More than a year has passed since Kansas State lost its opening basketball game to Northern Colorado last season, but the memories of that disappointing night inside Bramlage Coliseum remain vivid for the Wildcats.
They don’t want a repeat.
"People kind of forget about you when you lose that first opener," sophomore guard Marcus Foster said. "It takes a lot to get the fans back and to get media respect. I just think you have to start the season with a high tone and high expectations."
K-State can accomplish that with a home victory against Southern Utah at 8 p.m. on Friday. For that reason, players are approaching the first game of a new season the same way they would a conference opener or any other big game.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
If last year’s experience taught them anything, it’s that you can’t afford to take anything for granted in college basketball.
"We were just all super excited to play and we ended up coming out with a loss," junior guard Justin Edwards said. "Hopefully, this year we don’t get so excited and we take our opponent more seriously and we come out with a win. Hopefully we just come out with a lot of energy and keep reminding our guys that we lost this game last year and we can’t do it again."
History seems unlikely to repeat itself, regardless of K-State’s mindset.
Southern Utah is not Northern Colorado. Though both teams are members of the Big Sky Conference, that is where the similarities between the programs end. A year ago, Northern Colorado came to Manhattan with a veteran roster that many picked to contend for a league championship. Southern Utah is coming off a 2-27 season and is picked to finish last in its conference by a wide margin. College basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy ranks Southern Utah No. 342 out of 351 Division I teams in his preseason rankings.
"It's where we should be picked," Southern Utah coach Nick Robinson told the Salt Lake Tribune. "We were one of the worst teams in the country last year."
Washburn, the team K-State defeated in an exhibition on Sunday, may turn out to be a more difficult test than Southern Utah.
The biggest challenge for the Wildcats could be health. They played Washburn without forwards Nino Williams, Malek Harris, Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson, forcing Edwards to play out of position at power forward. Harris and Iwundu are expected to play this time, so that shouldn’t be needed. But depth could be a concern with Williams resting and Johnson, a redshirt candidate, likely out for the year with an injured foot.
Injuries played a key role in K-State’s loss to Northern Colorado last season, as Thomas Gipson missed the game with a concussion.
The Wildcats don’t want to use that as an excuse against Southern Utah.
"I have told our guys all along, right now our goal is to get this first one," K-State coach Bruce Weber said. "We didn’t do it last year. We have to do things we didn’t do last year, and one of them is to do that ... This will be an opportunity in the first week to do some things we didn’t do a year ago."
Southern Utah at Kansas State
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan
Records: USU 0-0, KSU 0-0
Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9 FM
Southern Utah: The Thunderbirds are coming off a 2-27 season in which they defeated a single Division I opponent. Southern Utah is picked to finish last in the Big Sky Conference this season. Southern Utah has a big front court behind Cal Hanks and Casey Oliverson, which could allow K-State to use a bigger lineup of its own.
Kansas State: The Wildcats are battling injuries. Wesley Iwundu and Malek Harris are expected to play, but they were not active for Sunday’s exhibition against Washburn. Nino Williams is expected to miss the opener, and may require additional rest. Bruce Weber has jokingly compared Williams to “an old man,” saying that rest now will help his legs later. Marcus Foster led K-State in scoring against Washburn, while Edwards also showed flashes, making exciting plays.