You know in Airplane when Lloyd Bridges picks the wrong week to stop everything from smoking to glue? Kansas State head coach Frank Martin might have picked the wrong week to stop cussin’.
In fact, his team, or perhaps even he himself, may need it more now than ever.
This isn’t about the lack of simple, public berating of players for the second half against Texas – arguably the worst 20 minutes of play, especially offensively, this year for K-State. It’s not about dissecting how a 13-point, halftime lead evaporated, the ups-and-downs of a .500 conference season, growing young guys up or accepting that Jamar Samuels, although bigger, is the same player as a senior that he was three years ago. It’s not even really about the cussing in general. All of those talking points are worthy of their own column, but here they are all only symptoms of a larger issue: The angry intensity that accompanied the verbiage, the spark that set the blaze to K-State’s basketball rebirth, where did it go?
What is this team? Who is this team? In his fifth season, I’m not sure Martin could answer that question. The team can rebound and is okay, statistically, defensively. There are stretches, the first half against Texas for example, that deserve praise. Opposing coaches still pay respect to the Wildcats’ effort level. But, regardless, one thing is for certain:
This is not K-State.
There is no anger. There is no overbearing fire. There is no straight junkyard dog pounding of the other team to the point that wills break. And now, when the team is fighting itself more than it ever has in finding its identity, the one unmistakable calling card – Frank Martin’s unapologetic, deal-with-it attitude – appears to be under construction as well.
The same coach who once said in a postgame (following a 2010 win over Texas, ironically), “If they don’t come in ready to work tomorrow, I will destroy them,” has sat more recently, noticeably more reserved. His comments, for the most part, have lacked those colorful spikes. It could be argued that its a sign of growing maturity, and it very well may be. But, if that’s the case, why does it feel like something is now missing; that the program has lost its psychological edge? And, if it did, is that sort of trade off worth it?
Remember when it was easy to know when Kansas State was gearing up for a good performance? It always came back to practice. Good practice meant good game. Bad practice meant get yo’ popcorn ready and prepare for some colorful remarks following the game from the head coach.
These days, however, it looks like practice is no longer an accurate predictor of future performance, making it difficult to assess where the Wildcats are even after 24 games, not only for media and fans, but for Martin as well.
“We had it in practice before the Texas Tech game. We had good practices leading up to Tech,” Martin said. “But, we did not have it in the game, and that is why I was disappointed because we had it in preparation, and then we did not have it once the game started. But, they were good today in practice.”
That translated into 20 pretty decent minutes against the Texas Longhorns. But, from that point on, K-State’s offense was as disorganized and inept as it has appeared to be all season – something Martin described as “one-on-one” afterward – and yet another double-digit lead morphed into a loss.
“We got selfish on offense,” Martin said. “We stopped passing the ball. We didn’t run our offense. We weren’t strong or disciplined enough to get to our spots and set the screens and use screens. You play one-on-one basketball, you’re going to get beat. That’s what we did.
“When the game got hard in the second half, that’s what we reverted to, and we got beat.”
In the second half, K-State went to the free throw line zero times, while Texas was 22 of 28. Overall, the Wildcats went 8-of-12 from the line. Texas tied a school record with 48 attempts, converting 35 of them.
Fouls were a problem for K-State almost from the get-go, especially for the bigs. Samuels, Adrian Diaz, Jordan Henriquez and Thomas Gipson all had at least two fouls by half. Samuels and Shane Southwell winded up fouling out of a game that saw KSU whistled 33 times to Texas’ 16. At halftime, the foul count was 14-10, K-State.
The culprit? As the Wildcats offense fell apart, so did the defense. Guys reached and were called for it. Guys were a step or two late in helping out and were called for it. It was simply bad basketball.
“Maybe we should have played a 2-3 zone,” Martin said. “But, we played our normal man-to-man, we played our different version of man-to-man. I don’t care what defense we were in, our guards refused to guard the ball. That means we were giving up straight-line drives to the basket. Then, our bigs never helped. Our bigs just stood and hugged.
“We did it in the first half, we played well. Then, the game got hard in the second half, and our guys; not only did we play one-on-one on offense, when I say we played one-on-one, I’m also talking about the other side of the floor.
“Guys sold out their teammates, and we didn’t play team basketball.”
The collective K-State effort allowed Longhorns senior Alexis Wangmene to earn the first double-double of his career with 15 points and 13 rebounds – a performance Martin was very complimentary of afterward.
“I told him when we shook hands after the game that nothing makes me prouder as a coach than to see a senior at the end of his season, coming to the end of his career, protect his team the way Wangmene did today,” Martin said. “He was phenomenal defensively. Every time we tried to shoot the ball, he went and blocked it. He grabbed every rebound and then made his free throws. He had some offensive rebounds for ducks.”
With an ESPN Big Monday home rematch with Kansas up next, Martin described his message to his players as they must turn around quickly.
“We played the game the right way for 20 minutes, and we had success,” Martin said. “We played it the wrong way for 20 minutes, and we didn’t have success. I hope we understand the reasons, and we talk about the reasons. But, we will also talk about the positives.
“Like I told [the players], I’m going to give Texas a lot of credit here. They came out, and, even though we beat them earlier in the year, even though they were down at halftime, they came out and attacked us and defended their home court.
“Now, we have to do the same. Kansas beat us earlier. We have to not pay attention to today’s game. We have to understand that we get the same opportunity on Monday that Texas had today, and we’ve got to line up and play our best.”
K-State is now 17-7, 6-6, with six games remaining in the regular season.