MANHATTAN — Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber only needs two words to explain why Texas has won seven consecutive games, taken over sole possession of second place in the Big 12 and overachieved this much.
“It looks like they don’t have any egos,” Weber said. “They just all play. From last year to now, there is a different attitude.”
Weber knows that sounds vague. Every time he talks about team chemistry, someone inevitably has questions.
He learned that the hard way while speaking at a basketball clinic in Turkey a few years ago.
“They had interpreters, and I said team chemistry and the two guys who were interpreting got together and came to me,” Weber said. “They said, ‘You mean you give the players drugs? I said, ‘No, no, no, no!’ But they had no word for team chemistry. They didn’t know what it was. I think that is a great example. It is something that is there, but you don’t know it’s there until it’s not there. And when it’s not there, things can get dysfunctional.”
Things were certainly dysfunctional for Texas last year. It won 16 games and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time under coach Rick Barnes. Then the Longhorns lost their top four scorers, with two leaving early to play professionally and two others transferring. Many expected them to be even worse this season. They were picked to finish eighth in the league’s preseason poll, and they were excluded from the conference’s Big Monday lineup.
Oops. No. 15 Texas has already won 18 games and is challenging for a conference championship. Sophomore center Cameron Ridley is living up to the hype that surrounded him in high school, Jonathan Holmes and Javan Felix are averaging more than 12 points and Isaiah Taylor is one of the conference’s top freshmen.
The Longhorns began receiving national attention when they edged the Wildcats by three last month at the Erwin Center, on a buzzer-beating three from Jonathan Holmes, and have been on a roll since.
Now K-State is hoping it can score a quality victory over Texas Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum and receive a similar boost of momentum.
“This is a huge game for us,” Weber said. “They have done a great job of playing together and competing. We are going to have to match that. You hope you get a little bit of a second wind at home. We have got to get going.”
Playing at home will be a welcome change for K-State. It climbed to No. 22 in the national rankings in January, thanks mostly to a home winning streak that stretches back to early November. A week off leading up to Saturday’s game could also help. Excluding a season-opening loss to Northern Colorado, K-State has played its best when it has extra time to prepare. The last three times K-State has played on a week’s rest, it has beaten Central Arkansas, Gonzaga and Tulane by an average of 24.6 points.
“It was definitely a relief for us,” K-State freshman guard Marcus Foster said of the most recent week off. “Our bodies were all beaten up. It felt good. My body feels better. I’m jumping back like when I put my first step in Manhattan.”
Still, K-State is flirting with the NCAA Tournament bubble after weeks of short turnarounds and four consecutive road losses. The Wildcats need to beat the Longhorns to stay above .500 in the Big 12 and head into another home game on Monday against Kansas with confidence.
Texas has team chemistry. Kansas has talent. They are the Big 12’s best two teams.
Beating them won’t be easy. But K-State knows it’s time to make a push for a quality postseason seed.
“I feel like if we can beat Texas it will help our resume,” K-State junior forward Thomas Gipson said. “They are a really good team. They shocked the world, basically. Kansas is a really good team, too. Hopefully we can get a win against those two teams. We are back home, and we are proud to be back home. We use our crowd and their energy to help us on defense and on offense. We normally play good in front of them.”