MANHATTAN — College basketball teams traditionally don't start playing top-notch opponents until the week of Thanksgiving, when made-for-TV tournaments pop up from Puerto Rico to Hawaii.
Kansas State couldn't wait that long this season.
At 3 p.m. today, the third-ranked Wildcats welcome No. 22 Virginia Tech to Bramlage Coliseum for one of two games featuring two ranked teams on ESPN's 24 hours of college hoops.
The matchup has anything but a November feel to it.
"It will be a big test," K-State sophomore guard Nick Russell said. "This is a great game for us early in the season to prepare us for March."
Both teams have a long way to go before they reach postseason form. K-State defeated James Madison 75-61 in its Friday opener, but received little production from its frontcourt with Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels on the bench. Wildcat coach Frank Martin said he has not yet decided whether either will play today.
Virginia Tech defeated Campbell 80-70 in its first game. While Malcolm Delaney led an experienced group with 20 points, the Hokies had 19 turnovers.
Mistakes will be much more costly today.
Two games into a season, that's not always the easiest thing for a team to understand.
"It's not fun," Martin said. "When you've got a group of kids like we've got — as young as we are — and you're playing a team that is real good and senior-laden, as a coach you don't get out of bed and say, 'I want to do that.' You don't mind playing good teams. You'd like it to be deeper in the schedule."
When Martin agreed to play Virginia Tech last summer, he said he did so because he expected to have Dominique Sutton, Kelly and Samuels to turn to for early leadership. But Sutton, a forward set to be a senior, transferred. Martin has been so displeased with Kelly's practice habits that he did not play the senior forward against James Madison. And Samuels has been slow to recover from a minor eye injury.
Martin likes to say the Hokies' roster is filled with "grown men" who "play hard and with a purpose." Now he wonders, will senior guard Jacob Pullen be able to lead a young lineup against them?
"It is what it is," Martin said. "It's still a great opportunity. Our young guys will be ready. We'll go out and battle our tails off and see what happens."
A difficult early game, but the Cats prefer that to the alternative.
"The mindset of this team is: to be the best, you've got to beat the best," sophomore forward Wally Judge said. "A cupcake schedule wouldn't help us at all. We want to play against the best people in the country so come time for us to play in the tournament, we've already adapted to playing in hostile environments and adapted to playing against tough and competitive teams."
Letters arrive — K-State announced Monday that expected letters of intent had arrived from 6-foot-11 Adrian Diaz of Hialeah (Fla.)-Miami Lakes High and 6-7 Thomas Gipson of Cedar Hill, Texas. Diaz is rated 145th in Rivals.com's top 150, while Gipson is No. 142.