You might not always know it by watching him coach on game days, but Kansas State head coach Frank Martin is happy, and it's not just the Holiday Season that's making him smile. Since his Wildcats' 75-70 loss at Oregon less than two weeks ago, Martin has been nothing short of delighted with the play of his young team.
K-State will play its last game prior to a 10-day break for the holidays on Saturday when it plays host to 2-9 Centenary at Bramlage Coliseum. Needless to say, another solid performance would likely keep the second-year head coach's good cheer alive through Christmas.
"We're still in the early part of the season, but I'm extremely pleased with the progress of our team," Martin said. "I'm extremely pleased with the way our team responded to the challenge that our schedule brought us. I believe someone just told me that our RPI is in the mid 20s right now. If you have an RPI in the mid 20s going into Big 12 play, and you line up and have a successful Big 12 season, you've done a heck of a job."
Of course, RPI numbers mean little in December. Then again, the same goes for K-State's 7-3 record. From here on out, everything is all about tuning up for the rapidly approaching and all-important Big 12 slate.
According to Martin, with just four games left to play before conference play gets under way, his team is exactly where it needs to be.
"After ten games, we're only the fourth team in K-State history to ever score 800 points," Martin said. "The one thing that maybe I had some thoughts about was our ability to score the ball in hard games. Obviously, we've proven we can do that."
"When we play this well and when we play together as a team, those games are fun," said sophomore guard Jacob Pullen. "We're getting assists, we're getting in transition, and we're doing everything we do in practice."
Coming off of back-to-back convincing wins, all seems good in Manhattan for now, and the next stop on the team's Big 12 tune-up tour should yield another positive result.
Saturday's game with a Centenary team that has been bested by 13 points or more in five of its nine losses, and has scored more than 70 points just three times this season, isn't one the Wildcats' are in any real danger of dropping.
"They're obviously in transition," Martin said of K-State's Saturday opponent. "With Greg (Gary) taking over, it's a sudden change from last year. It's a team in transition. They have a different head coach and a different staff. They have two guards who can really score. They're not very big. … They're kind of long and lean. They're decent athletes."
This game, much like every other one before the start of conference play, will be all about showing progress.
"This team has a lot of ability and potential," Martin said. " . . . What does that mean as far as wins and losses? I have no idea."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Centenary, as a team, isn't big or bulky in the least, so senior forward Darren Kent and the rest K-State big men should have no problem handling the Gents' post players on the glass and around the rim.
If K-State fails to win the rebounding battle this Saturday, it will be a sign of serious trouble to come.
Most of Centenary's scoring will come from the backcourt, from which guards Chase Adams and Nick Stallings lead the Gents in scoring. Both Adams and Stallings are averaging more than 14 points per game this season, but the players around the duo haven't done much to help the team's cause.
As a team, Centenary averages just more than 62 points per contest, which ranks 273 nationally out of 330 teams, making the possibility of a long night in Manhattan likely for the Gents.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: Forward Jamar Samuels and guard Denis Clemente both scored 20 points in K-State's romping of Gardner-Webb on Sunday, but Pullen has filled up the box score in each of the Wildcats' last two games. In K-State's back-to-back wins, Pullen has scored a combined 31 points, not to mention his career-high 11 assists, which came last Sunday.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE GENTLEMEN: Stallings has been a bright spot for Centenary in its last two games, both losses. The senior registered double-digit point totals in the Gents' two most recent defeats, scoring 36 combined points while shooting 5 for 8 from behind the arc.