Let’s start with what Kansas State’s loss to Duke – a big loss, in front of the whole world – wasn’t. It wasn’t the end of K-State basketball. Frank Martin isn’t going to leave and be replaced by the next Tom Asbury. It wasn’t the end of the season. The Wildcats have 25 more games without counting the Big 12 and NCAA Tournament. It wasn’t even the end of November. Texas Southern is set to play in Manhattan on Friday.
But, it also wasn’t a fight as the Blue Devils showed very bluntly that while Kansas State has won Top 10 citizenship over the past two seasons, its campaign for President needs work.
Where and how does that process start? Well, that depends on the diagnosis.
If you believe it was just a bad game from K-State, that Duke really had little to do with the Wildcats’ 1) sloppy ball-handling (21 turnovers), 2) soft open lanes to the basket via the dribble drive and 3) poor shooting (3-of-17, 17.6 percent from 3) then the remedy is simple: K-State only has to bundle its wide range of mistakes, label the game as a one-off poor performance on an unfortunately large stage, and move on.
However, that theory of course asks that you believe KSU’s troubles were almost entirely self-inflicted, and I don’t think anyone would buy it. Not when there was no answer for Kyrie Irving. Not when Duke’s superior team defense kept K-State’s attacking the rim to a minimum, and especially not when the Blue Devils, with relative ease, put up a fine performance in a hostile environment. In other words, it backed up the assertion that it is this year’s runaway best team in the country.*
*In no way does that guarantee Duke back-to-back championships. However, Mike Krzyzewski’s team is dangerous because it appears to understand the importance of "night-in, night-out" regardless of the opponent – a lesson that virtually every other team in the country apparently has yet to absorb this season. Ohio State is closer than most, but its Big 10 brother, No. 2 Michigan State, went to Hawai’i and lost to unranked Connecticut. K-State has struggled with lesser opponents. Point is, there isn’t a team out there right now that can match the sheer talent along with the mental approach brought by the current No. 1.
Irving, a freshman guard with legitimate NBA skills, repeatedly swept past Pullen with ease and stole the senior’s mojo in the process. For a guy like Jake Pullen, who is very talented but not overly so, confidence is his greatest asset. Without his normal swagger, and it was evident almost from the first Irving blow-by, Pullen was reduced to a frustrated liability on both ends of the floor. It was supposed to be his night to shine against the best competition in the country, and all he could do afterward was lament through social media the backlash he received for his forgettable night.*
*The string of tweets, including quoting The Dark Knight and J. Cole, capped off a rare full night of insight from one of college basketball’s most recognizable figures. On the floor, Pullen’s slumped shoulders, slow strides and frustrated face showed a man realizing a nightmare in front of an audience. Later that night on Twitter, Pullen, a regular Tweeter, expressed his chagrin for the messages he received. Many were likely positive from K-State fans and other supporters, but seeing as it’s usually the negators who voice their opinion the most, it’s also likely Pullen heard from numerous haters – opposing fans, losing bettors, general jackasses, etc… Nobody said trending worldwide on Twitter was easy.
As the figurehead for Kansas State basketball, Pullen deservedly received the most attention. But, what can’t be lost is that after Martavious Irving hit a three to make it 11-9 K-State, Duke scored 73 points over the last 33 minutes despite getting out-rebounded (39-31, including 15 offensive rebounds for KSU) and taking four less shots. They also converted KSU’s penchant to foul into points, converting 24-of-31 opportunities (77.4 percent).
Efficiency is a beautiful thing.
It left K-State virtually powerless, and while it’s not a disaster to lose by double digits to the top-ranked team, as a team that went into the contest a top-ranked team itself, it was disheartening to see such a performance gap.
But, with that in mind, there is a lot of time to improve in all areas including leadership – an extremely sore spot for Martin this season. If Pullen’s willingness to work bleeds off to his teammates, the Duke wake-up call may be exactly what the Wildcats needed in order to make this season a worthy sequel to last year’s Elite 8 run.
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