Last night's 71-64 loss to Nebraska in Lincoln continued an alarming road losing streak for K-State. What's even more alarming about this team's sudden inability to win on the road is the fact that it plays three of its final five games on the road.
What I liked...
...Jacob Pullen. Once written off this season as an out-of-control youngster who wouldn't be much of a contributor, Pullen has clearly asserted himself as the third option behind Michael Beasley and Bill Walker. Pullen's 15 points last night were really the only thing that kept us in the game, not to mention a sparkling seven assists against only two turnovers.
...Frank Martin sending a message to Bill Walker. I'm sure this stance is going to be very controversial, but even though it likely cost us the game to keep Walker on the bench, Martin needed to send Walker a message that his actions are hurting the team.
For those who missed it, Walker was hit with a technical foul in the second half for spiking the ball after he scored and thought he was fouled by Aleks Maric. Maybe it was kind of a soft technical, but the officials were well within their discretion to call it given Walker's action.
I'm sure Walker thought he was fouled on that play, and was frustrated there wasn't a call. Maric certainly made contact on the shot, but I've seen much rougher plays go unwhistled. Further, Walker made the shot, so he really needed to just put his head down and hustle back on defense.
Do I wish this message had been sent to Walker earlier this season? Yes, absolutely I do. The game yesterday was a crucial game to our now-comatose and sitting Walker down the stretch left Nebraska free to concentrate on solely on Beasley. Having Walker in would have alleviated some of that pressure. The problem is there haven't been any other good chances to send this message. If I remember correctly, Walker hasn't been hit with a technical foul since the tournament in Orlando, and it's really difficult to send the message unless the player really realizes he has fouled up.
Let me also address Coach Martin's postgame comments. He said, as quoted in the KC Star:
"I just thought we were playing well," Martin said. "I don’t see why we should make a substitution when we’re playing well."
I would be much more inclined to believe that if we had actually scored a point in the final five minutes of the game.
What I didn't like...
...Walker getting a technical for losing his cool. Playing with fire and passion is great. Losing your cool and hurting your team is not. Walker must learn to harness his passion.
...Frank Martin's X's and O's. Note this postgame comment:
"I saw them (Nebraska) shooting uncontested layup after uncontested layup after uncontested layup, and whenever they chose to miss one, I saw them getting offensive rebounds. They punched us in the mouth, and we ran away."
If that was such a big problem, why did we not see more of our 3-2 zone defense? Playing tough, pressuring defense is an admirable team trait. But playing pressuring man-to-man defense well beyond the three-point line is counterproductive. It only makes it easier for the offense to get backdoor cuts and open looks by exploiting that pressure.
...rebounding. We got outrebounded by Nebraska. Do I really need to say more.
...our complete inability to focus on the road. These last three road games have looked absolutely nothing like the games against Oklahoma and Colorado. One manifestation of that was Beasley's pre-game comment that he was going to score 50. For some reason, the players on this team seem to forget before every game that there will be another team on the floor trying to take them out of what they are trying to do.
What it means and where we're going...
Last night's loss drops us to 8-3 in conference play, one full game behind both Texas and KU. Technically, we still control our destiny as far as winning the conference, because we allegedly could still win all our games, which would include UT and KU. That would give both those teams three losses, and we would own the tiebreaker.
However, that's really a pipe-dream scenario right now with the way we are playing on the road. Saturday's game in Waco has now become crucial. Unfortunately, it's crucial to both teams, as Baylor is fading fast and is facing the very real possibility of missing the NCAA tournament. Of course, our bid isn't sewn up just yet, as it would be a really good idea for us to get to at least 10 conference wins.
Big 12 Standings
Texas A&M 6-5
Texas Tech 5-6
Iowa State 4-7
Oklahoma State 4-7
It all starts Saturday, Wildcat fans. The Run of Truth begins in Waco.