Kansas State’s Big 12 basketball opener has lost some of its luster.
What once looked like a prove-it game for the Wildcats against Texas now feels more like a can’t-lose-it game.
The Longhorns have fallen on hard times since opening the season ranked 21st and being picked to finish third in the Big 12 preseason poll. Shaka Smart’s team enters conference play with the league’s worst record at 6-6. Some of its losses were understandable, such as Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan and Northwestern. Others were head-scratchers. Texas-Arlington and Kent State at home, really?
It appears Texas’ young talent needs more time to develop.
“For me this is a unique experience,” Smart said at his weekly news conference. “This my eighth year as a head coach and this year is just a different type of group. We have freshmen playing a lot more. Our three sophomores have kind of been put in a role that some might say is asking them to do too much or more than guys at that stage should do right now. And we have seniors who are playing that were in role positions before.”
It’s a combination K-State hopes to take advantage of when Texas visits Bramlage Coliseum at 7 p.m. today in the conference-opener for both teams.
The Wildcats blew through their nonconference schedule at 11-1 and have won six in a row, but question marks remain. Can they produce similar results against Big 12 competition? Last year, they started 10-2 and then stumbled to 5-13 in league play. They have sought redemption ever since.
Texas swept the season series from K-State last season. A home victory on Friday would signal things have changed. A loss would leave fans wondering if another losing conference record is on the way.
“This is what you work for,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “Our players know how important these games are, and I think they are ready for the grind of playing great teams every night.”
K-State has had ample time to prepare for this game. Perhaps too much time.
The Wildcats were last in action on Dec. 21, trouncing Gardner-Webb at home. Players scattered across the country for holiday break afterward and returned with five full days to study Texas.
Time will tell if the layoff was helpful.
“When we got back from Christmas you could tell there was some sluggishness with conditioning and other things,” Weber said. “But once we got a few practices in they got better and were back to full speed. They have spent a lot of time together, and they seem hyped up.”