Kansas State University

Kansas State basketball sees benefit in early loss to Colorado

BOULDER, Colo. —Looking back, Kansas State isn't sure its two-game winning streak would be possible had it not first lost a game in early January to Colorado.

Back then, the Buffaloes went into Bramlage Coliseum and thumped the Wildcats 74-66. K-State was outshot, outrebounded and outsmarted by an opponent it had beaten nine straight times.

But many of the good things in the past seven games — four of them wins — are due in part to strategy changes that came from the experience.

When that game was over, K-State coach Frank Martin remembers having an epiphany.

"We've got to become different," Martin said.

That led to the decision to use swingman Rodney McGruder, who has been K-State's most consistent player, as a power forward for extended periods, and to spread the floor and create more room for everyone to work.

The differences have at times been subtle, but they have made an impact. Despite former big men Freddy Asprilla and Wally Judge leaving the team, K-State's rebounding has improved. They have won the glass battle five of the last seven games, and at times by wide margins.

The offense has become more productive, as well. While using a small lineup against Iowa State last week, K-State was hot from the field and scored 86 points, well above its average of 73.5.

While Martin admits a four-guard lineup won't work against every opponent, it has its advantages against teams without a big, deep front court such as Colorado.

"Last Colorado game was when I made the decision that we had to prepare to play smaller every once in a while," Martin said. "We've just got to play different. To a certain extent that's why we changed our offense."

Rather than put five players on the floor that resembled a traditional lineup, an emphasis was placed on giving the best players the most playing time possible.

"I felt we had to do some of that," Martin said. "It's our job as coaches to put the most productive players on the floor. Whether it be five big guys or five point guards. That's what my job is. I just felt Rodney has to be on the floor some how, some way. If we have to play him at the four some, so be it."

The move was made possible because of McGruder's ability to step outside and make three-pointers, which brings opposing big men away from the basket and opens up the lane, and his knack for defending in the post and grabbing rebounds.

"With them (Colorado) not being very big, we are just going to have to get some plays into the post and make them adjust and make them foul," senior guard Jacob Pullen said. "That last game, we started out well in the post and faded away."

K-State sits in a four-way tie for fifth place in the Big 12 standings at 4-5. After a brutal start to league play, the Wildcats view getting back to .500 as an accomplishment.

An accomplishment that might not be possible without a change in strategy.

"It's helped us tremendously as a whole," Martin said. "... Don't fight the fight the other guy fights, or you're probably going to get beat. Once we realized that, we had to make an adjustment there. That's the decision we made. It seems like we're playing better."

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