Kansas State gaining stature

Wildcats pass early tests with victories over Xavier, UNLV

December 16, 2009

Remember that gifted Kansas State team with Michael Beasley two seasons ago? Remember the one that was relegated to the NIT last season?

This season, Kansas State is figuring out how it will be remembered. The Wildcats have taken some impressively long strides recently.

Kansas State was picked in preseason polls to finish around the middle of a talented Big 12.

A narrow loss to Mississippi and a victory against Dayton in Puerto Rico had some thinking the Wildcats would be just fine.

But as recently as Dec. 1, Manhattan, Kan., seemed like it must sit on a fault line based on the Wildcats' play in an 83-76 victory over Fort Hays State. (Quick, anyone know where that is?)

But the Wildcats appear to have jelled with consecutive victories over Xavier (yes, the same one that just upset Cincinnati) and UNLV (yep, the one that beat Arizona and Louisville).

Jacob Pullen, a junior guard from, scored 28 points to help defeat the Runnin' Rebels. He's averaging 19.2 points per game while shooting nearly 40 percent on 3-pointers.

As important to the Wildcats' direction is senior guard Denis Clemente, who averages 14.8 points per game.

Winning again on Saturday at Alabama, which just tested Purdue in a loss, won't be easy. But it might help define just how good the Wildcats are this season.

Swish of the week: Ramon Martinez, New Mexico. The senior forward has scored at least 20 points in the last three games for the Lobos. He shot 7-for-13 for 22 points in an upset of Texas A&M. Martinez is the team's only senior and he's acting like a real leader. Thanks to his 17.3 points per game, New Mexico is 10-0 for the first time since 1995-96.

Brick of the week: Favored Big East teams. Temple knocked off Villanova. Xavier upset Cincinnati. Western Carolina beat a healthy Louisville team. Loyola Marymount took down Luke Harangody and Notre Dame. The conference still has several ranked teams who haven't been tripped up, but these teams took an unexpected tumble.

Game to watch: No. 2 Texas vs. No. 10 North Carolina on Saturday in Arlington, Texas.

Big state, big arena, big game.

The meeting is a Texas-style showdown in Cowboys Stadium and just might provide a glimpse of a Final Four matchup.

sryan@tribune.com

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