MANHATTAN — Kansas State basketball players have been repeatedly asked about expectations this season.
From their first practice in early November to their rise in the national polls, everyone has wanted to know how they planned on handling the added pressure that inevitably comes with being a favorite.
How would they deal with a top five preseason ranking? Would the swagger that helped them advance to the Elite Eight last March remain strong without national experts picking against them? Could they go from being hunters to being hunted?
The Wildcats have heard them all.
But none of those questions seem relevant heading into tonight's game against UNLV at the Sprint Center. After scoring a measly 44 points during an agonizing loss to Florida on Saturday in Sunrise, Fla., No. 11 K-State took a hit in the national rankings and was left searching for confidence.
Not since a narrow road win against Washington State on Dec. 3 have the Wildcats truly felt good about the way they played. Their post players have been inconsistent, senior guard Jacob Pullen has yet to find his shooting touch and the entire team has struggled to score in transition without former point guard Denis Clemente leading the fast break.
So now there is a new top question for K-State players to answer: Can those problems be easily fixed? Or will they linger?
"It will get fixed," said coach Frank Martin after the Florida loss. "Or they won't be wearing a K-State uniform anymore."
The Wildcats will have both Martin's ultimatum and motivation on their side today. After defeating K-State over the weekend, Florida returned to action Monday and lost to Jacksonville.
That certainly won't make the Wildcats feel any better about their defeat, and it should add pep to their step against a quality UNLV opponent that is off to a 10-2 start, and is coached by former K-State player and coach Lon Kruger.
Last year the two teams met in Las Vegas, when UNLV was ranked No. 18 and K-State was striving to break into the rankings for the first time all year. Hungry for a win, the Wildcats blitzed the Rebels 95-80 and have been a staple in the national polls since.
Those roles are reversed today, butin a way, K-State still has the most to prove.
"I hope we can learn from this situation," Pullen said. "I also hope we learn the value of every game we play. We must understand that every team is looking at us to build their resumes for March."