According to Kansas State head coach Frank Martin it was nothing more than a double shot of confidence that led to his team's three consecutive wins, including Saturday's overtime victory at Texas. The second-year head coach realizes, however, that there is an inverse to his team's newly rediscovered swagger.
In basketball, you see, confidence, especially in high doses, can be counterproductive, and ingesting too much of it can sometimes cause a hangover.
The possibility of a letdown is real. It's something the Wildcats are acutely aware of, and it's just the thing they'll be trying to avoid when they play host to 12-9 Iowa State on Tuesday night. So while most players on the K-State roster cite confidence as the driving force behind the winning streak, they also realize that if it's not tempered, it could very well begin to work against them.
"Iowa State could be the last team in the Big 12, but you can't play bad," said K-State guard Denis Clemente, who scorched the Longhorns for a career-high 44 points on Saturday. "You just have to keep punching the face, you know? You can't look past them, you just need to keep rolling."
K-State has been in this spot before, after all. Just more than one year ago, the Wildcats followed up a giant win over eventual national champion Kansas with a disastrous performance against a struggling Missouri team.
"When you do like we did last year and beat the No. 2 team in the nation, it's not confidence," sophomore guard Jacob Pullen said. "It turned into nothing but an ego. You're on a high. You don't know what to do. Then, we went into Missouri and we lost. Now, after beating Texas, we have to mellow everything down, but we still need to keep our confidence and protect our home court."
Last year's meltdown in Missouri is still fresh in the minds of all who were involved, especially Pullen, who has taken it on himself to prohibit a repeat performance. Unlike the moments after K-State's win over the Jayhawks in 2008, this time it didn't take long for the guard to put his team's upset win in the past.
"A lot of us lived this last year," Pullen said. "In the locker room after the (Texas) game, we were all able to say, 'It was a great win, but now its time to get focused on Iowa State.' Right after Frank was done talking to us in the locker room, we all said 'let's get ready.' We want to show people that we're consistent."
The impromptu meeting called by the players in Austin this weekend was certainly welcome, but Martin says his team's ability to find a balance between dangerously cocky and consistently confident boils right down to coaching.
"If we're not confident, then I'm not doing my job," he said. "If we're overconfident, then I'm not doing my job. It's my job, especially with a young group of kids like we have, to make sure that they maintain a level frame of mind. It's my job to make sure we don't get too excited or to down, and that's regardless of the situation."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: For Iowa State, everything begins and ends with forward Craig Brackins, who is averaging nearly 20 points per game and is capable of scoring at a tremendous clip.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore erupted for 42 points against Kansas just over a week ago, shooting 11 for 19 from the floor in the contest. For the Wildcats, Saturday's plan is simple: slow down Brackens, slow down the Cyclones.
"Getting the ball to Brackens," Pullen said, when asked what Iowa State does best. "What makes him a good player is that he can step out. Him being able to step out and put the ball on the ground makes him very tough to guard."
The bad news for Iowa State, however, is that after Brackens, the school's scoring dries up considerably. No other Cyclone is averaging more than 10 points per game, and, as a team, ISU is mustering just more than 65.
It shouldn't take the Wildcats' best defensive effort to contain Iowa State on Tuesday, and barring a hangover from the win over Texas, a reenergized home crowd should be enough to carry K-State to its fourth straight win.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: By now, anybody who follows Big 12 basketball is aware of Clemente's performance against Texas last weekend, and "hot" isn't a strong enough word to describe it. The junior guard was nothing short of unconscious against the Longhorns, finishing with 44 points. Clemente didn't miss a 3-pointer or a free throw in the contest and was 13 of 25 from the floor.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE CYCLONES: Brackens has led the Iowa State in scoring in each of the team's last three games. The forward racked up 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Cyclones' loss to Oklahoma on Saturday.