Well, that was depressing. And irksome. And miserable. On the other hand, at least I don't have to worry about where to slot 2011-12 in the countdown, do I? Anyway, after taking a day off to be depressed and miserable, it's time to get back to business.
Unfortunately, from the perspective of the guy sitting here writing this, today's piece is an exercise in futility. I will have nothing interesting to say or add or explain about today's entry, and I can guarantee it will be the shortest entry in this series: that's because #7 on the countdown is the most recent year we'll be discussing: 2009-10.
In 2008-09, the departures of Michael Beasley and Bill Walker were expected to (and did) lead to the team failing to return to the NCAA Tournament. Jacob Pullen, who had been a freshman alongside Beasley and Walker, grew into his role as the team's star, although he didn't receive any Big 12 honors. Junior transfer Denis Clemente had emerged as a threat at the other guard, leading the team in scoring and garnering Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors and a second-team all-conference selection. Jamar Samuels joined the team and settled into a starting role. But despite finishing in fourth place in the league, an early exit from the conference tournament resulted in an NIT bid, and a relatively quick exit.
In 2009-10, expectations were higher with Pullen, Clemente, and Samuels returning; they were joined by UConn transfer Curtis Kelly. The team went 13-1 in the non-conference slate, the only loss being a 12-point setback in Puerto Rico to Mississippi. Along the way, the Wildcats knocked off #18 twice: Dayton in the Puerto Rico consolation, and on the road at UNLV. A home win over Xavier helped the resume as well; the Cats had climbed to #11 in the polls.
The conference season got underway with a road loss to Missouri. After a win in Manhattan over Texas A&M and a road win at Colorado, top-ranked Texas came to Manhattan. K-State notched a 71-62 win, but followed with a home loss to Oklahoma State. A win at #24 Baylor was again followed with a loss, in overtime at Bramlage to #2 Kansas. After that, the Wildcats recorded seven straight wins to climb to #5, but finished the regular season with losses at Kansas and at home in overtime to Iowa State. The Cats were 24-6, but had come two points from 26-4. Heading into the conference tournament, the Cats were ranked ninth, and pretty much assured of an at-large bid after finishing tied for second place (and earning the second seed on tiebreakers).
Oklahoma State, then #21 Baylor, fell before Pullen and company, but the Cats fell to Kansas in the conference final. The Wildcats earned a #2 seed -- their highest seed ever in the seeding era -- and dispatched North Texas and Brigham Young in Oklahoma City to move to the Sweet Sixteen.
That led to the most epic post-season game in K-State history: the heart-stopping 101-96 double-overtime win over Xavier. Tired and battered, the Wildcats were unable to take the next step into the Final Four, falling 63-56 to eventual runner-up Butler.
It was disappointing, but at the same time it had been the most successful Wildcat season in 22 years. Pullen was named as a third-team All-American by Sporting News, as well as to the Big 12 first team and all-defensive team. Clemente was named to the Big 12 second team, and Samuels earned the conference's sixth man award.. and Frank Martin was honored as the Big 12's coach of the year.
Most importantly, this season gave younger K-State fans something to share with the older generation: an Elite Eight appearance. We're (almost) all equal now; now, we can all say "I'm just waiting for them to get further than I've seen them get before."