As has become the trend with this team, there are no secrets for Kansas State.
Into mid-December, it was that the Wildcats played a facile non-conference schedule. They even lost to the one sub-50 RPI opponent they played in Maryland.
Now midway through January, it’s that K-State has yet to secure a marquee win, a victory over a team for which NCAA tournament selectors would give the Wildcats props.
Oklahoma State (10-7, 0-5 Big 12) isn’t the best example of that — but the Wildcats (13-4, 2-3) will kick off Wednesday night in Stillwater, Okla. a string of critical contests over the next two weeks, a slate that includes tilts against No. 10 West Virginia and road matchups with Iowa State and Tennessee.
K-State and Oklahoma State tip off 8 p.m. CT Wednesday on ESPNU.
The Cowboys sit in the cellar of the Big 12 standings, still without a win in conference play. But that by no means guarantees a K-State win — after all, the Wildcats last won in Stillwater in January 2012, when Rodney McGruder tallied 14 points and Keiton Page posted 17.
Before that? Jan. 9, 1993.
It makes for an obvious challenge for K-State, whose only true road win this season came Dec. 3 over Saint Louis (5-13), and the Wildcats will enter Wednesday fresh off losses to Texas Tech and then-No. 1 Baylor.
Even considering that, though, K-State coach Bruce Weber remains encouraged ahead of Wednesday’s game, given his team’s two gritty road showings. Even if they were both losses against then-No. 3 Kansas and Texas Tech.
“We’ve competed on the road. We competed (against Baylor),” Weber said. “They were just better than us. That’s why they’re No. 1.
“We’ve just got to worry about Oklahoma State. That’s all we’ve got to worry about.”
Such a mentality may bode well for K-State. A win over the Cowboys would give the Wildcats the road win they need desperately for confidence’s sake, while a win over West Virginia — challenging — Iowa State — feasible — or Tennessee — doable — would bolster the Wildcats’ currently-thin NCAA Tournament resume.
Past that, K-State faces home games against Baylor and Kansas.
But a viewpoint so perspicacious would draw criticism from K-State football coach Bill Snyder, who Weber often references for the former’s myopic perspective when it comes to opponents down the road.
For now, the Wildcats need only focus on Oklahoma State.
“We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to get better in practice,” Weber said. “We’ve got to get some energy.”
The Cowboys are led by sophomore guard Jawun Evans, whose 18.2 points and 5.3 assists per game are tops for the team and who has logged 20-plus points in three of his team’s last four games.
Junior guard Jeffrey Carroll posts 16.8 points and 7 rebounds a contest.
But it hasn’t all added up to success for the Pokes, who will be seeking their first win since in nearly a month, as they last won in late December 92-70 over Texas A&M Corpus Christi.
“We’ve got to figure out how to start games better; we’ve got to figure out how to finish games better,” Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood said Thursday. “We just haven’t closed with the mentality of a winning team.”
The same could be said of Kansas State. With the exception of the Baylor loss, the Wildcats’ losses have come by a combined four points, exposing K-State’s late-game flaw critics have wasted no time lambasting.
With that in mind, Wednesday’s K-State/Oklahoma State match-up could come down to which team closes out the game better.
In that aspect, it’s difficult to say which team has the edge.
“Somehow, we’ve got to get better on (defense),” Weber said after the Baylor loss.