K-State, welcome to the “in” crowd. After back-to-back road wins against Top 10 teams, the Wildcats have risen above the fray and put the NCAA Tournament bubble talk to bed. The Wildcats dominated Missouri in Columbia, which thrilled KU fans and made some Tigers fans want to jump into the Missouri River.
Below are video highlights of KSU’s 78-68 victory, along with five morning-after thoughts.
1. Jamar Samuels again busted out JamSam – the ultra-high energy, defending, rebounding monster. Oh, and he banked in a three for good measure. Seriously, Jamar, this isn’t funny anymore. After your past two games, you’re going to make people expect this leadership and dogged urgency that you’ve played with the past few games. Seriously seriously, it isn’t about stats with Samuels. Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez can score, and all of the big guys can grab a few rebounds. But, the senior has begun flat attacking people underneath, playing as if he knows his K-State days are numbered, and his vibe is carrying over to others all over the floor (as Missouri found out). He has been an excellent reminder that a career really isn’t over until a player says it is, meaning we all thought it was pretty certain that Samuels wasn’t ever going to figure things out and grow up. But, his attitude has changed, his bizarre penchant for silly fouls has mostly gone away, and his confidence is sky high. When that happens for any player (J’Covan Brown comes to mind as another recent example of noticeable maturation), it’s just pretty cool to watch.
2. It wasn’t only about match-ups or a team having another team’s number as much as it was simply K-State being *that* good. It was evident early on in the game that the Wildcats were playing at a different level. That’s not to say the energy isn’t normally good with this team, because it is, but I described it as the players having a little more pop and sizzle. Cuts were sharp, as was the passing, and shots were on target from the get-go. All of it combined to allow K-State to score its most points in a game since putting up 84 against Texas on Jan. 18. Defensively, it just doesn’t get better. Against Mizzou, it wouldn’t have been enough to just keep guys out of the lane because, as we all know, the Tigers are an excellent outside-shooting bunch. However, K-State laid the man-to-man on so thick that MU was forced to run its offense a good 10 to 15 feet behind the arc – almost to half court at times – and even then, a defender was still only an arm-length away. It wasn’t just good, it was spectacular. And, it forced the Tigers into an 8-of-26 night from three-point range, allowed just one Missouri starter to reach double-figure scoring, and frustrated Phil Pressey into a six-turnover performance.
3. Missouri can’t let K-State derail its season. Tigers fans are sick to their stomachs today as they deal with, well, being a Tigers fan. MU nation wanted so badly for this upcoming Saturday’s game in Lawrence to be about knocking off Kansas en route to winning a Big 12 championship. Hell, the team wanted that, and they should have. Granted, that still could be the case should KU lose to Texas A&M tonight, but I’m not sure anybody is expecting it to happen. Then again, virtually everyone, myself included, expected Frank Haith and his team to find retribution against K-State in Columbia. Frank Martin had never won there. His team was coming off a huge road win from just a couple of days prior, etc. But, K-State played an extremely efficient game and soundly beat MU again. For Mizzou, look, I know today feels like the end of the world, but this wasn’t a tournament game. You are still 25 and freaking 3, still a Top 5-type team, still have a chance at a 30-win season, and still have KU next. So, K-State, which is suddenly a buzz saw, beat you twice; it happens. Just have to move on.
4. I said this last night on Twitter: Two games, different season. I left it open-ended on purpose, just to see what kind of response it would generate. The feedback was interesting in that almost all of the return tweets thought I was referencing a couple of losses; whether it was the pair of dropped games to Oklahoma (which are even more dumbfounding now), or the late blown leads against Iowa State, Baylor and Texas (which still just really feel like a jellyfish down the back of a wet suit, hypothetically speaking). Actually, I meant the past two wins. Think about this: In 96 hours, K-State transformed itself from a middle-of-the-pack, barely-hanging-on, tournament-future-isn’t-very-bright bubble sitter to all but guaranteeing itself a spot in the Big Dance. (A piece of me refuses to ever *expect* to be in the field until I see the name on the screen. If you’ve followed K-State or bubbles or selection committee “processes” long at all, you understand.) If all of this sounds like a different tune than what I was singing for the past two weeks leading into Baylor, it’s because, well, it is…
5. I can admit when I’m wrong, and I was wrong that this isn’t an NCAA Tournament team. Now, if I’m willing to give that much, you’ve got to level with me a little in saying you didn’t expect back-to-back road wins over Top 10 teams from KSU; not this late in the season and not from what we had seen in games leading up to this point. On Tuesday, K-State put its best foot forward and proved that it now absolutely belongs in the NCAA field. That said, the last three games against Iowa State, at Texas A&M and versus Oklahoma State are no longer crucial to getting on the bracket. Instead, they are crucial because if the Wildcats win those three, the team is 22-8, 11-7, winners of five in a row and seven of nine, perhaps fourth in the Big 12, and is in possession of a resume worthy of a five seed. At that point, it becomes about showing well in the Big 12 Tournament (win that thing, and you’re talking an upper four seed), but, of course, KSU needs to take care of its business beforehand starting this Saturday in Manhattan against the Cyclones.