizes he doesn't need to try and take a ton of shots and is content to handle the ball and run his part of the offense. I truly believe role players like that are essential, and am convinced that the reason the 2002-03 'beaker team didn't win the national championship was because it didn't have any role players (save maybe Michael Lee). Too many superstars can be a bad thing.
OK, that's enough of the good. Let's look at what little "bad" there was.
What I didn't like...
Our free-throw shooting was atrocious. First of all, we didn't get enough attempts (only 16 for the game) because we didn't penetrate and attack the basket enough, although that may have been part of the strategy given A&M's inside presence. Second, when we did get attempts, we only made a little better than 50 percent of them. That won't cut it, but enough other things went right that it didn't matter.
I hate to even bring this up, because over the last few weeks I feel like I've been too critical of Bill Walker, and my intent is not to criticize every little thing he does because he is one helluva a player and one of the biggest reasons this could be a really good season for K-State. But he picked up a technical foul yesterday, which is not his first one this year. I should note that it was a double-technical, with A&M's Bryan Davis receiving the other technical. It wasn't like Walker just punched somebody or got in a ref's face to get the call, it looked like he and Davis got tangled up and were jawing with each other. But I really worry that Walker's passion sometimes boils over and gets him into trouble he doesn't need. But I'm going to back off on this one because I really hope I'm wrong.
While we're on the subject of Walker, his crossover is wicked, but sometimes he gets into the lane and has no idea what he's going to do with the ball and gets caught in the air. He'll get that figured out.
That's about it for what I want to complain about. Let's look at the rest of the Big 12...
KU 76, Mizzou 70
Thoughts: A tough, grind-it-out win for the 'beaks over their Border War rivals. This KU team goes on the road, doesn't play very well (although I have to credit MU for scrambling the game) and still comes away with a win.
Baylor 72, Nebraska 70
Thoughts: The surprising Bears move to 3-0 in conference play with a road win. Nebraska is reeling, 0-3 in conference play and staring at trips to Lawrence and Columbia for its next two games.
Iowa State 73, Oklahoma State 66
Thoughts: I never thought I'd be describing Iowa State as "the 2-1 Cyclones" but here they are. So far they have knocked off Okie State and Mizzou, with the only loss coming to Baylor on the road. The Clones are going to be a tough out in Hilton Coliseum this year. Meanwhile, the Cowboys continue their inconsistent play and are now 1-2 in the Big 12.
Texas 69, Colorado 67
Thoughts: Not a good game, other than the outcome, for Texas. The Horns let Colorado come into the Drum and kick them around for most of the game before finally pulling away, sort of, in the second half. Texas has shown it can be one of the better teams in the country, but right now Rick Barnes' squad looks awful.
All those games leave us with the current Big 12 standings:
KU (3-0. Not much to say here. They're pretty good.)
Baylor (3-0. The surprise of the year. Can't wait to go see the game in Waco.)
K-State (2-0. Another huge win, now it's time to maintain focus against Colorado and Iowa State)
Iowa State (2-1. Other than Baylor, the surprise of the early-conference season. Can they keep it up?)
Texas (1-1. This team needs to rediscover its pre-conference form)
Texas A&M (1-2. See above comments regarding UT)
Oklahoma (1-2. Needs to maintain composure with Blake Griffin out)
Missouri (1-2. Took KU to the wire last night, but need to bring that type of effort every time out)
Oklahoma State (1-2. Who knows what to say about this group?)
Texas Tech (1-2. Another team that's hard to read. Will probably be tough in Lubbock)
Colorado (1-2. Almost pulled a huge upset last night. The Buffs and their 25 fans wait for K-State this week)
Nebraska (0-3. This ship is sinking fast)
As if this hasn't been enough reading for you, here are a couple other things to check out. Rock Chalk Talk has a first-week Big 12 Power Poll up. The Cats are second at this point. Also, if you're interested in the Kansas City sports scene, check out the KC Sports Report blog. A post from this morning discusses the Cats big win yesterday.
Have a good week, Cat fans. We'll be looking at Wednesday's game against Colorado soon.