Kansas State is about to enter the home stretch of its basketball season.
One more game until March. Four more games until the Big 12 Tournament. After that, nothing is guaranteed. It will all be over before you know it.
The Wildcats want to make the most of their remaining time together, so a 6 p.m. tip against Texas Tech on Tuesday at United Spirit Arena will carry added meaning.
A victory would end a six-game road losing streak and solidify their NCAA Tournament hopes as they turn their focus to future games against Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor. A loss would leave them in the same position they have been fighting to escape for two months.
“The last four games are going to be big for us,” K-State freshman guard Marcus Foster said. “They are all against teams that are really, really good. Right now we have a lot of good wins, but as our resume shows we can’t get it done on the road. The tournament is based on neutral sites, so we really have to get these last four wins.”
That won’t be easy. Texas Tech is no longer a pushover. With first-year coach Tubby Smith, the Red Raiders have the look of an up-and-coming team, especially at home.
In years past, K-State has taken the floor at United Spirit Arena and seen mostly empty red seats. That won’t be the case this time. Attendance is on the rise, so much so that the school is making a push for 10,000 students to attend Tuesday’s game. Anyone who shows up will receive free food and listen to music from a DJ. They will also be eligible for prizes up to $10,000.
That could make Lubbock an even harder place to play than it has been this season. Texas Tech is 10-5 at home with victories over Oklahoma State and Baylor, and a one-point loss against Kansas.
“It’s just a matter of putting a good product out there,” Smith said. “You have to put a good team on the floor. That’s a product of playing hard and working hard. It’s a process. You have to reach out to the fans as best you can and get them fired up about the direction of the program. Our staff has done a good job of promoting and marketing our games.”
K-State has been dominant at home, winning 14 straight. If the pattern continues, the Wildcats (18-9, 8-6 Big 12) will split their final four games. Second-year coach Bruce Weber thinks that will be enough to lock up a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
He also thinks “it would be nice” to get “some road wins down the stretch.”
“It’s going to be hard,” added junior forward Thomas Gipson. “We can end up in the top three or four or we can end up in the bottom half of the league. It all depends on us, and right now it isn’t looking good.”
K-State can fix some of its road problems with better defense.
Though its defense ranks first in the Big 12, allowing 64.1 points, it has allowed 81 or more points in its last four road losses.
Texas Tech, which averages 70.6 points and prefers to slow things down, may offer an easier matchup.
But the Wildcats also know they need to carry a different attitude into the home stretch.
“We feel like we are overdue for a road win, so it’s hurting us right now,” Foster said. “We have still got two more road games, so we just want to go 2-0 on the road to finish off Big 12 play.”