College basketball statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy has projected Kansas State as an underdog for 17 of 18 Big 12 games, a slate that begins Saturday at Oklahoma State.
Those prognostications could change, depending on factors that aren’t quite as predictable — K-State’s ability to control its meltdowns and limit its bad habits.
In a 60-56 loss to Georgia on Wednesday at Bramlage Coliseum, the Wildcats committed 16 first-half turnovers and scored 12 points in the first 20 minutes. They failed to score for nearly the final three minutes of the second half as Georgia erased a three-point deficit.
K-State, 7-6, is the only Big 12 team that didn’t win nine non-conference games. The Wildcats lost consecutive non-conference games at home — the Georgia loss followed an upset by Texas Southern on Sunday — for the first time since 1987.
“We just have to move from that game and go on to the next one,” said senior forward Thomas Gipson, who came off the bench on Wednesday but led the Wildcats with 19 points and nine rebounds. “…We need to come out strong and physical (against Oklahoma State). We know that they’re a good team and we haven’t won there the last two years.
“We need to come out and make a statement to the Big 12. Right now we’re in the bottom half as far as wins and losses, so we need to come out strong.”
After losing a four-point lead to Texas Southern in the final seconds last weekend, the Wildcats suffered what coach Bruce Weber called an “emotional hangover” three days later.
Many of K-State’s turnovers against Georgia were unforced, coming when guards were passing the ball back and forth on the wing or when post players were looking for open shooters on the perimeter.
The Wildcats’ own defense and a 39-26 rebounding advantage helped set the stage for their rally from a 15-point deficit in the second half, but a lack of offense from reserve guards down the stretch and the inability to continue feeding Gipson in the post enabled Georgia to score the final seven points.
Weber said K-State’s turnover problems stem from eagerness to make plays that aren’t there.
“We’ve done it all year,” Weber said. “We try to do it off the first action, the first part of the play, and the defense is set. You’ve got to make the defense turn their head, so now you’re aggressive and now you can beat them off the dribble or you make the pass inside when the defense is moving and they’ve got their heads turned.
“I’ve got to make them understand that you move the ball side to side. When we have paint touches we seem to have a lot more success.”
Weber benched all five starters for ineffectiveness on Wednesday. He found five reliable players against Georgia, but such a drastic move may suggest an unsureness of which players can be counted on.
Leading scorer Marcus Foster was held to two points, and fellow starting guards Jevon Thomas and Justin Edwards went scoreless.
Going on the road to begin conference play with such uncertainty could be troubling for a team that won two Big 12 road games during a 20-win 2013-14 season.
“Now we’re not successful at home, either,” Weber said. “It doesn’t matter, we’ve got to go play. We’ve got to play hard. If we play hard like (against Georgia) and guard like that, I think slowly but surely we’ll get better offensively.”