Cats face final tuneup for Big 12

To put it mildly, Kansas State's offensive balance has been well documented. By now, it's common knowledge that Coach [db]Frank Martin[/db] has seen half a dozen of his players score 20 or more points in a game this season and that six different Wildcats are currently averaging eight points or more. In fact, those numbers have been beaten into the minds of most fans. Still, however, this team is and has always been about defense first.
"When we set our defense up, we've been pretty good," Martin said. "Usually, when we play good offense, we have a chance to play good defense."
To Martin, consistency is paramount, and the final game of the Wildcats' non-conference slate, which will take place Monday against 8-7 Chicago State, will be a chance to put it all together -- a final exam of sorts.
Martin's vision for this year squad hasn't changed since the season's first practice, so with just one game remaining until conference play gets underway, K-State's mission is clear:
Stay solid on the defensive end, and let things develop from there.
"Frank preaches getting up on them and getting them out of their offense, making them play helter-skelter and making them want to drive because they can't get anybody open," sophomore guard [db]Jacob Pullen[/db] said. "That (leads) to fast break points and open threes."
Well, so far, so good . . . kind of.
K-State is allowing 61.5 points per game and ranks 59th nationally in scoring defense, a statistic that, when standing alone, is solid but hardly something to shout from the rooftops. That being said, the Wildcats are forcing their opponents to shoot a combined 38.4 percent from the floor and rank 32nd in rebound margin. Then there's the fact that each of the Cats' five opponents have been held to 60 points or less.
"I think it's been consistently good for a while," Martin said of his team's defense.
Any way you slice his team's defensive numbers, however, K-State's second-year head coach seems happy with the effort, and in the minds of his players, that's all that matters. Keeping their coach happy with the defense is a high priority after all.
"We like to just press up and get to the ball," said freshman forward [db]Jamar Samuels[/db]. "We have a lot of athletic players that like to get up and put pressure on the ball. We get a lot of defensive rebounds and have a lot of blocked shots and that's the main thing that Frank looks at."
No matter what he "looks at," toys with or examines, Monday will provide Martin with his final chance to see his on-court product, defensive or otherwise, before opening Big 12 play. So no matter if the opponent is, nothing will change for the Wildcats. Under the current regime, defense has always been priority No. 1, and it appears as though it will remain as such.
"In order to defend, we have to be sharp every minute we are on the floor," Martin said. "We can't play the score, can't play the opponent, we've got to make sure we stay sharp."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Offensively, Chicago State hasn't been a one-man show this season, but it's been close. Senior David Holston has shown himself to be capable of scoring with just about anybody, as the Cougar guard's scoring average of 26.2 ranks second among the national leaders.
Hostlen is considered to be one of the best pure shooters in the country, so if a defensive challenge is what K-State wants, they won't have to look far to find one on Monday. That being said, Holsten, at just 5-foot-8, will need to create for himself on the perimeter against a K-State team that will be bigger at nearly every position.
The Wildcats should win the battle down low on Monday, and ultimately come away with another victory, but that's not to say the senior-laden Cougars, who currently average nearly 80 points per game, won't do their fair share of scoring.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: After being shut out just two games ago, reserve forward Jamar Samuels led the Wildcats in scoring in the team's last outing, going for 15 points against Idaho State. Samuels showed eye-opening athleticism on both ends of the court in K-State's victory over Bengals, announcing himself as one of the more exciting players on the roster.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE COUGARS: Hot may not be the proper term to describe Holsten, as the Cougar guard has been filling up the box score all season. Still, Holsten has failed to lead his team in scoring in each of the last two games. Chicago State guard, John Cantrell, scored a game-high 29 points in a Dec. 30th loss to Central Florida, and Mike Wilson's 18 led the Cougars in their win over Eastern Michigan on Sunday.