Before I get started with today's post, I'd like to apologize for jinxing the ‘Cats before last Saturday's disaster against Oklahoma. I felt bad about that and knew I couldn't write a Texas preview without mentioning the streak, so I just decided to skip that one.
For a preview of
an easy a challenging .......road game against fellow 2-3 opponents Oklahoma State, click the jump.
By the way, did anyone else feel less nervous than they should have down the stretch because it was against Texas, or was that just me? The free throw shooting was atrocious and it ended up feeling like a loss, but it's starting to become sort of hard to remember what a loss to Texas in a revenue sport even feels like.
Unfortunately, one thing that's become harder and harder to forget is a certain familiar trend in the way Frank Martin handles his lineups and rotation. It's been talked about a fair amount here, but I feel like it needs to be brought to the forefront.
Most teams, by this point in the season, have a fairly solid starting lineup and then at least 2 or 3 guys that are depended on consistently off the bench. Frank has never seemed to subscribe to that philosophy, and doesn't really seem to solidify his lineup and rotation until late January, at the earliest.
Rodney McGruder (who has become the stud we all were hoping for and them some of late), Will Spradling, and Jamar Samuels are the only guys that have started all five games so far, though Thomas Gipson will obviously become a permanent fixture in the lineup if JO does not return.*
Will, Rodney and Jamar are also the only players on the team that have seen at least 16 minutes of action every game in Big 12 play. That's not a lot, and I can't imagine that's good for team chemistry.
*I've seen "indefinitely suspended" turn into "dismissed" too often to not be a little nervous here, but hopefully he didn't do anything too terrible and JO and Frank can work out whatever disagreements they're having. Without going into too much detail, I will assure you from personal experience that I don't have a lot of faith in JO's ability to make intelligent decisions off the basketball court, but that's probably not an earth-shattering revelation.
I was going to try to extrapolate some trends from the data and while that could be productive, so instead of doing that, I'll just present the data for playing time from K-State's other nine players in the first five conference games.
Of course, there are some external factors, such as garbage time vs. MU/KU, and the Nino Williams/JO/Angel situations, whatever those are.
Still, it really seems like there's too much variation to expect this team to really develop any kind of consistency. What the hell was Victor Ojeleye doing getting 19 minutes vs. Texas? In case you were wondering, he had 2 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 turnovers.
The results of these wild fluctuations in the lineups aren't hard to see on the court (or in Frank's early conference season history), as K-State can go on an 11-0 run then give up a 19-2 run in the same half, as it did in the first 20 minutes against Texas when Frank went 12 deep.
Certainly benching a player when he makes a mistake or has a bad practice can be a valuable teaching tool at times, but it's getting out of control and I can't imagine all of the players are enjoying the system, either.
To look at an example on the opposite end of the spectrum, Missouri has seven scholarship players and is the #5 team in the country.
The Tigers' talent level isn't that much above Kansas State's, and they have some glaring weaknesses (Kim English can't guard a quality 4-man) but you don't need to be a basketball genius to realize the value of how well they play together.
I don't know everything that happens in practices, and as long as Frank continues to meet or exceed expectations in March, it's hard to complain too much. Plus, it's easy to forget now, but this team has still probably exceeded most people's expectations so far, especially when you factor in nonconference.
Still, the repeated miscommunication and inconsistent play that seem to stem from the constant mixing and matching of lineups can be really frustrating to watch.
Oklahoma State's last three results are quite confusing. The Cowboys struggled to knock off Oklahoma in Stillwater, got absolutely obliterated at Baylor, then might have won at Iowa State if not for a bank error in the Cyclones' favor that completed an improbable late rally.
Basically, even though Gallagher-Iba may be eerily empty on Saturday, this is not a team K-State can afford to take lightly. Oh by the way, the ‘Cats haven't won in Stillwater since Dana Altman's team prevailed 75-62 in overtime in 1993. Yikes.
Even though he hasn't really lived up to the hype, the Cowboys' best player is freshman Le'Bryan Nash, a freakishly athletic wing player and is one of the most inconsistent players in the country. He has had his struggles shooting the basketball, but will kill you if you let him get to the rim.
He gets some help inside from Jean-Paul Olukemi, another versatile forward in the mold of Jamar Samuels, making that a really interesting matchup to watch.
Incredibly, though, the Cowboys are led in scoring by that irritating hobbit, Keiton Page, who is playing for his (just off the top of my head) 14th and (supposedly) final year.
K-State has shown in the past that he can be stopped and even flustered with constant high-pressure defense, but if you underestimate him for even a moment, he can be tricky. Just like Bilbo.
Hopefully Rod's remarkably improved floater game won't be deterred by Philip Jurick, the 6-11 reserve who is 4th in the Big 12 in blocked shots. Rod likely will be facing Markel Brown, one of the best perimeter defenders in the league.
In fact, Oklahoma State's defense has been rather stifling this season, holding conference opponents to less than 41-percent shooting (2nd to only KU), so K-State must prepare for a battle. Winning the rebounding battle would be nice as well, but we learned in Norman that doesn't help so much if you aren't making shots.
Rodney has been the undeniable leader of this team so far, and road games are generally where leadership is needed the most. It would help a lot to avoid an awful start like the one we saw last Saturday, since K-State should still be the favorite in this one and doesn't want to let OSU gain any kind of confidence.
I wish I could tell you what to expect with any sort of certainty, but really, I have absolutely no idea. All I know is if K-State lays another egg Saturday afternoon, Frank's critics are going to start getting louder.