MANHATTAN — For Kansas State, February brings a reprieve.
The No. 10 Wildcats will play seven games against unranked opponents this month and will likely be favored to defeat all of them.
Coming off a strenuous January in which K-State began Big 12 conference play and tangled with Texas, Baylor and Kansas — ranked at the time first, 25th and second — in a two week span, the stretch of less-daunting games couldn't come at a better time.
A sustained winning streak would allow the Wildcats to contend for a top-three finish in the league standings and enter March with plenty of confidence.
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Just don't expect K-State coach Frank Martin to think that far ahead.
"If you start worrying about the finish line at the beginning of the race or the middle part of the race, it feels like you're never going to get there," Martin said. "You have to focus in on the present and the next stride, and the next practice. If you do that, then all of a sudden that finish line becomes more attainable."
The race toward that finish line begins tonight at last-place Nebraska.
At first glance, it would appear to be one of the easier games on K-State's schedule. The Cornhuskers (13-8, 1-5 Big 12) started conference play on a five-game losing streak and lost to the only ranked team it has faced. But K-State won't buy in.
"We have had no success going into that building," Martin said.
Indeed, the Wildcats have lost their last three games at the Devaney Sports Center, and Martin describes the 73-51 loss of a year ago as an embarrassment.
Though he insists that game will have no impact on this game, Martin believes ending a losing streak in Lincoln, Neb., will help motivate his players.
"Do we kind of take it on as a challenge? 'Hey, let's change this and go do something we haven't done?' " Martin asked. "Yes, we look forward to doing that."
Nebraska coach Doc Sadler understands K-State will be ready. So what if the Wildcats just got finished playing their rival? He thinks opponents look forward to playing the Huskers the same way they do a top 10 team.
"There's not going to be anybody feeling sorry for us," Sadler said. "As people get ready to play Kansas and Texas, they put a circle around them. Right now, people are putting a circle around us, because that's a team people probably feel like they need to come in and beat."
Sadler shared that philosophy with his players before facing off against Oklahoma on Saturday, and they responded by pounding the Sooners for a 63-46 victory.
After watching the game on tape, Martin said he expected nothing less from a Sadler-coached team.
"He's not going to get wrapped up in what his team's record is," Martin said. "Doc is going to get wrapped up in making sure his team competes and makes sure they're ready to go win the next game on the schedule."