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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • STEVENSON: Kansas State basketball still has hope

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  • Kansas State’s basketball team hasn’t fallen off the oblivion cliff yet, but they’re teetering on the edge.
    The time for Coach Frank Martin to experiment with his lineup is over:  the Wildcats need close to 30 minutes per game from veteran starters Jacob Pullen, Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels, and sophomore Rodney McGruder.
    K-State’s talent level drops significantly when any of those four starters aren’t on the floor.
    Martin’s recruiting is looking suspect; McGruder is the only recruit of Martin’s era who has contributed consistent and effective play for the Wildcats.
    Pullen, Kelly, and Samuels are players from Bob Huggins’ first and only recruiting class at K-State and they are the best players on this team.
    Coach Martin needs to quit experimenting with his constant substitutions and go with his talented veterans. The K-State reserves lack the necessary ability.
    No one has claimed the fifth starting position and that might remain unsettled throughout the season. Freshman Will Spradling has been the steadiest and continues to make progress.
    Martavious Irving and Shane Southwell are also vying for more playing time.
    One thing is certain:  K-State can’t afford any key injuries during the Big 12 race because quality depth is lacking. Freddy Asprilla left the team, leaving Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and Wally Judge as the only reserves in the pivot.
    Neither H-R nor Judge has improved since last season and K-State will be in trouble in games where Kelly or Samuels get in foul trouble.
    K-State’s future doesn’t look promising; with Pullen, Samuels, and Kelly playing their final year, the Wildcats are going to be hurting next season unless Martin signs several big-time freshmen.
    Despite all the disappointment among K-State fans with the 1-2 conference start, there’s still hope for the rest of this season. With the three seniors and McGruder playing to their potential, K-State is capable of beating any team left on their schedule.
    K-State isn’t going to win the Big 12, but the Wildcats can still earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament and that’s all that counts in today’s college game.
    The next three games — at Texas A&M, Baylor, and at Kansas — are a daunting challenge indeed. If K-State could manage a to go 2-1, or even 1-2, they would still be in a position to have a successful finish in the Big 12.
    This is the week that Kansas can apply a death grip in their endeavor to win a seventh-straight Big 12 title, or the Jayhawks could turn the whole thing into a free-for-all.
    With the Jayhawks’ win versus Baylor Monday, it sets up the Texas-Kansas game in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday as the biggest game of the young conference season.
    Page 2 of 2 - Going into Saturday’s game, KU and Texas appear to be the best two teams in the Big 12; however, neither team has been dominating during the first half of the season.
    KU has played an average schedule because teams like USC, UCLA, Memphis, and Michigan haven’t been up to their normal standard. It’s revealing that the Jayhawks have struggled often on their way to a 17-0 record.
    Coach Bill Self’s teams usually show significant improvement right after the semester break — KU’s defense is better, but the offense remains a problem.
    The play of the guards has been substandard. If there’s one trend that Self’s teams have had to fight during his great tenure at KU, it’s the custom of the guards to make careless and preventable turnovers.
    Tyshawn Taylor leads the way on the current KU team; he makes at least three unnecessary turnovers almost every game. Taylor is the point guard; the player who has the physical tools to play more minutes at this crucial position is Elijah Johnson, but he also makes frequent unforced mistakes.
    Josh Selby is playing like a confused freshman and he might come out of it or he might not. In any event, Selby hasn’t shown the necessary poise to play much at point guard.
    In fairness to him, he missed a lot of practice time and too many early games.
    On the positive side, the Morris twins have been playing great and Thomas Robinson played very well in the second half against Nebraska. Mario Little adds dependable depth in the pivot.
    Brady Morningstar’s shooting has been way off, but the rest of his game is solid. Tyrel Reed has been KU’s most-consistent guard and he’s beginning to shoot better from the 3-point line.
    But for Kansas to be a national power, Taylor, Selby, Johnson or all of them need to show progress and start playing effective basketball on a consistent basis.
    If the turnovers continue, that could be what ends it all in March — just like last season. The ability is there, it’s just a matter of control and focus.
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