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Hot K-State gets immediate chance to shake up Big 12 basketball

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, at 4:01 p.m.

Photos

No. 6 Oklahoma State at Kansas State

When: 3 p.m. Saturday

Where: Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan

Records: OSU 12-1, 0-0 Big 12;, K-State 10-3, 0-0

Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM

TV: ESPNU

No. 6 Oklahoma State at Kansas State

POklahoma St.Ht.Yr. PtsReb
FKamari Murphy6-8So.6.16.2
FBrian Williams6-5Jr.9.13.8
FLe’Bryan Nash6-7Jr.13.56.1
GMarkel Brown6-3Sr.16.54.6
GMarcus Smart6-4So.17.24.3
Kansas St.
FThomas Gipson6-7Jr.11.55.9
FWesley Iwundu6-7Fr.7.14.6
GWill Spradling6-2Sr.7.03.7
GMarcus Foster6-2Fr.13.83.5
GShane Southwell6-7Sr.11.55.1

Oklahoma State (12-1): The Cowboys are off to one of the best starts in program history. Their only loss came on a neutral court to Memphis, but they have defeated Memphis, Purdue and Colorado. When Smart, Brown and Nash decided to return for another season together they were immediately tabbed as conference contenders. Oklahoma State finished third in the Big 12 last season, behind K-State and Kansas. Smart is averaging 17.2 points, and is projected as a top 5 pick in the NBA Draft. Oklahoma State is trying to move on without starting forward Michael Cobbins, who tore his Achilles and has been ruled out for the season.

Kansas State (10-3): The Wildcats enter Big 12 play on a hot streak. They have won eight straight, with recent victories coming over Mississippi, George Washington and Gonzaga. Another win could put them in the national polls. Jevon Thomas has made an instant impact as a reserve point guard. The freshman has sent out 10 assists without committing a turnover in his first two games, all while playing strong defense. Southwell played his best during conference play a year ago. Perhaps he is ready for another strong run after scoring a career-high 21 points against George Washington.

— Will Spradling understands why some are doubting Kansas State.

The Wildcats lost three of their first five basketball games and waited until early December to land a notable victory. That sluggish start left considerable ground to make up for a team that was picked to finish fifth in the Big 12. Even after eight straight victories, few consider them serious contenders.

Still, the senior guard is surprised K-State’s first Big 12 game — a 3 p.m. tip against No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum — is receiving so little buzz. The Cowboys are the highest-ranked team in the league and the Wildcats shared the conference crown last year.

Shouldn’t that make this a must-see game?

“We won it last year so everybody has got to come through here,” Spradling said. “I was reading something the other day that said the Big 12 goes through Lawrence. It was kind of upsetting, because it didn’t even say anything about us (also) winning it last year. It said KU won the Big 12 last year, so everything has to go through Lawrence. But it also goes through here.”

A victory over Oklahoma State would serve as a reminder.

K-State opened conference play with a 73-67 victory over Oklahoma State a year ago and used that momentum to ultimately tie Kansas for a league title. It is hoping to do the same this time around.

“We have something to defend,” junior forward Nino Williams said. “We are the reigning champs. The last couple of games have proved that we can guard anybody. Gonzaga is one of the best offensive teams in the country. We are just coming in with a defensive mindset.”

Few teams enter conference play on a bigger hot streak. K-State hasn’t lost since Thanksgiving and has defeated Mississippi, Gonzaga and George Washington in the past month. Its offense, which is averaging 67 points on 41-percent shooting, could use improvement, but its defense, which hasn’t allowed more than 62 points in its winning streak, is as strong as they come.

Of course, those numbers have come against mostly inferior competition. Navigating the Big 12, which is home to four top 16 teams, will be much harder.

“I feel like we are ready,” Spradling said, “especially the way we have played the last month.”

Oklahoma State’s starting trio of Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart will be the toughest challenge K-State has faced.

Wildcats coach Bruce Weber considers the Cowboys the team to beat in the Big 12.

“We have held a lot of teams down,” Weber said. “This is one of the best offensive teams in the country. We are going to see if we can do it again.”

The emergence of freshman point guard Jevon Thomas will help. He came off the bench and shut down George Washington’s guards. He will provide much-needed energy and extra fouls against Oklahoma State. The absence of OSU forward Michael Cobbins should give K-State forward Thomas Gipson an edge inside, as well.

He may need to take advantage. This is the type of game contenders win.

“This is our home court,” Weber said. “We are going to have to play well and play strong and all that, but we have to protect our home court if we want to compete for the Big 12 race.”

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