What to make of Kansas State now?
Don’t mistake Monday night’s Kansas State victory over No. 1 and unbeaten Texas as an upset – the ninth ranked Wildcats were actually favored by 1.5 points and are riding a home winning streak of 14 games. It was just the third win in program history (in 15 tries) over the nation’s No. 1 team and first since 1994. Yet despite that, fans didn’t rush the court because they almost expected the victory (one KSU player called that flattering).
K-State (16-2, 3-1 Big 12, 9-3-1 ATS overall) is easily the nation’s most overlooked Top 10 team and is certain to move up from its current No. 9 spot unless it is upset in a potential letdown game Saturday against Oklahoma State.
But how do we measure the line value of this team?
Well, after Monday’s win, like Elvis, some of their value just left the building. While the Wildcats have been a backcourt-dominated team much of the year behind Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, it was the frontcourt that stepped up big time against the Longhorns, who were expected to dominate in the paint. Instead, K-State forwards Jamar Samuels (the team’s sixth man but third-leading scorer) and Curtis Kelly combined for 37 points and 20 rebounds while Pullen and Clemente were held to a combined 17 points on 4-for-24 shooting -- last year, when K-State beat Texas, Clemente scored 44 points.
KSU outrebounded Texas 42-34, which is notable considering UT entered the game averaging 45 rebounds and 9.2 rebounds more than their opponents, among the best in the nation. And it’s not like the Wildcats even played their best game, shooting 1-of-12 on three-pointers, missing 12 free throws and committing as many turnovers (18) as Texas.
That frontcourt success is a very good sign, because teams are going to try and take away those two guards and make the big men beat them. On Monday, they did. Kansas State has bolstered their Big Dance resume' with wins over projected NCAA Tournament teams in Texas, Xavier, UNLV, Alabama and Texas A&M. The only two losses were in a neutral-site game against Ole Miss and at Missouri, which is one arguably one of the Top 25 toughest places in the country to win.
When Bob Huggins bailed on Kansas State for West Virginia, the program was supposed to fall into disarray. Frank Martin was hired as coach mainly because it was thought he could keep Michael Beasley’ commitment (he did). But Martin has turned into one of the nation’s most underrated coaches and now has three victories over Top-10 teams in only his third season. He is probably the front-runner for national coach of the year.
Can Martin lead this team to a Big 12 title and possibly a Final Four run? Having that veteran backcourt will certainly help come tourney time – Pullen is a junior, Clemente a senior. And it will be tough to topple the Cats at home (6-0 ATS there this year). KSU is now done with Texas for the regular season but still has to face Kansas at home on Jan. 30 and in Lawrence on March 3. Bucking a trend that has seen the Jayhawks dominate their instate rival is a must if they want to challenge for a league crown. KU will likely be favored in their trip to Manhattan, considering Kansas is 25-1 at Kansas State since 1984.
Pay attention to just how much credit the oddsmakers offer the Wildcats moving forward, especially when they host Kansas at the end of January and then Missouri in their final February tilt.