Manhattan Officially, the sport Kansas State plays in Bramlage Coliseum is known as basketball. In reality, it blends elements of football, wrestling, boxing and basketball.
Those seated courtside tonight for the Octagon of Doom’s event of the year need not dress formally. Blood doesn’t mix well with fancy duds. Better to wear the sweatshirt worn to paint the barn.
Bob Huggins spent just one year as basketball coach of Kansas State, but the footprint he left on the program can be found on the throats of every opponent who has visited Manhattan since he arrived.
It always has been said of Huggins’ teams that the best offense is a missed shot because of how they attack the offensive glass, gaining position with elbows, hip checks and sheer will. Frank Martin learned well under Huggins. Statistically, the two best offensive-rebounding teams in the nation are West Virginia and Kansas State.
There are 334 established Div. I basketball programs (plus 13 reclassifying as Div. I), and Kansas State ranks fifth in the nation with 23.6 personal fouls per game. It’s a remarkable figure considering the Wildcats (17-3) seldom are playing from behind late in games, fouling to try to get the ball back.
The style of play doesn’t lead to the prettiest basketball, as evidenced by K-State’s victory against then-No. 1 Texas, but the crowd makes it a great event.
Incidentally, the speaker-generated noise that’s way too loud at Allen Fieldhouse right before tipoff is at the beginning stages of so bombarding the senses of spectators that it is exhausting them to the extent they don’t have quite as much energy and therefore don’t generate as much human noise. That needs to go before it turns the fieldhouse into something less than it has always been.
Off the soap box and back to Saturday’s bloodbath. Kansas is well aware of what a street fight awaits.
“Traditionally with K-State, you’re going to have to play physical to have a chance,” KU coach Bill Self said. “If you go back and look at the Texas game — I’d anticipate a similar physical-type game — that was probably about as physical a game as we’ll have in college basketball this year. Totally clean, but they do like to get after it.”
This K-State team, ranked 11th in the nation, is better than Martin’s two teams and Huggins’ lone one because it brings more skill. Starters Jacob Pullen (19.2 points per game), Denis Clemente (14.7) and Curtis Kelly (11.2) and reserves Jamar Samuels (11.8) and Rodney McGruder (6.0) all know how to score. Despite that, this team still embraces a street-fighting identity.
Self always wants more toughness from his team, but he acknowledged that’s more about his demands than his players’ toughness.
“If we’re not playing as tough as we can, I think that we’re playing soft,” Self said. “But that doesn’t mean that we’re collectively a soft group. Hey, we’re pretty tough. And K-State’s a pretty tough team, too, but certainly our toughness level has to be a 10 Saturday because we’re going to face a tough challenge not only from their team but also from the atmosphere.”
Kansas has even more skill than K-State, so if it’s a draw in the grinder category, Kansas should acquire what would have to be considered a great victory.