College Basketball Nation: Jacob Pullen

Jacob Pullen lands in Italy

July, 13, 2011
I'll admit it: I had more than a passing interest in finding out just where former Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen -- one of the best players in college hoops over the past two seasons and the all-time scoring leader at K-State -- would land as a pro. Would he be able to overcome his size to earn a spot in the NBA? Was the recent trend of undersized guards a harbinger for some unexpected professional success? Would a league front office take a second-round flier on a productive player with obvious limitations at the next level? If not, would Pullen earn his way into the NBA as an undrafted free agent?

We got the answer to a few of those questions on draft night, when all 30 NBA teams passed on Pullen in favor of international long shots and players with higher upsides. This sent Frank Martin into a Twitter tizzy, but few others could have been surprised by the development. Sometimes, that's just how the cookie ... well, you know. Maybe Pullen was destined to play overseas.

He'll certainly begin his career that way. On Tuesday, Pullen signed a contract with Italian club Pellecanestro Biella, a move confirmed by Kansas State officials after false reports that Pullen had signed with a Turkish club surfaced last week.

We tend to treat players that sign in Europe as failures, and it certainly isn't the glamorous lifestyle afforded to those in the NBA, but when you put it into perspective, there are far worse ways to make a living than moving to Italy and playing a sport for a few hundred-thousand dollars a year. You could do a lot worse, that's for sure.

In fact, if there's any shame here, it's that Pullen's timing was so unfortunate. The NBA is mired in a lockout. Summer League is cancelled. Star players like Deron Williams are taking their talents overseas until the players union and the league ownership can come together on a new collective bargaining agreement. Not only did Pullen get snubbed by the NBA on the first go-round, but he didn't get a chance to make his mark on a franchise in the weeks that followed. Has there ever been a worse time to be an undrafted free agent?

Frank Martin keeps watch over his players

June, 9, 2011
Kansas State coach Frank Martin got with the times last month and joined Twitter. He said he did it primarily to share his thoughts with the fans and fellow coaches, many of whom are young in the business and looking to learn a thing or two about how he runs his program.

Martin, as he's discovered, has also been able to learn first-hand what Twitter's all about so that he might be able to better advise his players about the good and the bad of putting things out there in a public forum. He currently follows a few of his players and is able to keep tabs on what they're messaging.

"What's interesting is in the past I monitor Twitter as I did with Facebook, but I didn't see what they put on on a daily basis," Martin said. "Now I do. I feel more comfortable being able to articulate to them the pluses and minuses of social networking."

Star guard Jacob Pullen was among the team's most active on Twitter during his career, including tweets about from his emotions after being suspended for receiving impermissible benefits. Players on the current team now know Martin will be monitoring (if not staring at) what they put on their feeds.

Aside from social networking, Martin also said he continues to use headlines from around college sports to highlight positive and negative situations that players can get themselves into.

"I'm about doing everything in my power to help them understand the dos and the don’ts," Martin said. "It's not about dominating their lives. It's about educating them the best we can to help them make decisions."
Remember January? Specifically, remember how down, how utterly irredeemable the Kansas State Wildcats seemed on Jan. 31?

Frank Martin's team had been disappointing all season. The Wildcats' offense was ugly and stagnant, which led to losses in every nonconference game of note and four of the team's first five Big 12 games (including losses at Oklahoma State and at home to Colorado). Those failures were accompanied by a bevy of off-court problems -- including suspensions for stars Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly for receiving illegal benefits from a department store in Manhattan, Kan., and Pullen's poorly received proclamation that he would not play in the NIT -- and then, well, this: Sophomore forward Wally Judge, a former McDonald's All-American expected to play a large role in Kansas State's program in 2011 and beyond, decided to quit the team.

That was rock-bottom for Martin and company in 2011. Soon thereafter, Pullen put K-State on his back in a propulsive win over Kansas. The Wildcats made an impressive run into the postseason -- Pullen didn't play in the NIT after all -- and after a hard-fought Sweet 16 loss to Wisconsin, this team's redemptive story came full circle.

In other words, it was easy to forget about Judge. After all, Pullen and crew provided little reason for Wildcats fans to pine for the soon-to-transfer forward's services. But what happened to Judge? Where will he land now?

Turns out, the forward has narrowed his choices to three schools: Maryland, Rutgers and Washington. As Adam Zagoria reports, Judge has completed visits to the first two schools on that list, and he's still considering Washington but has yet to visit the school's Seattle campus. Judge grew up just a few minutes from College Park, Md., so he was able to sneak in some family time in his visit with the Terps. He also got to play in an open gym with the current Terps and get a feel for how he thinks Maryland coach Gary Williams would use his services if Judge decides to stay close to home:
As for how the Maryland staff would utilize Judge, he said, they would “basically put the ball in my hands and let me be the same player I was there coming out of high school. Allow me to step out and show my perimeter skills and be a face-up four man instead of a five man.”

