AThe slicing and dicing of Kansas State’s 0-2 week began moments after the Wildcats’ 81-75 loss to Iowa State on Saturday.
No go-to scoring source on crucial late possessions. Defensive lapses that allowed the Cyclones to build leads on three occasions, including two in the second half. Impatience on offense when an extra pass or two could have produced a higher percentage shot.
All will be the subject of focus moving forward, and undoubtedly Kansas State has plenty of room to improve.
But what happened Saturday, and last week, was a snapshot of life on the Big 12 trail this season, where nearly every game is a high-level grind.
Consider the team that beat the Wildcats on Saturday.
Iowa State arrived at Hilton Coliseum bruised from a three-game losing streak. The Cyclones had played like Final Four contenders after beating the likes of Michigan and Iowa and opening Big 12 play with two victories to start the year 14-0.
But this Big 12 is unforgiving and makes a team pay for a lousy shooting or terrible ball-handling game, maladies that contributed to Iowa State’s skid.
The trick, for Iowa State on Saturday and for Kansas State now, is to not allow a couple of slips become a free fall. Examples abound around college basketball.
Ohio State won its first 15 before losing four straight. Oregon, which started 13-0, takes a five-game losing streak into today’s game at Washington State.
Baylor, winners of 11 of its first 12, dropped to 1-5 in Big 12 play after Saturday’s home loss to Texas.
This season, two losses can become three, and three can become four in a snap. Top 10 team one week; “others receiving votes” the next.
Kansas State doesn’t have the look of a team that is edging toward a cliff, even after a winless week. At Texas on Tuesday, the Wildcats missed forcing overtime when Thomas Gipson didn’t close out quickly enough to bother the game-winning buzzer-beater by Jonathan Holmes.
On Saturday, the Wildcats pushed a tough opponent on its home floor to the end. K-State trailed by 12 at halftime, and had it tied in 6 1/2 minutes. The deficit bounced back to 11 with 7 1/2 minutes remaining when senior guard Will Spradling had perhaps the best 2 minutes of his college career with three bombs and an assist.
Five minutes remained and the game stood 66-66. Iowa State quickly restored a six-point lead, but K-State kept chipping away, and four times in the final few minutes the Wildcats owned the ball trailing by three.
On those possessions, the Cats missed a total of four shots and committed two turnovers. Some of that was superb Iowa State defense, like a Melvin Ejim block of Shane Southwell’s three-point attempt — a risk to be sure. A Southwell pump fake and lean for contact would have given him three free throws.
Down the stretch, Iowa State made more plays. Not many more, but enough to end its losing streak and hand the Wildcats their first consecutive losses since falling to Charlotte and Georgetown in Puerto Rico.
At that November juncture, the season held little hope for K-State. But newcomers like Marcus Foster and Wesley Iwundu have blended nicely with the veterans to elevate Kansas State to an NCAA Tournament hopeful team.
In this Big 12, a winning conference record should be the ticket for an at-large berth, and perhaps even a break-even mark. The Wildcats will continue in that direction next week, Texas Tech at home and at West Virginia, if it takes the same approach as Iowa State.
“We didn’t panic, and that would have been easy to do with the recent struggles,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.
It’s happened to several others.