Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Kansas State deserves all the credit they are going to be getting

Two weeks ago, if you would have predicted that, as the calender turns to March, Kansas State would be a lock to make the tournament and Texas would have played their way into second place in the Big 12, a lot of people would have called you nuts.

But after the Wildcats knocked off the Longhorns 75-70 on Monday night, that is precisely where we stand.

Kansas State's five game winning streak has been as impressive as it is surprising. They've beaten Kansas and Missouri at home and now Texas on the road. They've moved all the way into sole possession of fourth place in the Big 12. And now, not only are they a lock for the NCAA Tournament, they have a chance to play their way into a pretty good seed, like Notre Dame did last season.

Pullen was the catalyst, going for a career-high 38 points against Kansas and averaging a robust 29.0 ppg, hitting 15-23 from three, and getting to the free throw line 47 times in the four games coming in. And while he finished with 20 points tonight, Pullen did not dominate.

Curtis Kelly was terrific early in the game, keeping the Wildcats close despite 18 first half points from Tristan Thompson, while Rodney McGruder scored a team-high 22 points while playing excellent defense. Pullen was the closer, scoring 16 of his 20 in the second half -- including a couple of dagger-esque jumpers down the stretch -- despite falling on his right hand and wrist late in the half.

Its been a remarkable turnaround for the Wildcats.

They've been through a lot this season, with the suspensions and the defections, but the talent in that locker room has never been the issue. Frank Martin's kids are finally playing focused, passionate basketball, and he deserves all the credit in the world for getting that locker room concerned about what happens on the court.

Now can you see why this team was a trendy pick to make a Final Four in the preseason?

For Texas, the issues seem to run deep.

After not allowing an opponent to score more than 63 points throughout their first 11 games of conference play and going 11-0 in that stretch, Texas have given up 70 points in three of their last four, losing each of those three games. That includes Saturday, when they blew a 22 point lead to Colorado in a 91-89 loss.

There's more. Against Kansas State, Jordan Hamilton, J'Covan Brown, and Cory Joseph combined to go 9-40 from the floor and 4-17 from three while Tristan Thompson was spending his 37 minutes on the court dominating the Kansas State front line.

Hamilton has been cold for a while. He's just 15-58 from the floor in those three losses and, at times, appears to have reverted back to the old Jordan Hamilton. Its a catch-22 for Rick Barnes, as he needs Hamilton to be an aggressive scorer for the Longhorns to succeed. But there is a big difference between aggressive and wild, and Hamilton has been more wild than aggressive of late.

Its time to start asking the question -- are we going to be seeing another late season collapse from a Rick Barnes coached team.

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