And the leadership issue may be exactly why that's the case; who is Texas' "Jacob Pullen? They need to figure things out soon, as Rick Barnes' team has reverted back to some of the bad habits that saw them go from top-ranked to first-round exit a season ago.
"Some of the breakdowns are baffling to be honest with you," said coach Barnes. "I can't tell you why because we have proven at times this year that we can be really good defensively. We have proven that we could be really good offensively."
Kansas State shot 57.7% in the second half, scoring 44 points and outscoring Texas 14-13 in the paint after being outscored by ten in the first half. Tristan Thompson played very well for Texas, finishing with 26 points and 10 rebounds to go along with three assists and three blocks, but Jordan Hamilton struggled and didn't always exhibit the best shot selection. The sophomore made just five of eighteen shots from the field, finishing with 14 points, and when combined with Cory Joseph's 2-for-12 and Gary Johnson's 2-for-8 nights respectively it becomes an uphill battle for the Longhorns.
But the night was about Kansas State, who has likely gone from the wrong side of the bubble to a team few will want to play this month. And while Pullen's led the way on the floor a lot of credit should go to head coach Frank Martin, who challenged his team when things could have gone past the point of repair. Yes Freddy Asprilla and Wally Judge leaving the program has sapped some of their interior depth, but figuring out who's "all in" is of far more importance. A first round bye in the Big 12 Tournament is still up for grabs, and Kansas State's inclusion in the race is a far cry from where they were headed a month ago.
"I am very proud of the guys in that locker room," said Martin. "They have never stopped believing in the spirit of our team. Regardless of what situations came about, whether we created them ourselves, whether we played someone that was better than us on a given night, those kids' spirits were never broken." (quotes courtesy of Texas Athletics)
Other Notable Happenings
1. Notre Dame lights it up from deep and beats Villanova like they stole something.
Only one team will go undefeated at home in the Big East and that's Notre Dame, who put forth a memorable shooting performance in a 93-72 win over Villanova that wasn't that close. Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough scored 30 points apiece, shooting 16-for-23 from beyond the arc, and as a team the Irish made 20 of 31 shots from deep. Villanova tried both man and zone defenses but it didn't matter as Mike Brey's team wrapped up a double-bye in next week's Big East Tournament. Corey Fisher scored 22 to lead the Wildcats, who have a lot to rectify before playing Pittsburgh on Saturday much less preparing for a run in either of the two tournaments they'll be a part of. Whether they play at a conventional tempo or with their "burn" offense, Notre Dame's unselfish nature combined with an impressive ability to make shots makes Coach Brey's team a very tough club to beat.
2. Bethune-Cookman wins their first-ever MEAC regular season title.
Thanks to North Carolina A&T's win over Morgan State, Bethune-Cookman knew before their game ended that they'd been the MEAC champions. But it's also important to point out that just like Missouri State in the MVC this is the first regular season crown for the Wildcats, who moved to 19-11 overall with a 73-60 non-conference victory over North Carolina Central. C.J. Reed led the way with 23 points and has to be considered one of the favorites for MEAC Player of the Year as he averages 19.2 points and 4.7 assists per game, and Stanley Elliott scored 16 (he averages 5.0 ppg). But how can their 12-3 record in conference play be explained, given their ranking in the middle of the conference in a number of statistical categories? They're second in the MEAC in points per possession while doing a good job of scoring from both two-point range and the foul line. If Reed and company can continue to take advantage of those opportunities they can get to the NCAA Tournament.
3. The top two teams in the SWAC both fall on the road.
If Monday's results mean anything it's that the upcoming SWAC Tournament could be one of the wilder conference tournaments despite Texas Southern having a three-game lead on their closest competition atop the standings. The Tigers scored just 48 points in a 60-48 loss at Alabama State, who moved into a tie for third just a half-game behind second place Jackson State with two games to go. Jackson State fell at Arkansas-Pine Bluff 62-56 with Savalace Townsend scoring 21 points to lead the Golden Lions. So what's going to make the difference among the top five teams in the conference come tournament time? Given four of those teams sit atop the SWAC in points allowed per game the difference may come on the offensive end. Mississippi Valley State and Jackson State lead the league in points per game with Texas Southern, Alabama A&M and Alabama State 4th through 6th. Good luck picking the NCAA Tournament representative from this group.
Top Three Games
1. Northern Colorado 77, Idaho State 74 Chris Kaba's block of a Broderick Gilchrest kept the Bears alone atop the Big Sky in addition to ruling the Bengals out of the upcoming six-team conference tournament. Devon Beitzel scored 28 points (16-16 FT) to lead Northern Colorado while Gilchrest scored 26 to lead Idaho State.
2. Kansas State 75, (7) Texas 70
3. Mississippi Valley State 66, Grambling State 63 (OT) One could argue that these two teams were more prolific offensively in overtime than in regulation as the Delta Devils outscored the Tigers 15-12 in the extra session. Paul Crosby led MVSU with 14 points while Orlando Smith added 11 and 12 rebounds. Grambling's Lance Feurtado led all scorers with 18.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Ben Hansbrough and F Tim Abromaitis (Notre Dame) These two were scalding hot in Notre Dame's 93-72 win over Villanova. Both scored 30 points with Hansbrough adding 10 assists and five steals to his stat line. The two seniors combined to shoot 16-for-23 from beyond the arc.
2. G Rodney McGruder and G Jacob Pullen (Kansas State) While Pullen's leadership has made the Wildcats' revival possible it was McGruder who was the leading scorer in the win at Texas. McGruder finished with 22 points and five rebounds while Pullen added 20.
3. F Tristan Thompson (Texas) 26 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and three blocks in the Longhorns' 75-70 loss to Kansas State.