Given the nature of Kansas State's turbulent season, a quick one-and-out at the Big 12 tournament was not overly surprising.
To obtain a first-round bye and finish tied for third place with a 10-6 league mark, the Wildcats needed a six-game winning streak to close the regular season.
But then, they started 1-4 in the conference and took themselves out of any opportunity to win the Big 12 title, something league coaches predicted. So with Kansas State (22-10), virtually anything is possible. Certainly it can play with anyone after belting Kansas by 16 points and also winning at Texas. It can also struggle with unfavorable matchups after losing three out of three to Colorado, including the 87-75 loss the Wildcats are coming off of in the Big 12 quarterfinals.
"As long as we work hard and try to be ready," said senior forward Curtis Kelly, "we're definitely going to be a dangerous team. We've just got to play hard. We've got to take our seed and win out as much as we can."
The seed the Wildcats received, in spite of their quick Big 12 tournament exit, was a five. They were sent to the Southeast Region and will open against WAC champion Utah State (30-3) on March 17 in Tucson, Ariz.
Kansas State advanced to the Elite Eight last season and returns several key contributors off that club, including its two seniors, Kelly and Jacob Pullen.
Pullen ignited the Wildcats on their late-season push, particularly after changes were made to create a high-post attack that often created clear-outs for Pullen to get jumpers off screens or drive to the hoop. He was arguably the most valuable player in the Big 12, though the conference does not present such an award, and was hailed by many coaches as the league's top defender.
Although the response to the quick exit from the Big 12 tournament will be interesting, the Wildcats have seemingly overcome turmoil that led to the suspensions of players, including Pullen and Kelly, as well as the defections of two frontcourt players, Wally Judge and Freddy Asprilla, who combined to start 15 games. The volatility of coach Frank Martin, on the sideline, in practice and during interviews, contributes to Kansas State's combustibility.
When playing at their best, the Wildcats cause problems for opponents with aggressive defense and board work, and can also count on Kelly's inside touch to go with outside bombs from Pullen, Rodney McGruder and Will Spradling.
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