No college basketball coach looks forward to playing two top 10 teams in four days, but Frank Martin enjoys the challenge a whole lot more today than he did a few years ago.
When he first took over as Kansas State’s head coach, the quick turnaround from a Saturday afternoon game to a Monday or Tuesday matchup, like the one the No. 18 Wildcats face at 7 p.m. today when No. 4 Baylor comes to Bramlage Coliseum, seemed like the most stressful part of his job.
But when he was asked about the difficulties of preparing his players for an undefeated opponent four days after putting everything they had into a win over the No. 9 Tigers, Martin sounded care free.
“That’s the advantage of being in the league now for five years,” Martin said. “Us coaches, we’re not rocket scientists, man. We’re simple people. We’ve got a foundation we believe in and we pretty much stick by it.
“… There are wrinkles and different things that they do to take advantage of personnel. But how they’re going to play, their culture and their style, that’s not changing. Being around the league, that helps you understand those things.”
With that knowledge easily at his disposal, and the experience of going through several quick turnarounds with the Wildcats, Martin and his staff showed K-State players a detailed scouting report on the Bears not long after the Missouri game was over and began working on how to break Baylor’s zone defense in practice.
That will be a difficult challenge, considering Baylor has allowed only two teams to score more than 67 points against it. Behind talented 6-foot-11 forward Perry Jones III and a starting lineup that features three players 6-foot-7 or taller with long wingspans, the Bears use their size to clog up the middle and make it tough on opponents to score inside.
“(You have to) just find the gap to attack them,” said junior forward Rodney McGruder. “With that length, they cover up a lot of space. Basically, you’ve really got to concentrate on finding those gaps.”
K-State will also emphasize trying to score without facing Baylor’s zone. When the Bears have time to get back on defense following made shots and get set, they are hard to score against. So Martin wants his players to defend the entire floor, and create turnovers near midcourt that can turn into fast-break opportunities and easy points.
If not, the game may come down to how the Wildcats shoot the ball. And Martin never wants that to decide a game.
“If you don’t make shots it’s going to be a hard night,” Martin said. “We have to be rock-solid defensively to create some open-court opportunities.”
K-State players only got two full days of practice to prepare for that strategy.
Is that enough time to transition away from the game plan that worked so well against Missouri and master a new style against Baylor? The answer will come tonight.
But K-State players appear as confident as their coach in the process.
“Every day is challenge,” said Jordan Henriquez. “That game (against Missouri) is out of the way now, so now we are preparing for Baylor. Knowing that another top-10 team is coming into our gym, we want to protect our home-court.”