No obvious reason was ever given for Judge's transfer. At the time, Martin chalked it up to "some emotional situations" and said that he understood the transfer because, in his words, "Why do something if you're not enjoying it?" Judge was struggling with his time at K-State, having begun his sophomore year in the starting lineup only to see his minutes wax and wane inconsistently throughout the early portion of the season.

But it's likely Judge's quote above -- which can be roughly translated as "I'm a peacock, you gotta let me fly!" -- gets at the core of his dissatisfaction at K-State.

Will Maryland, Rutgers or even Washington allow Judge to use his talents the way he sees fit? We'll see. In the meantime, the once-touted forward has some proving to do.
Wherever he goes, Judge wants to feel “comfortable” and “able to continue my life as being a good student but also progressing my basketball game and getting better and showing everybody that I’m not a bust.”

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Jacob Pullen became Kansas State's all-time leading scorer Saturday and tied his career-high with 38 points. But hearing about it made him cry.

It's not difficult to understand why. The cornerstone of the Wildcats' surge into national relevancy saw his collegiate career ended 70-65 by Wisconsin in the round of 32 on Saturday night.

"I wanted them to remember me as a person that led the team to a Final Four, Elite Eight, and the outcome of this game didn't allow that to happen," Pullen said. "All individual accolades are stuff I care nothing about. I'll pass up on all of them. I'll be 100th in the scoring thing if that would have got me to the Final Four. You know, that is all I wanted. I wanted a ring."

Pullen dominated his marquee matchup with Badgers all-Big Ten point guard Jordan Taylor, who was 2-of-16 from the field.

"He was the best player on the floor tonight," Taylor said. "But we're moving on and going to New Orleans. So that's all that matters."

Wisconsin will face Butler, which upset top-seeded Pittsburgh in Washington, D.C.

And while Taylor lost the battle in the most obvious ways, he also kept his cool and played a critical role down the stretch, particularly when he blocked Pullen's 3-point attempt that could have tied the game at 68. Taylor was 6-for-6 from the free throw line -- he finished with 12 points -- and added six assists with no turnovers. Pullen had three turnovers and two assists.

"His 6-to-0 assist-turnover ratio says he stayed focused," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "He was having a rough night scoring, but he is a taskmaster of his own skills and his own abilities that he's not going to throw the rest of it away simply because things have gotten away from him. Because he is that dedicated to being the leader on this team on the floor. He never wavered from that the whole time."

Pullen didn't get as much help as Taylor did. Four Badgers reached double figures, led by Jon Leuer with 19 points and seven rebounds, and another had eight points. Curtis Kelly, with 11 points, was the only other Wildcat who reached double-figures. The Badgers bench outscored Kansas State's 15-5.

"We got nothing from our bench today," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "We got breakdowns from our bench. That's what we got."

Pullen simply couldn't do it all. He missed the second of three free throws that could have tied the game with 10 seconds remaining. And, with 22 seconds left and Kansas State down by one, he fell and turned the ball over as he drove for the basket.

"I made a move and I thought he had my hand," Pullen said of the play, the loose ball ending up with Mike Bruesewitz. "I went to at least try to put the ball on the rim. But it was a physical game, and the referees decided not to call anything. So we had to play through it."

Bruesewitz is a fine example of the sort of help Pullen didn't get. He connected on a 3-pointer with 1:33 left that gave the Badgers a 64-61 lead, one they'd never surrender.

Taylor was gracious about his matchup with Pullen, repeatedly calling his adversary, "the best player on the floor." But Pullen's outstanding career is over. And for Taylor and the Badgers?

"Unbelievable feeling in the locker room celebrating with your teammates knowing you are one of 16 teams still playing," Leuer said. "At the same time we think we're far from over. We have a lot of work to do still and are looking forward to our next challenge."

Rapid Reaction: Wisconsin 70, KSU 65

March, 19, 2011
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Kansas State's Jacob Pullen won the battle of point guards with Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor. But Taylor and the Badgers won the game 70-65.

Pullen scored a tournament-high 38 points, but Taylor blocked Pullen's 3-point attempt that would have tied the count at 68 with three seconds left.

Turning point: The score was tied 61-61 when Curtis Kelly missed a jump shot. The Wildcats got the rebound, but Taylor stole the ball from Pullen. On the other end, Mike Bruesewitz ripped a 3-pointer, and the Badgers took a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Key player: With Taylor struggling, the Badgers needed someone to step up, and that was Bruesewitz, who hurt his knee in the Big Ten tournament. He scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds and was a key player in the final minutes when Wisconsin asserted itself.

Key stat: Two of them. Wisconsin hit 9 of 20 (45 percent) from 3-point range. When the Badgers shoot well, they are tough to beat. And the bench outscored the Wildcats 15-5.

Miscellaneous: Jon Leuer led the Badgers with 19 points and seven rebounds. ... Pullen was 6 of 8 from 3-point range. He's now Kansas State's all-time leading scorer. ... Just one other Wildcat -- Curtis Kelly with 11 points -- reached double figures. ... Four Badgers reached double figures. ... Taylor was just 2 of 16 from the field, but he hit all six of his free throws, had six assists, four rebounds, a steal and the key block.

