Wildcats step out of conference

Frank Martin expects the Wildcats' starting lineup to remain intact when the Wildcats meet North Carolina Central on Tuesday night in a rare February non-conference game at Bramlage Coliseum. Martin said he spoke with the Big 12 Conference office Monday but neither had yet decided to levy any punishment on Denis Clemente after the junior guard became the object of criticism late in a loss to No. 16 Kansas on Saturday.
"I've been in conversations with the Big 12 office and we're in discussions about just different things," Martin said after practice on Monday. "No decision has been made yet."
Clemente drew a technical foul when he landed an elbow to the face of Kansas guard Brady Morningstar with 8 minutes, 3 seconds remaining in an 85-74 loss. Clemente said he was retaliating for a bump.
Clemente had a game-high 26 points and fumed with emotion late.
Odds are, North Carolina Central and its 2-23 record will become the proverbial piñata in the 7 p.m. tipoff after the Jayhawks spoiled the Wildcats' party a few days ago.
Clemente was unavailable to the media Monday, saying only "I'm doing good," as the last player on the court after practice strode into the locker room following a solo 3-point shooting session.
Teammate Jacob Pullen, who added 22 points against Kansas, said, "(Clemente) is getting better. It was an emotional game. He really wanted to win."
K-State shouldn't have many problems in this rebound game, a late addition to the Wildcats' schedule orchestrated by Martin with the intention that the team -- win or lose against Kansas -- would get another opportunity to play prior to traveling to Iowa State on Saturday.
"It's a change of pace," Martin said. "It's not spending a whole week dealing with Iowa State, which we played 10 days ago. It gets the team out of the monotony of playing the same teams. We didn't schedule this game thinking, 'Well, if we lose, it will be an easy game to win.' We never thought along those lines. It's just the routine. I'm a routine guy. I believe teams have routines and if the bye week would've been early in the conference season, I probably wouldn't have done it."
Martin said the Wildcats benefited when they faced Chicago State in the 2006-07 season. The 73-36 win against Chicago State came during a bye week after the Wildcats won three straight Big 12 games. The Wildcats won the next three contests after Chicago State as well.
The matchup against North Carolina Central marks the latest K-State has played a non-conference game in the regular season since Dana Altman bridged a weeklong gap between Big Eight games by meeting UMKC on Feb. 22, 1994.
"We can tune-up some different things," Pullen said. "We can work on just closing out games, on pounding the ball inside, things we need to work on that could've helped us keep KU off and finish that game. It's a good opportunity for us."
It's another daunting challenge for the Eagles, who continue to reel in their second season as a Division I program.
Think a one-week layoff is tough. The Eagles haven't played a game in two weeks -- an 87-59 loss at N.C. State, which marked their fifth straight defeat.
"It's hard for independents to find games this late in the season," Martin said.
Looking for travel? Play at North Carolina Central, which has already visited 12 different states, but has dropped all 16 games away from its home floor at McLendon-McDougald Gym in Durham, N.C., by an average of 28.6 points. It has lost its six outings against teams from BCS conferences by an average of 34.0 points, coming closest in a 77-27 loss at then-No. 23 Michigan on Dec. 29. It also has avoided back-to-back 20-point blowouts just four times.
Its last single-digit loss was 72-70 at home to Chowan on Jan. 17.
Might want to keep those Bramlage record books handy Tuesday night just in case.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: How to put this nicely… North Carolina Central has a RPI of 340 out of 343 and averages 59.0 points while surrendering 80.3 per contest. The Eagles allow 50.9 percent shooting and are outrebounded by 11.4 boards per outing.
Martin says he never changes his approach, but he might opt for more and earlier substitutions in one that could turn ugly soon after the Eagles get off the bus to face a squad eager to release some frustration.
A seemingly focused and energetic K-State team spent Monday's practice working against different schemes in the name of fine-tuning some areas.
"(Practice) wasn't bad," Martin said. "This team practices well. We haven't dealt with zones for a while and we expect to see zones, so we're trying to get some of our guys to understand some of the zone principles. The team is fine."
There should be mismatches across the board both in size and talent. Still, the Eagles trailed Michigan by just seven points entering the second half, so it's imperative that the Wildcats work on the goal outlined by Pullen and finish. Finishing strong has been an issue at times, which Martin attributes to inexperience.
The out-manned Eagles will be without junior center Stevy Worah-Ozimo the rest of the season after he broke his right arm Jan. 31. The 6-foot-9 transfer from TCI College of Technology had a season-high 18 rebounds at Michigan and 12 at Miami.
Without Worah-Ozimo, the only true center listed on the roster, freshman forward Nick Chasten is the tallest at 6-foot-7 followed by sophomore forward Norbert Randall at 6-foot-6.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: Clemente has averaged 22.8 points and has connected on 45.7 percent (38 of 83) of his shots, including 48.3 percent (15 of 31) on 3-pointers in the last five games.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE EAGLES: Jamar Briscoe had a game-high 28 points to go along with four assists and four steals in 29 minutes against N.C. State. But that didn't top the career-high 34 points the freshman had at Duquesne on Dec. 22.