Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Loss to Kansas puts Kansas State’s at-large hopes in doubt

Kansas State missed out of a golden opportunity to pick up a quality win against No. 5 Kansas on Monday night, losing to the Jayhawks 59-53 in the Octagon of Doom.

In and of itself, the loss is bad enough. With Kansas State's surge to relevancy over the last six or seven years, the battle of the two biggest programs in the Sunflower State has blossomed into more than just an intense rivalry; its now competitive. With Missouri leaving for the SEC, Kansas-Kansas State has a chance to become the preeminent hoops rivalry game in the Big 12. Finding yourself on the losing end of that battle is never a pleasant thing.

But this loss carries more weight than just the bragging rights that currently reside in Lawrence.

It may have cost the Wildcats their last chance at an at-large bid.

Kansas State is now 17-8 on the season and just 6-7 in Big 12 play. They do own a 16 point win over Missouri, but the rest of their quality wins -- Virginia Tech, Alabama, Long Beach State and Texas -- are no where near as impressive as they seemed a month ago. At this point, getting swept by Oklahoma may outweigh those wins.

The Wildcats have now lost four of their last six games, and they are smack in the middle of the toughest part of their schedule. On Saturday, they head to Waco to take on Baylor. Next Tuesday, they travel to Columbia to visit Missouri. And next Saturday, Kansas State hosts Iowa State. If Frank Martin's club isn't careful, they will be 6-10 on the season and on a five-game losing streak heading into the season's final two games.

That's not a good position to be in.

What's worse is that Kansas State simply doesn't look like a team that is going to be capable of turning this around.

Outside of the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Wildcats looked completely lost. Rodney McGruder looked dominant early in Big 12 play, but he hasn't played well in the month of February. Will Spradling isn't turning the ball over, but he doesn't exactly look like a kid brimming with confidence on the offensive end of the floor. Angel Rodriguez will be good down the road, but he's a freshman playing about as consistently you would expect a freshman too. Jordan Henriquez is good in flashes, and Thomas Gipson was good in flashes earlier this season. Perhaps the most frustrating member of this Kansas State team is Jamar Sameuls, who has the talent to put up 20 points and 12 boards against the Kansas front line but, for whatever reason, plays that way about once a month.

Kansas did everything they could to give this game to Kansas State down the stretch. After Elijah Johnson picked up a charge with 1:35 left on the clock and McGruder capitalized on the opportunity with a driving layup to cut the lead from nine points to 55-51, the Jayhawks next three possessions resulted in two missed front-ends and a Tyshawn Taylor turnover. But the Wildcats could do nothing with those opportunities.

Rodriguez had a driving layup blocked by Jeff Withey when he had Rodriguez wide-open for a dunk. Spradling rushed a wide-open layup and threw the ball over the rim and missed a good look at a three. Those are not the kind of plays that are made by a team you would expect to make a late-season run to an at-large bid.

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