What's next: Wisconsin plays Butler Thursday in the Sweet 16 in New Orleans.

Preview: Saturday in Tucson

March, 19, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A look at Saturday's games in Tucson:

No. 7 seed Temple (26-7) vs. No. 2 seed San Diego State (33-2), 6:10 p.m. ET (TNT)

Temple and San Diego State both had a story and a game on Thursday. Both won games, so both stories are no longer front-and-center.

When Temple beat Penn State in the round of 64 of the NCAA tournament, it won its first tournament game since 2001 and ended coach Fran Dunphy's record 11-game tournament losing streak. And when San Diego State beat Northern Colorado, it won its first tournament game. Period.

Those issues behind them, when the second-seeded Aztecs and seventh-seeded Owls meet today, it will only be about advancing to the Sweet 16. It will be about basketball.

"As soon as we walked out of the locker room we knew it was time to turn the page on this chapter of San Diego State basketball and start focusing on what's possible in the future," SDSU point guard D.J. Gay said. "And that's Saturday."

Oh, there is one other angle: Revenge.

In the 1994-95 season, Dunphy took his Penn Quakers to Ann Arbor and beat then-Michigan coach Steve Fisher, now the Aztecs coach.

"I think the referees cost us the game," Fisher quipped.

By the way, Fisher and Dunphy are good buddies.

The setup: San Diego State wants to run. Temple doesn't. The Aztecs are bigger in the frontcourt. The Owls are bigger in the backcourt. San Diego State is deeper. Five Temple players played 30 or more minutes against Penn State, and forward Lavoy Allen never left the game. Eight Aztecs played at least 10 minutes against Northern Colorado and just three played 30 or more minutes. Of course, SDSU won in a blowout. And it would help the Owls if they can get quality minutes out of forward Scootie Randall.

Who to watch: San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard is a force inside and averages a double-double, but he's merely the headliner for one of the nation's top frontcourts. Team captain and point guard D.J. Gay has a 4-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. For Temple, Juan Fernandez hit the game winner against Penn State and scored 23 points, as did Ramone Moore, who dominated the second half. Allen is the key figure inside for the Owls.

Why to watch: This will be a big-stage test against a quality foe for San Diego State to prove it deserves a No. 2 seed and is a legitimate Final Four contender. It's also a test of basketball styles. You might even wonder if fans will start competing chants of "East Coast" and "West Coast."

What they're saying:

Gay on Temple trying to slow down San Diego State's fast tempo: "We definitely try and play an uptempo game, try to speed it up. When teams try to slow it down on us, we might come out more aggressive on the defensive end. Try to cause more turnovers or do anything to help speed the game up. But I think speeding the game up can be done on the defensive end."

Fernandez on slowing down the Aztecs: "Well, like I just said before, we're a team that tries to slow down the ball a little bit, play more halfcourt offense and defense. That is where we feel more comfortable. On the other hand, they prefer to play an uptempo game and go up and down and try to get as many fast-break points as they can. So we will have to try to establish ourselves and play our rhythm."

Fernandez on his game winner against Penn State: "That shot was big yesterday. But we already celebrated. There is not too much you can do about it now. We just got to win tomorrow."

Moore on if San Diego State is similar to a team Temple has played: "I would say they're unique. I can't remember any teams that we played similar to the style of play they like to play."

Dunphy on Leonard: "He is a tough matchup for us. Especially if we have to play three guards, and [freshman] Aaron Brown will probably start on him and that's going be a tough matchup for Aaron Brown. We'll need to help him greatly. When Scootie gets in, he'll probably play him and Scoot's not used to playing over the last month. So he is a very difficult matchup for us, there's no question about it."

Dunphy on Scootie Randall's health: "I think yesterday we gave him the opportunity, as I said before, he deserved that opportunity to get in there yesterday. He had actually run full court on Tuesday and looked pretty good. Wednesday a little bit  we didn't run real hard on Wednesday, but gave him a little bit of a run there. And he ran a little bit full court again today. And we just finished our practice. So we'll do the same thing, put him in midway through the first half and see if he's more comfortable out there and he's helping us, then he can stay out there."

No. 5 seed Kansas St. (23-10) vs. No. 4 seed Wisconsin (24-8), approx. 8:40 p.m. ET (TNT)

As point guard showdowns go, it doesn't get much better than Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor versus Kansas State's Jacob Pullen.

Taylor averages 18 points and 4.7 assists. Pullen averages 19.5 points and 3.7 assists. Both earned first-team all-conference honors, Taylor in the Big Ten and Pullen in the Big 12. Pullen is the first Wildcat to earn first-team honors twice and was one of two unanimous picks this year. Taylor leads the nation with a 4.20 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Both said the round of 32 tilt between the Badgers and Wildcats is not about them. But both admitted to being aware of the matchup. And if they weren't, reporters were there to graciously remind them.

"Any time you play players like that, it definitely bring out the best in you," Taylor said. "You definitely have to bring your A-game. But at the end of the day it's about the team. They're not going to say Jacob Pullen moved on or Jon Leuer or Jordan Taylor moved on. So you definitely relish the challenge. It makes it fun to play against players like that. But, at the same time, it's all about what's on the front of your jersey."

While it's not really about a battle of point guards, it sort of is. Both are the engines of their respective teams on both ends of the floor. Pullen, in fact, seemed like a one-man team at times this season -- see his 27-point average over the final six regular-season games when the Wildcats were fighting for a spot in the tournament. And Taylor is the fulcrum of Bo Ryan's "swing offense."

Further, tempo will be critical in the matchup. The Wildcats and Pullen want to play fast. The Badgers and Taylor want to slow it down. And each will be trying to push his counterpart out of his comfort zone.

"We've got to do a great job of defending the ball screen and keeping [Taylor] in a position where he doesn't know what kind of defense we're playing, whether we're trapping it or soft hedging the ball screen," Pullen said. "The other thing is we really got to make him guard. Whoever he is guarding, we got to make sure he plays 36, 37 minutes a game. We got to make sure he is using his energy on both ends not only on offensive end."

One problem for Kansas State: It isn't easy to dictate tempo to Wisconsin, though many have tried, and Kansas State coach Frank Martin said as much.

"If you can speed up a Bo Ryan team, it will probably be the first time in 30 years that happens," Martin said. "Our challenge is to not allow Jordan Taylor to get comfortable. To not let him get in rhythm. And No. 2 is to keep him out of the paint. Because when he gets in the paint, then he forces help and then he finds shooters."

As for defending Pullen, Ryan doesn't see it that way exactly. While the Badgers largely play man-to-man defense, just like the Wildcats, it's still more team than individual.

"We don't get into a lot of, 'It's you against you, or you got to take him and you got to shut him down,'" Ryan said. "We don't do that because our defense is predicated on help. We always want to get five guys guarding three guys. That is our goal all the time. Learned that at a night clinic in Valley Forge, Pa., in the early '70s, and it still works."

Who to watch: Other than the point guards? There are a couple of bigs of note. For Wisconsin, it's Leuer, who leads the Badgers with 18.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He'll be matched with Curtis Kelly, who averages 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds.

Why to watch: It's another interesting contrast of styles, with the Wildcats hoping for a fast-paced frenzy, and the Badgers preferring the half-court game. Both will try to impose their will on the other. The Badgers turned the ball over only 229 times this season versus 479 from Kansas State. And the Badgers are better at the free throw line, leading the nation with an .827 percentage versus .647 for the Wildcats. Of course, the Wildcats hit 86 percent of their free throws in their win over Utah State.

What they're saying:

Taylor on hearing that K-State will try to speed things up: "I think we have to do exactly what they're trying to do, play at our own pace. Play at the pace that we're comfortable with."

Leuer on Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels: "From what I've seen, they can do a lot. They're both very active and long and athletic. They have good touch around the basket. They're physical. And we're going to have to do our best to try to limit their touches and not let them get into a rhythm. And the more we can keep the ball out of there and not let them get deep post position... that's what you want to do against anybody, not let them get deep post position. But those guys, especially because they're going to make it hurt if they get it down there."

Ryan on Kansas State's physical offensive rebounding: "Well, contact's a good thing. You got to enjoy contact, physically to block people out. We're not going to outjump them. I don't think lengthwise we're going to be any longer than them. So you just got to do what you do every day in practice. Require guys to put a body on somebody. Don't let somebody get an angle. And be willing to dig in. I'm sure the other teams that play against them have said that, too. Then you got to go out and do it."

Pullen on the KSU scoring record: "When I'm done playing basketball at Kansas State and I get a chance to actually sit down and look back, I think it will mean a lot then and I'll really cherish it more. But right now I don't want to jinx myself and I don't want to know how close I am because that is the wrong focus."

Martin on narrowing his player rotation: "My job is to help our team win. And if guys don't deserve to play, it's not charity. You know, they better practice well or they're not going to wear a uniform."

Martin on his team: "Our kids acted this season like I wish our society would act. That means that when things get hard, they don't pass blame. They don't run away from it. They don't roll their eyes. They don't quit. Which is a great word in today's society, 'quit.' Contrary, our guys handle stuff with loyalty, with honesty, with commitment. Those are the words I grew up on. And, unfortunately, our society's turned some in today's day and age. I'm just happy our kids didn't pay attention to society and they stuck to the values that I believe in."

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Kansas State wouldn't have made the NCAA tournament without point guard Jacob Pullen elevating his game late in the season. So you can understand that an ill Pullen was not a good thing heading into a showdown with Utah State, a nationally ranked, veteran team with 30 wins that was curiously seeded at No. 12.

But Pullen, the Wildcats first two-time All-Big 12 first-team selection, wasn't going to let a little fever end the Wildcats' season. He sat out Wednesday's shoot-around, and then he ended up making the Aggies sick with a game-high 22 points and five assists in a 73-68 victory.

[+] EnlargeKansas State's Jacob Pullen
Chris Morrison/US PRESSWIREKansas State's Jacob Pullen scored 22 points against Utah State.
"When it comes to basketball, you know, I put the way I feel aside." he said.

And so the Wildcats, counted out as one of the nation's biggest busts just a few weeks ago, survived and will play Wisconsin on Saturday for a chance to advance to the Sweet 16.

Scary thing is, Pullen, who averaged 27 points per game over the final six regular-season games, wasn't at his best, particularly on defense.

"He just didn't have that gear today," coach Frank Martin said. "[Utah State point guard] Brockeith Pane is fast and strong. [Pullen] just didn't have that gear to keep up with him and our guys didn't do a good job helping him. You can't have that."

Martin was unhappy with the Wildcats in the second half, when they repeatedly allowed the Aggies to make threatening runs at their double-digit leads.

"After our season, and all our growth and all that, it was little disappointing that we reverted in the second half to mistakes that we made early in the year," Martin said. "But this time of year you win, you get a chance to play again. "

Pullen led a Wildcats resurgence at the free throw line. A team that hit just over 64 percent from the stripe this season, connected on 24-of-28 (85.7 percent) and Pullen was 9-of-12. They made eight more free throws than the Aggies, and that played a major role in a game in which the overall numbers were fairly even.

Utah State coach Stew Morrill wasn't buying that Pullen wasn't at his best.

"I didn't think he was affected," Morrill said. "He is a really special guard. Holy smokes. I mean, when you do things that you often do to a good player -- when you double him, when you are helping -- he is coming off screens, he immediately senses that. He's got a great feel for the game, makes plays for his teammates. He's just special."

Pullen's matchup with Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor will be a highlight of Saturday's game. "[He's] one of the best guards in the country, I think," Pullen said.

One on a list that includes Pullen.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Just like Wisconsin, Kansas State looked to some like a team ripe for the picking by a confident "mid-major" that arrived at the Southwest Regional with 30 wins. And just like Wisconsin answered the call against Belmont, so did the Wildcats against Utah State.

Fifth-seeded Kansas State dispatched Utah State 73-68 behind balanced scoring and really, really good free-throw shooting, which is a surprise because the Wildcats are a lousy free-throw shooting team.

Turning point: Kansas State led 56-43 with five minutes left, but Utah State went on a 7-0 run, which was punctuated by a driving slam dunk by Pooh Williams. Utah State then forced a K-State turnover. The Aggies fans were energized. But the Wildcats sprung a trap on point guard Brockeith Pane, who travelled on the ensuing possession. Jamar Samuels made a layup and the lead was eight again. And that, really, was the pattern of the game. Utah State makes a challenge; Kansas State answers.

Key player: Kansas State point guard Jacob Pullen was ill yesterday, but he was just sick against Utah State. The Wildcats leader scored 22 points and dished six assists.

Key stat: The Wildcats hit just 64.4 percent of their free throws this year. Yet they connected on 24-of-28 -- 85 percent -- against the Aggies.

Miscellaneous: Kansas State averages 15 turnovers a game but they had just nine against the Aggies... WAC player of the year Tai Wesley led Utah State with 18 points and six rebounds... Kansas State is now 11-4 in first-round games.

What's next: Kansas State will play fourth-seeded Wisconsin on Saturday.

Yes, the 2011 John R. Wooden Award finalists are here. The award is organized by the Los Angeles Athletic Club and voted on by "nearly 1,000 members of the media that cover college basketball," and if you're surprised at the idea that there are 1,000 college hoops writers in the world, well, you're not the only one. (Lots of those ballots go to columnists and generalists who don't specifically cover the sport year-round ... but that's a topic for another blog post on another day.)

Who made the cut? The list is below, and it includes pretty much everyone you'd expect from a list of college hoops' best and brighest individual stars. The rundown:
Well, done, Los Angeles Athletic Club. That is a borderline peerless list.

But it isn't perfect. The most notable omission (perhaps the only notable omission) is Kentucky forward Terrence Jones, who has been one of the best players in the country throughout the season. Ken Pomeroy's latest player of the year award list ranks Jones as the eighth-most productive player in the country this season, and while Pomeroy's POY metric doesn't account entirely for the defensive side of the ball, player of the year awards are never all that concerned with the defensive end -- Brooks and Burks probably wouldn't be on the list above if they were -- so Pomeroy's list is as good a statistical look as we have. And, well, yeah: Jones should be among the Wooden candidates. There's really no getting around it.

That said, his omission isn't criminal. Jones deserves some POY consideration, but let's be real: He's not winning the award. Nor are 19 of the players listed above. Unless something radical changes, Fredette is going to win the Wooden and Naismith player of the year awards. If the voting does change anytime soon, the award is likely to go to Walker, Smith, or Sullinger.

In other words, this list has all the usual suspects. We'll see if any of the candidates has time to unseat the Jimmer in the weeks to come. It's unlikely ... but, hey, you never know.
While it didn't exactly bode well for the Longhorns, for Kansas State, the win at Texas Monday night felt a little like a coronation. Finally, after months of disappointment and distraction, Jacob Pullen and the Kansas State Wildcats were officially back.

It was a good-news night any way you slice it. Other than Pullen's swollen wrist, that is.

Pullen injured his wrist late in K-State's 75-70 victory in Austin, Tex., though he remained on the floor and (somehow) stayed productive despite being forced to use his weaker left hand during the closing minutes. That's remarkable in and of itself, of course, but K-State fans would be less thrilled by late-game heroics if it meant their resurgent star was going to miss significant portions of the postseason with a broken wrist.

Turns out, Pullen's wrist isn't broken. At least it doesn't seem to be. From the Kansas City Star:
"They didn't see anything that looked like a break," [Jacob's father] Jerome Pullen said. "He was in a little bit of pain, but when I talked to him this morning he said, 'It doesn't look like it's anything. They can't see anything right now.'"

[...] K-State is now confirming that Jacob Pullen has been cleared to play Saturday's game against Iowa State. The school is classifying his injury as a bruise. He is not expected to miss any practice time.

Kansas State fans: You may now take your collective sigh of relief. Drink it in. It always goes down smooth.

Casting our ballots: Big 12

March, 2, 2011
A quick look at the player and coach of the year races in the Big 12:

Player of the Year

[+] EnlargeMarcus Morris
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireKansas' Marcus Morris is averaging 17.3 points and 6.9 rebounds.
Marcus Morris’ improvement has been dramatic, enabling him to step into one of Kansas’ vacant leading-man roles after being a complimentary part his first two seasons in Lawrence. Morris has raised his scoring average from 12.8 to 17.3, his rebounds from 6.1 to 6.9 and his assists from 1 to 1.4. He’s also shooting 61 percent from he field and a no-fluke 36 percent from 3-point range (23 made 3s on the season).

Combine that with KU’s top-five ranking and leading position in the Big 12, and Morris is my narrow choice over Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen, Colorado swingman Alec Burks and Texas forward Jordan Hamilton. All of them have their flaws.

Pullen has been the best player in the league of late, but he was suspended three games for NCAA rules violations and failed to take the leadership role Kansas State was lacking early when it floundered under high expectations. Burks might be the league’s biggest talent and has had a fine year, but he plays for a mid-pack team -- and this is a team game, so team results matter. Hamilton is a devastating offensive player when he’s locked in, but he’s shot horribly and indiscriminately as the Longhorns have lost three of their past four, and he seems to be backsliding to some of his bad freshman habits.

So I’ll go with Morris, but there’s plenty of room for disagreement here.

Coach of the Year

I’ll cast a somewhat tepid vote for Texas A&M’s Mark Turgeon. Every time I watch the Aggies play, I come back to the same thought: How does this team have the record it does? There is no great talent, no surplus of athleticism, no sprawling collection of McDonald’s All-Americans -- yet still, A&M is in the upper echelon of the league. Its 22 victories (nine in Big 12 play) owe a lot to the coach, who has been a consistent winner where many never thought it could be done.

Turgeon lost his top three scorers and leading rebounder from last season’s 24-10 team, and it really hasn’t mattered. The Aggies, picked to finish sixth in the preseason, still are successful in a tough league (currently third) and have a couple of quality nonconference wins as well (Temple and Washington). They turned freshman role player Khris Middleton into a go-to scorer as a sophomore, more than doubling his average from last season (7.2 to 14.6), and filled in everyone else around him.

So he’s the choice (narrowly) over Kansas’ Bill Self, Texas’ Rick Barnes and Colorado’s Tad Boyle. As with the player of the year, you can make a compelling case for any of those guys. But the choice here is Turgeon.

Click here to find out who our panel of 15 experts picked in each of the nation's 10 best conferences.

Video: Wildcats upend No. 21 Missouri

February, 26, 2011

Jacob Pullen scores 24 in host Kansas State's 80-70 win against the Tigers.

Jacob Pullen comes through when needed

February, 15, 2011
Not much had gone right for Kansas State or Jacob Pullen this season.

In the preseason, Kansas State was picked to win the Big 12 for the first time ever and Pullen was tabbed as the conference player of the year.

Yet the Wildcats entered Monday night’s game against Kansas with nothing but trouble to show for their efforts.

Sure, there were a few pops of success like beating Virginia Tech, Gonzaga and Washington State. But those games were in November and early December.

[+] EnlargeKansas State's Jacob Pullen
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerJacob Pullen poured in 38 points for Kansas State in an upset of No. 1 Kansas.
Senior Curtis Kelly had been suspended twice, missing nine games. Pullen was suspended for three games for accepting extra benefits. Wally Judge quit the team after 17 games.

Kansas State was 1-5 on the road in the Big 12 and had been swept by Colorado, the last matchup coming down to the buzzer Saturday night when a game-winning 3-point shot by Rodney McGruder wasn’t allowed since it came just after the clock hit zeroes. With 33 seconds left in that game, Pullen committed a costly turnover with his Wildcats down one.

It’s just been that kind of season for the senior guard. At one point he was so frustrated that he said this: “I won’t play basketball in the NIT. I’m saying that now. If we lose and we have to go to the NIT. I will not play.’’

Not good.

“There was a lot of things going bad for us,’’ Pullen said by phone from Manhattan, Kan., on Monday night. “We had problems off the court. We were college students that made bad decisions and at the same time there was a lot of pressure on my teammates and they’ve never dealt with this and the expectations.’’

And yet, all seemed forgiven on one magical Monday night at Bramlage Coliseum.

Pullen erased plenty of the bad karma with his 38-point undressing of Kansas in K-State’s 84-68 rout of the top-ranked Jayhawks.

“Credit goes to my teammates that did a great job of getting me the ball, setting screens and making plays,’’ said Pullen after his career-high scoring performance. “When we make plays like we did tonight, we look good.’’

A season ago, Pullen was one of the catalysts with his backcourt mate, senior Denis Clemente, in Kansas State’s Elite Eight run that was ended by Butler in Salt Lake City.

“We won games with a core group of people that came in to practice and worked hard,’’ Pullen said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys and freshmen that had to understand what we had to do. We didn’t expect to be the No. 3 team in the country [in the preseason].’’

Pullen said the team came together on Sunday and made sure they checked the poor vibes from the late loss to Colorado right at the door of the locker room.

“I made a bad play, turned the ball over and Rodney’s shot was too late,’’ Pullen said. “I knew we had to focus on Kansas. I felt I didn’t want to be overly aggressive with my shot. But my team followed me and when I do things in practice that are lackadaisical it affects my team. Me and [coach] Frank [Martin] communicated in the last month that when I’m having a bad practice, he pulls me out. I know that as a point guard we have to understand each other and lately I’ve understood that he has to count on me as a leader.’’

Kansas State (17-9, 5-6 Big 12) has five games remaining in the regular season. Home games against Oklahoma, Missouri and Iowa State are must-wins. Splitting the road games at Nebraska and Texas would help the cause, too.

But what happens to Pullen if Kansas State doesn’t make the NCAA and is invited to play in the NIT?

“I will play anywhere,’’ Pullen said. “I said that comment in a heated moment to get my teammates to understand the reality. I didn’t say that comment to mean it. In my heart I will play for Kansas State regardless if it’s in the NIT or the NCAA.

“I think if we can win some games, get a win on the road,’’ Pullen said. “I think we’ll play our way in.’’

Analysis: KSU capitalizes on perfect storm

February, 15, 2011
Kansas was ripe to be beaten.

The Jayhawks were without injured and inspirational player Thomas Robinson, who is out with a knee injury. They were trying to reinsert heralded freshman point guard Josh Selby into the lineup after he had missed the previous three games with a stress reaction in his foot.

And then KU got a No. 1 ranking/No. 1 bull's-eye on Monday, giving rival Kansas State the perfect storm to finally live up to its potential against its bitter rival in a rocking Bramlage Coliseum on Monday night.

[+] EnlargeKansas' Markieff Morris
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerMarkieff Morris and the Kansas Jayhawks likely lost their grip on the No. 1 ranking on the same day they reached the top.
Let others use whatever adjectives they choose to describe K-State’s 84-68 victory, but this shouldn’t be considered a stunner. Now the margin of victory (16 points) is certainly a surprise, but that seemed to be more of an indication that the Jayhawks simply weren’t mentally ready for this challenge. Give complete credit to preseason Big 12 player of the year Jacob Pullen for his career-high 38 points, but the Jayhawks’ porous defensive effort left a lot to be desired.

Kansas was tabbed as the No. 1 team on Monday afternoon after Ohio State lost at Wisconsin over the weekend, despite the fact that KU had lost to Texas at home on Jan. 22. In that game against the Longhorns, Kansas was no doubt emotionally fatigued from being up the previous night with Robinson after the tragic death of his mother. Lisa. Since that loss the Jayhawks had been on a magnificent roll from escaping at Colorado, to crushing Kansas State, Texas Tech and Nebraska on the road, and then Missouri and Iowa State at home.

But in the past few days something changed with this team. Maybe it was trying to get Selby back on the court. Maybe it was the timing of getting the top ranking and the opponent. Maybe the Jayhawks were simply ready to get clocked, just like Duke had its forgettable game at St. John’s two weeks ago. Whatever the reason, the Jayhawks clearly weren’t ready to handle the top spot.

Kansas didn’t shoot well from long range (3-of-15), turned the ball over 18 times, and didn’t have composure from beginning to end, exemplified by Elijah Johnson's technical for taunting after a vicious dunk late in the game. KU was down 14 at the time. Taunting doesn’t have a place at any point and certainly makes the team look small if it occurs when it is behind big.

Kansas has given Kansas State new life in its hope to be back in the NCAA tournament after an Elite Eight run last season. The Wildcats, who have five regular-season games remaining, have played a tough schedule and won a few tough games like against Virginia Tech, at Washington State and against Gonzaga in Kansas City. But they also lost several others: to Duke and UNLV in Kansas City, to Florida in Sunrise, Fla., to a whole mess of teams in the Big 12, including a season sweep at the hands of Colorado. The Wildcats entered the KU game 0-7 against the RPI top 50.

The season had been a nightmare at times with Pullen getting suspended for three games for accepting extra benefits, Curtis Kelly being suspended multiple times and Wally Judge quitting.

But now Kansas State has new life. The Wildcats (17-9, 5-6) have three home games remaining and two on the road, including at possible new No. 1 Texas.

But more than giving Kansas State a pulse for a bid, the Jayhawks rekindled the debate as to who should be the top-ranked team, mere hours after this week’s poll was released.

Texas and Pitt are playing the best basketball right now as the Longhorns have won 10 in a row, nine by double figures. Pitt has won 13 of 14, including two in a row on the road (at WVU, at Nova) without leading scorer Ashton Gibbs. The Panthers also beat the Longhorns head-to-head back in November.

Ohio State could certainly be deserving still, losing its first game of the season by four points in an arena where few teams ever win.

Yet, for all the KU warts that were exposed on Monday night in Manhattan, the Jayhawks would still have to fall again at least once more, if not twice, to lose their grip on a No. 1 seed. Kansas will likely be fine.

But for one night, at least, Kansas played a big role in saving the season of its in-state rival.

And for Jayhawks fans, there’s nothing fine about that.

Saddle Up: Kansas State's last stand

February, 14, 2011
Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action. It is already getting a ton of email from Kansas fans.

West Virginia at No. 20 Syracuse, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Looking for bubble intrigue? This isn't your game.

No, on a night when one of the Big 12's bubbliest will fight for its at-large life -- see Kansas State at Kansas below -- the opening act doesn't promise much in the way of seasonal intrigue. Both West Virginia and Syracuse are likely NCAA tournament inclusions; it would take massive collapses for either to end up missing March Madness.

But that doesn't mean this game doesn't have its various degrees of attraction. Each team is trying to get its eighth Big East win; each team is in some ways still figuring itself out; and each team is trying to build momentum for a late-season run. Syracuse is trying to avoid its worst home losing streak since 1962 and its seventh loss in its last nine games. West Virginia is trying to avoid its third straight loss to a ranked Big East foe. The Orange are still searching for competent guard play and trying to shore up their suddenly leaky 2-3 zone. The Mountaineers are still looking for ways to score that don't totally hinge on their ability to grab offensive rebounds.

In other words, this game may not be pretty, and it may not be Pittsburgh-Villanova, and it may not come with too much bubble intrigue attached. But it is still a very solid Big East game. If you like physical play, rebounding, shot-blocking, strategic give-and-take and -- last but not least -- watching college hoops teams trying to come together in a pressure-packed, klieg-lights-on scenario -- then you'll probably want to tune in at 7 p.m. ET tonight. At the very least, this one should be interesting.

No. 1 Kansas at Kansas State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Then, after enjoying the WVU-Cuse appetizer, you can move to the main course. Because at 9 p.m. ET in Manhattan, Kan., the Kansas State Wildcats will make their final stand.

That sounds dramatic, but it's true. The Wildcats' devastating two-point loss at Colorado on Saturday -- which featured a last-second Rodney McGruder 3 that was overruled after the referees checked the courtside replay monitors -- put this team closer to the brink of the NIT than at any other point this season. Our own Joe Lunardi still has Kansas State in the tournament, but the Wildcats are a No. 11 seed with a disconcerting downward-facing red arrow next to their name, and really it's still a soft-bubble miracle Kansas State is even in the running for a bid at all. K-State's RPI is OK, but it has no wins in the RPI top 50 and a sub-.500 mark in Big 12 play. That sure doesn't look like an NCAA tournament team, does it?

Which is to say, Kansas State needs this win. Badly. The Wildcats won't get a better chance to notch a huge résumé-boosting victory the rest of the season. (a Feb. 26 home date with Missouri is looking ripe for the picking, but the Tigers aren't exactly the Jayhawks when it comes to "signature win" prestige.) They'll have the benefit of a raucous home environment in the Octagon of Doom. They'll have their hated dominant rivals on the other side. They'll have their defense -- the one non-rebounding area of this team that hasn't been a total letdown -- primed for the unique challenge presented by KU's nigh-unstoppable array of capable guards and versatile forwards.

And, perhaps most importantly, they'll have the benefit of knowing this is it. This is the game. If ever there was a time to wholly reverse this disappointing, distraction-prone season, this is it. If ever there was a time for Jacob Pullen to will his team to a win (not to mention avoid his nightmare NIT scenario), this is it. If ever there was a time to announce that the preseason Big 12 title pick and nationally ranked top-five team isn't dead yet, this is it.

The intelligent hoops observer still likes Kansas to win here. Even without Josh Selby and Thomas Robinson, this Jayhawks team is still very good, and Kansas State has been so comprehensively ugly on offense this season that it's hard to see them getting anything easy against Kansas' consistent D. But the pressure will be on. Frank Martin's entire reputation is suddenly on the line. His team is backed into a corner. These Wildcats are wildly desperate.

This Kansas State team has let its fans down time and again this season. The time for turnaround, if it still exists, can't come any later than tonight. This is it.