3067 total votes.
Kansas City, Mo. Denis Clemente, Kansas State’s senior guard, showed Saturday why he’s considered the fastest player in college basketball. He and teammates also showed a remarkable will to win.
Still, it wasn’t enough for K-State, bound for a No. 2 seed when today’s NCAA Tournament pairings are announced, to avoid losing for the third time this season to Kansas University in the Big 12 tournament title game in Sprint Center.
Wildcats coach Frank Martin, stinging from the 72-64 loss, but classy enough to send serious respect the way of the victors, captured what makes Kansas worthy of its No. 1 ranking and overall seed it will be granted during Selection Sunday.
“I’m of the opinion that to be a good team, I don’t care what sport you play, you better be good down the middle,” Martin said. “Baseball, they talk about your catcher, your pitcher, second baseman, shortstop, center fielder. In football, your quarterback, your center, nose guard and safety. You can fill in everything else. Kansas has a point guard who refuses to lose, on top of being a very good player. They’ve got a center that refuses to allow you to shoot layups and then puts tremendous pressure on the rim.”
Kansas coach Bill Self has expressed frustration at times with the team’s man-to-man defense not playing up to the standards he considers acceptable. On this day, nobody could make that claim.
“That’s what makes Bill Self as good as anyone in this country, because he takes big-time talented players and he gets them to play unselfishly and as hard as anyone in the country defensively,” Martin said. “That’s why the bear is so difficult to take down because the bear’s always sharp and ready to go. He never lets his guard down. When you fight a bear, now you need a weakness so you can attack it. And that bear is pretty good.”
Finding a weakness, much less attacking it, always has been a challenge for coaches facing balanced teams recruited and developed by Self.
Junior guard Jacob Pullen, K-State’s best player, also focused on the intangibles of the opponent that has given his team three of its seven losses.
“I think we’re tough,” Pullen said. “I think we’re a tough team, but KU is also a tough team. They do a great job of matching our physicality.”
Jamar Samuels, named Sixth Man of the Year by Big 12 coaches, also praised KU’s ability to battle.
“They’re just preparing us for the tournament,” Samuels said. “We have two of the most physical teams in the Big 12. I would say the country, too.”
KU’s defensive versatility came into play during the Big 12 tournament. The Jayhawks, a man-to-man team 90 percent of the time, played a 2-3 zone during the decisive second-half stretch of a semifinal victory against Texas A&M.; Kansas used a triangle-and-two designed at slowing Clemente and Pullen often Saturday.
Pullen made just five of 17 shots.
“They do a great job of making you shoot over the bigs,” Pullen said. “Their guards do a great job of giving you false hope, then when you get around them their bigs are there. It’s tough to shoot shots over Cole and the Morris twins. They do a great job of contesting everything.”
For the first game-and-a-half of the tournament, Kansas showed it’s not an intimidating foe when it’s not bringing defensive intensity. For the last game-and-a-half, it showed why it enters the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. That difference is fresh in the players’ minds, which can only be a good thing entering the NCAA Tourney. It never hurts to be reminded that you’ll never be as good as you think you are unless you realize you need to get a whole lot better.