MANHATTAN — Kansas State basketball coach Frank Martin always seems to talk about perception this time of year.
The nonconference portion of the Wildcats' schedule is winding down, Big 12 games begin next week and preseason expectations no longer match reality. People within and outside K-State's locker room are starting to get an idea about just how good or bad the team can be.
At 10-1 and coming off a Diamond Head Classic championship, K-State is beginning to gain attention. It is on the verge of breaking into the Associated Press Top 25 — it's already in the coaches poll — and no one is picking it to finish eighth in the final Big 12 standings anymore.
Right now, perception is good.
That's a welcome change from this time a year ago, when K-State opened the season ranked third nationally and steadily dropped off the national radar with internal problems until a late-season turnaround sent it to the NCAA Tournament.
Martin doesn't have much to say about all that, other than that he learned a lot from last season and is asking his players to stay focused on improving heading into today's game against Howard.
"Don't ever forget now, the greatest empires of all time have always been defeated from within, not from the outside," Martin said. "So the fight that you're always fighting is the one from within. You're trying to build a foundation of trust and honesty so guys can always rely on one another so nothing ever breaks down.
"... That's the way it is built, man. It's all from within. You take care of the inside you don't have to worry about the outside. If you worry about the outside, the inside gets no good."
Martin is confident the Wildcats will listen to his advice. Though they have played down to their competition at times, struggling to put away lower Division I opponents at home, they have played four straight quality games.
Ball movement is better than it has been since Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen shared point guard duties. Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez are becoming solid contributors off the bench and team chemistry isn't a problem.
"We're a work in progress," Martin said, "but we've got a chance to be a good team if we do things right."
Senior forward Jamar Samuels thinks K-State is already a good team. He believes the Wildcats are as good as ever on defense, and underrated on offense.
"We're turning a lot of heads," he said.
Junior forward Rodney McGruder thinks the same way, and has noticed a little more hype surrounding the program since coming back from Hawaii. Not that he's caught up in it.
" (We've got to) protect that hype," McGruder said. "Don't settle for the great things people are saying about you. Keep working hard. Don't settle for less."