Kansas State remains in fourth place of the Big 12 standings following an ugly 66-47 loss to Texas Tech on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum, but a gigantic chasm separates the Wildcats from the conference’s true contenders.
That much has never been more obvious.
A look at K-State’s conference results tells the story. The Wildcats are 6-6 in the Big 12, with all six of their wins and all six of its losses divided by a clear line. They are winless against the top three teams in the league, going 0-2 against Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia. Yet, they are undefeated against the bottom six teams, going 1-0 against Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas.
This game presented an opportunity for K-State to venture off its fourth-place path, but it was unable to take advantage. That has been a familiar story this season. Every time the Wildcats appear to be building momentum, they flop hard at home against the Big 12’s elite.
“We talked about it with our guys before,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “We said, ‘This is your last opportunity to beat a top team.’ I am not sure if there is any definite explanation, except they are good.”
This one hurt more than most.
An afternoon of wacky scores put K-State within reach of third place. A win would have moved it within one game of first with a favorable conference schedule remaining.
The Wildcats would have been contenders in the league race. Instead, the Red Raiders are now the team to beat.
Making matters worse, K-State was once again non competitive in a prove-it game. Other than a last-second loss at Kansas, the Big 12’s top three teams have eviscerated the Wildcats. West Virginia beat them 77-69 and 89-51. Texas Tech beat them 74-58 and 66-47. Kansas won 70-56 inside Bramlage Coliseum.
That’s an average loss of 75-59. Ouch.
The common denominator: All six losses came against teams that play strong defense.
West Virginia overwhelmed K-State with full-court pressure and depth. That’s a horrible matchup for the Wildcats, and it showed. Texas Tech bum rushed them with size, speed and depth … Another dreadful matchup. Kansas bewildered them with a zone.
“We have got to find other ways,” Weber said. “When we can run our stuff, we are pretty good. When people take that away, we get to standing around. We need to find other ways to score.”
Things have gone so badly that it’s hard to imagine different results if K-State meets any of those teams in the Big 12 Tournament.
“We just have got to keep our defense up like we did the first half,” K-State forward Dean Wade said. “At the beginning, we were just flying everywhere, energetic on defense, being in the right position. I think that slipped a little bit in the second half. Our transition defense got a little lazy … We have to keep on that defensive energy for the whole game.”
More offense would help, too.
K-State had its worst offensive effort of the season against Texas Tech, making 13 of 45 shots from the field and 3 of 17 from three-point range for a mere 47 points, its fewest at home since 2006.
“I still feel that we have been getting the same shots and execute our plays the same way against these teams,” K-State guard Cartier Diarra said. “They just don’t fall. They haven’t fallen against those teams. I don’t know what it is. We just didn’t’ make shots against those teams.”
The good news is K-State won’t face Kansas, Texas Tech or West Virginia again in the regular season. Its final six games are all against teams it as already defeated.
The Wildcats can still finish in the top half of the conference standings and reach the NCAA Tournament. But they won’t be able to prove themselves against the Big 12’s best teams.
Bruce Weber may want to reconsider his stance on benching players when they pick up two fouls in the first half. Whenever that happens, he takes them out until the second half begins.
It’s a common coaching practice, and it makes sense in certain situations, but it hurt the Wildcats in this game.
Xavier Sneed came out hot by hitting a three-pointer and throwing down a transition dunk. He came to play and helped the Wildcats score the first seven points. It looked like he might be the top complement to Wade.
But he picked up two quick fouls and went to the bench, playing just seven minutes in the first half. Makol Mawien also made his first shot, a nifty left-handed hook in the lane, and went to the bench with a pair of fouls
Without them, Weber experimented with bizarre lineups that have rarely been seen this season. At one point, he had Amaad Wainright, Brian Patrick, Kamau Stokes and Levi Stockard on the floor at the same time.
That’s too many reserves for a team that lacks depth. Weber would have been wise to find spot opportunities to get Sneed and Mawien back in the game.
Big 12 favorites
Texas Tech is the new favorite to win the Big 12.
The Red Raiders are all alone in first place, they have already beaten Kansas and West Virginia, and they still get to play the Jayhawks at home.
If we’ve learned anything from the league thus far it’s to take nothing for granted. Who saw Oklahoma State beating Kansas and West Virginia on the road in the span of eight days? So they are far from a lock. But they have a star point in Keenan Evans and they play stellar defense.
It’s strange to think of Texas Tech as a basketball power, but this group looks like the top team in the Big 12.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett