D.J. Johnson requires only four words to describe the collective mind-set of Kansas State’s basketball team as it prepares for its next game at TCU on Tuesday.
“We really need it,” said Johnson, a junior forward.
Much has changed for K-State in the past nine days. At this time last week, K-State had the look of a potential NCAA Tournament team. It was coming off an 80-69 victory over then No. 1 Oklahoma, and its RPI surged to 37. A trip to last-place TCU looked like an ideal opportunity to pad its postseason resume.
Two losses later — to struggling opponents Baylor and Oklahoma State — and K-State has slid off the bubble at 14-11 and 3-9 in the Big 12. Its RPI has plummeted to 65, and it needs wins in a hurry to stay in the NIT hunt.
Motivation should be easy for the Wildcats to find.
“I am fired up. I want to win. I want to make a tournament push,” K-State senior guard Justin Edwards said. “I still feel if we win all these games we can make that push and do good in the Big 12. We just have to get our confidence back up.”
K-State will have to find answers to recent problems for that to happen. The cause of its recent downturn is a mystery.
Statistics point to a lack of offense, as the Wildcats scored 55 points in 45 minutes against the Cowboys, and made 2 of 14 three-point attempts against the Bears. They made shots and enjoyed balanced scoring against Oklahoma, then everyone went cold. Their road struggles are also impossible to ignore. K-State has lost 13 straight conference road games.
Still, K-State coach Bruce Weber suggests his players lack something more basic — passion.
“I have to coach better,” Weber said. “They have to play better, and, hopefully, find a way to get a win. But you’re not going to do that unless you get some emotion.”
It may not take long to find out if the Wildcats solved that problem against the Horned Frogs. K-State has developed a habit of falling behind early in games. It overcame a 9-0 deficit to beat Oklahoma, but fell way behind Baylor and Oklahoma State and was unable to mount a comeback.
Weber has tried different lineups and pregame speeches to try helping the Wildcats start fast, but nothing has worked.
“I couldn’t tell you that answer, because we haven’t come out and punched somebody in the mouth yet,” Johnson said. “We are still working on the recipe for that.”
One thing is for sure: that has to change.
“We spot teams too much on the road and that makes it hard to come back,” Edwards said. “If we don’t spot them, we can just pull away.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett