MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Three days ago, before he ever boarded the bus to leave Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas State coach Frank Martin probably uttered the word “embarrassed” 431 times.
Embarrassed by his team’s 18-point loss to rival Kansas.
Embarrassed by the way the Wildcats defended.
Embarrassed by the way Kansas State wilted in the nation’s toughest road environment.
“I took the DVD of that game, broke it apart and flushed it down the toilet,” Martin said Saturday, and as he talked, a cleaning crew was busy sweeping confetti off the court at Bramlage Coliseum while the Wildcats signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans.
Yes, 36 hours after its worst performance of the season, No. 22 Kansas State came through with its best in a 75-59 win over sixth-ranked Missouri, which at 14-0 was off to its best start in 30 years.
Rodney McGruder scored 20 points and Will Spradling added 14 for a Wildcats squad that held the Tigers -- the national leader in field goal efficiency -- to 32.7 percent shooting. Kansas State outrebounded Missouri 39-25.
“When you get embarrassed,” Martin said, “one of two things happens to your team. Either you come apart at the seams, or those seams get a little tighter.”
The latter obviously happened to K-State, which was so impressive Saturday that it seemed worthy of a reward. A day off, perhaps? Maybe a trip to Valentino’s pizza buffet? Forget about it.
On Tuesday the Wildcats will face another unbeaten team -- and this one has two future NBA lottery picks on its roster -- in No. 5 Baylor. The preparation must start now.
Martin couldn’t help but chuckle at the absurdity of playing three top-15 teams in seven days.
“You gotta love the Big 12,” Martin said.
One week into the season, and absolutely nothing about this league is clear. There are four very good teams in Kansas State, Missouri, Kansas and Baylor. But predictions about who will win the conference title likely will change from game to game.
Kansas has a pair of convincing wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma, but the Jayhawks have no depth and are turnover-prone on the perimeter. Baylor has the most talent but has been underwhelming in wins against two of the Big 12’s worst teams (Texas A&M and Texas Tech).
Kansas State followed a dreadful performance with a great one Saturday, and Missouri did just the opposite. The Tigers looked like the best team in the country during Tuesday’s 38-point thumping of Oklahoma. But they were completely out of sorts against the bigger, longer Wildcats.
“As a coach, you don’t ever want to feel like you got your butt kicked,” first-year Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “They kicked our butts. They were tougher.”
In some ways, it was easy to see Mizzou’s loss coming. The Tigers had played just one true road game before Saturday, and they almost choked that one away against a mediocre Old Dominion squad. They beat a Villanova team that’s as bad as it’s been in years, and trounced Cal and Notre Dame, who are well-coached but not nearly fast and athletic enough to keep up with up-tempo MU, which uses a four-guard lineup.
“I feel like Missouri hadn’t seen a team that really got up and pressured like we did today,” Spradling said.
This marked the first time an opponent had both the speed and the size to bother Haith’s squad, which was outscored 46-18 in the paint. Missouri made just five baskets in the opening half, and the game was 15 minutes old before the Tigers scored their first 2-point field goal.
“I’m sure there are a lot of teams that will try to hurt us with their size,” Haith said. “They played a physical brand of basketball. We don’t have a lot of physicality in the post.
“I didn’t think we were going to go 41- or 42-0. I figured [a loss] would happen sometime.”
After Saturday, it’s hard not to wonder how many more defeats are in store for the Tigers -- or, at the very least, whether this squad is built to win a Big 12 title. Missouri wasn’t even competitive for most of the game because it couldn’t do anything inside, both offensively and defensively.
Kansas State forwards Jamar Samuels and Jordan Henriquez combined for seven blocks against Missouri, which has just two players taller than 6-foot-6. Those two Tigers (Steve Moore and Ricardo Ratliffe) combined for four points and six rebounds. KSU also scored a slew of easy baskets on the offensive end.
Teams such as Baylor and Kansas will provide a similar if not more potent challenge for Missouri.
“They physically kicked us,” Haith said. “But we understand that we’re still a pretty good basketball club. We’ll learn from this. You’ve got to have a little moxie about you. In order to win on the road, we’ve got to play with a little more toughness.”
It’s a valid point.
Kansas has won seven straight Big 12 titles mainly because of its ability to win away from Allen Fieldhouse. In the past five years, the Jayhawks are 33-7 in conference road games. Martin, though, said teams must come out with an equal amount of toughness at home.
“You better not dwell on the emotion of the day before,” Martin said. “You’d better focus on the task at hand and get excited for every challenge. Because if you’re not, you’re going to get embarrassed like we did the other day. It’s a heck of a league.
“If you can’t protect your home court in this league or any league, you’re not a very good team. You can bring the Lakers in here; I don’t care. You’ve got to be willing to protect your home court.”
Martin knows that’s exactly the state of mind Missouri will have when the Wildcats visit Mizzou Arena on Feb. 21. By then, everything that occurred Saturday will be long forgotten. Just ask Tigers guard Marcus Denmon, who passed by Martin on his way to the team bus Saturday.
“See you in Columbia,” Denmon told the coach.
Martin smiled as he recounted the exchange.
“That’s the Big 12 for you,” he said. “Conference play is crazy. You never know what’s going to happen.”