Back-to-back basketball victories have given Kansas State momentum and a winning record, but the Wildcats are still fighting an uphill battle for respect.
Bruce Weber said he was reminded of that cold reality by fans last week during a team dinner at Colbert Hills Golf Club. They hadn’t forgotten about a season-opening loss to Northern Colorado, and let him know about it.
“People came up and said, ‘God, you guys are bad,’” said Weber, K-State’s second-year coach.
The Wildcats have improved since dropping their first game, beating Oral Roberts and Long Beach State at home. But they don’t exactly look like Big 12 championship contenders. They need to establish a secondary scorer next to freshman guard Marcus Foster, limit turnovers and get junior forward Thomas Gipson healthy and back in the starting lineup.
All three of those things could happen this week when K-State plays in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, a three-game tournament in San Juan filled with big names. If it wins its first game against Charlotte at 9:30 a.m. today, K-State will likely face Georgetown on Friday. On Sunday, it could face Florida State, No. 10 Virginia Commonwealth or No. 14 Michigan.
Beat any of those teams, and memories of a disappointing start will begin to fade. More losses, and fan enthusiasm will remain low.
An important week of basketball awaits.
“We already have a tough loss against Northern Colorado,” Weber said. “We have to make up for it and get some wins.”
It won’t be easy. Charlotte averages nearly 82 points and is coming off a trip to the NIT. Michigan is coming off a trip to the Final Four. And Georgetown, Virginia Commonwealth and Florida State are all consistently strong.
The competition level will be higher than anything K-State has seen this season.
“It’s a whole other element,” Weber said. “You go on the road. It’s not a true road game, but for the guys, this is different. You are talking about islands, beaches and everything else you’ve got and that you’re throwing into that.
“This is about basketball Charlotte is very tough. They have four starters back. They are going to test us. We have to worry about that.”
Basketball seems to be K-State’s main focus. The team left for Puerto Rico on Tuesday and is staying an extra day after the tournament ends. The Wildcats will have plenty of time to relax when games aren’t being played.
They can’t gain respect until they take care of business.
“We set ourselves back by losing to Northern Colorado. Now we get to play better teams,” Foster said. “This is a chance to prove ourselves and let everyone else see how good we really are.”