Kansas State fits its offense

03/10/2011 12:00 AM

03/26/2012 12:23 PM

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Looking back, it's not difficult to pinpoint the moment Kansas State's basketball season began to change.

Two days after suffering a demoralizing home loss to Colorado in which the Wildcats scored 66 points, Frank Martin had seen enough. Fresh off a string of underwhelming offensive performances, the coach decided to take the advice of his assistants and try something new.

For weeks, they had repeatedly urged him to stop running offense through the frontcourt and to switch to a smaller, spread out, triangle system. And after 48 hours of discussion, and drawing Xs and Os on whatever paper they could find, Martin went with their suggestions.

The coaching staff walked into the team's next practice ready to teach, and based on the results the Wildcats have produced since — eight wins in nine games and a No. 19 ranking — K-State players were quick to learn.

"When I saw us do it the first time," Martin said, "I said, 'This fits us.' "

But the accounts of that fateful day differ.

"It was pretty difficult," Jordan Henriquez-Roberts explained. "When we were just walking through it the first few days, everyone was kind of lost."

The move was made for a number of reasons, including the departure of forwards Wally Judge and Freddy Asprilla.

But more than anything the new system, used by former coaches Tex Winter and Jack Hartman at K-State and several teams in the NBA, emphasized the team's specific skill set.

It utilizes a four-guard lineup. It moves the ball around with passing. And it opens up driving lanes for senior guard Jacob Pullen. Given the size and shooting ability of Rodney McGruder, Shane Southwell, Jamar Samuels and Curtis Kelly, the switch made sense.

But how much sense?

Martin had high expectations for what it could bring out of his team, but even he was hesitant to talk about the move at first. He said K-State was merely mixing in a few new looks, and that they couldn't be used against all opponents. When facing Kansas or Texas, he thought, the Wildcats needed to stay big.

It was a risky decision no matter how you look at it.

"It's hard, especially when you've never done it before," Martin said. "If that doesn't work, and we flounder, some of you guys would be writing out there I don't know what I'm doing and I probably need to go back to high school basketball."

Not until K-State defeated Nebraska and Iowa State in consecutive games did the Wildcats look to be figuring everything out.

"It took us a few games to understand what we were doing out of that offense," said Pullen, who has benefited most from the switch. "But I felt like we really hit our stride after that Colorado loss."

That brings us to today. After suffering a season sweep at the hands of Colorado, K-State players get the chance to show off their offensive improvements against the team they wanted a rematch with.

Since a last-second loss at Colorado, the Wildcats have exceeded their own expectations on offense by winning six straight games and knocking off the two teams they thought they couldn't beat while using a smaller lineup.

Pullen has gone on a scoring tear, averaging 25.5 points during that stretch, and K-State's big men, especially Curtis Kelly, have benefited from passing out of double teams all alone in the post.

"Our offense is so spread out that it allows the big post at the rim to have more room to work," Kelly said. "Then also when help comes, you can kick it (outside).... Somebody is going to be open because we're spread out so far from each other."

The offense is far from perfected, though. Should K-State encounter a team in the NCAA Tournament that doesn't double-team Kelly, or the Cats' forwards get into foul trouble, they will need to find a new way to create open shots on the perimeter.

Martin is still teaching his team how to adjust to opponents on a daily basis. How are his players responding? The same way they did after they played Colorado the first time.

"That's why I'm so proud of the guys in that locker room," he said. "They trust in what we do. They fight for each other and they fight for what we do."

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