College Basketball Nation: Jordan Henriquez

Kansas State gets back on track

February, 16, 2013
2/16/13
11:45
PM ET
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Twenty-four hours before its most impressive win of the Big 12 season -- an 81-61 victory over Baylor -- Bruce Weber kicked his Kansas State basketball team out of practice.

Loafing through drills, snickering during dead balls, not paying attention as they were being given the scouting report. The Wildcats were doing it all -- and Weber had had enough. Using words that aren’t fit for print, he told his players to go home.

There was one problem.

The Wildcats refused.

“He was like, ‘Get out of here! Get out!’” guard Rodney McGruder told ESPN.com. “I was holding the ball, and he came up and tried to yank it away from me, but I put it behind my back.”

McGruder paused.

“As a leader on this team, as a senior, I wasn’t going to let that happen,” McGruder said. “It was my job to make sure we finished that practice on a high note.”

One night later, it paid off.

The Wildcats are still tied for first place in the Big 12 standings following Saturday’s shellacking of the Bears. McGruder was far from the star of the game with 10 points, but the stance he took during Friday’s practice clearly helped to focus a handful of his teammates.

Point guard Angel Rodriguez scored 22 points, dished out 10 assists and, more importantly, forced Big 12 leading scorer Pierre Jackson into his first single-digit scoring game of the season.

[+] EnlargeJordan Henriquez
Scott Sewell/USA TODAY SportsJordan Henriquez's work against Cory Jefferson and Baylor's burly front line was key for K-State.
Just as vital was the play of 7-foot center Jordan Henriquez, who had 10 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks against Baylor’s imposing front line of Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers and Cory Jefferson.

A senior, Henriquez was brilliant at the end of last season but has been inconsistent in 2012-13. He entered the game averaging just 4.6 points and 4.2 rebounds. Weber was asked after the game if Henriquez’s performance could be a turning point in his season.

“I hope and pray,” Weber said. “He likes playing against bigger teams, bigger players. He definitely responded to the challenge tonight.”

Of course, Weber could’ve said that about his entire team.

Just five days earlier, the Wildcats suffered what could’ve been a deflating loss in a 21-point setback to Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. Weber, though, reminded his squad it was still tied with KU and Oklahoma State for first place in the Big 12 standings. He pointed out that the Wildcats could claim their first conference title since 1977 by winning the rest of their games.

“We control our own destiny,” Weber told his players.

KSU is now 20-5 overall and 9-3 in conference play. Kansas and Oklahoma State both won Saturday as well, meaning there’s a three-way tie in the league race. Baylor is now 16-9 and 7-5.

“Kansas State showed why they are the 10th-ranked team in the nation,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They really dominated and imposed their will.”

Baylor trailed by as many as 14 points early in the second half before using a flurry of Brady Heslip 3-pointers to pull within two points, 43-41. K-State, though, was hardly fazed.

Weber’s squad responded with a 16-4 run that made it 59-45, basically putting the game out of reach.

“We didn’t hang our heads,” Rodriguez said. “Right when we got into the huddle we said, ‘They punched us. We’ve got to punch them back.’”

That type of resiliency is why the Wildcats’ chances at that elusive Big 12 title are looking more and more realistic.

Four of KSU’s remaining games are against Big 12 bottom-feeders West Virginia, Texas Tech, TCU and Texas. The matchup against the Longhorns could be tricky considering it’s on the road and Texas has welcomed back standout point guard Myck Kabongo from a 23-game suspension. There are also dangerous road tilts ahead with Baylor (March 2) and Oklahoma State (March 9).

Still, while the entire college basketball season has been defined by wacky, out-of-nowhere scores, Kansas State is one of the few teams that has managed to avoid upsets. Its only losses are to Kansas (twice), Michigan, Gonzaga and Iowa State (on the road). There is no shame in any of those setbacks.

“All of our goals are still in reach,” McGruder said. “We have a chance to do a lot of great things.”

Especially after what happened Saturday night in Manhattan.

And Friday night, too.

Saddle Up: Can Kansas figure it out?

February, 11, 2013
2/11/13
10:00
AM ET
Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action. It was really weirded out by Taylor Swift.

No. 24 Marquette at No. 20 Georgetown, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

This wasn't supposed to be a vintage year in the Big East. Vintage, in this usage, is basically synonymous with "brutal"; it harkens to 2009, when the league dominated the landscape for months, staged an utterly awesome Big East tournament, and placed three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament bracket. This wasn't supposed to be that year. This year, the Big East was supposed to be tame.

In some ways, that's true; this league isn't going to be placing three teams on the top seed line come mid-March, that's for sure. But in other ways, the Big East has been much better than anyone expected. Alongside Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, Marquette and Georgetown are the reasons why.

This is primarily because while both teams lost veterans, they've both managed to stay not only relevant but dangerous. Georgetown waved farewell to brilliant passer Henry Sims and fellow senior Jason Clark; Marquette bid adieu to not one but two Big East player of the year candidates in Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. Both teams were expected to fall off, at least slightly. Instead, both are in the Top 25, and both are playing the type of high-quality basketball that should provide for a fascinating game tonight.

That's because that basketball poses a battle of strengths. Marquette is an offensive team. The Golden Eagles aren't as fast as they were a year ago, but they're playing the most efficient offense in the Big East to date, making 52 percent of their 2s and scoring 1.09 points per trip. Center Davante Gardner in particular has been a revelation. The spread-perimeter offense of a year ago has been rebuilt around the big fella. Georgetown, meanwhile, has frequently played some of the ugliest offense you'll ever see, but they back it up with the type of stifling athletic D that keeps them in games all the season. Forward Otto Porter might be the ideal Georgetown player under John Thompson III; he does everything well.

Whatever the outcome, it is important to recognize that these teams, along with a still-underrated Pitt and a steady Cincinnati have formed a really nice second-tier group in the putatively "down" Big East. It's not all about Louisville and Syracuse anymore.

No. 13 Kansas State at No. 5 Kansas, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

I am not a grizzled veteran of this college hoops writing game. I am actually still kind of young, to the point where there has never been a point in my career wherein I didn't, at least on some level, take Bill Self's Kansas teams for granted.

Last year was the real wake-up call: That's when Self coached his eighth straight KU team to at least a share of the Big 12 title, a streak unmatched not only in other "power six" conferences but in every other college hoops league full stop. The Big 12 is a good league! It has had a lot of pros -- Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Acie Law, Tristan Thompson, James Anderson, Tony Allen, D.J Augustin -- stop by during Self's tenure. And every year Self has won.

That's why it has been so baffling to see these current Jayhawks struggle so mightily. Let's keep it in perspective. In this case, struggling mightily means losing three games in a row, one of which came to a good team at home, one of which came to a good team on the road, while the one in the middle, the loss at TCU, was the product of the worst offensive performance in the history of Kansas basketball. (With the possible exception of Dr. James Naismith's early games against the Topeka YMCA, according to Self's hilarious postgame news conference). Most coaches at most programs see three losses as the occasional unfortunate cost of doing business. At Kansas under Self, three straight losses is cause for a full-fledged existential meltdown.

Is it really that bad? I actually don't think so. Yes, the Jayhawks have had their struggles on the offensive end, and senior guard Elijah Johnson is in a major shooting slump, one that seems to have caused a crisis of confidence. But as SI's Luke Winn pointed out last week, Johnson always slumps this time of year before turning it on in the spring. He'll probably be fine. The offense was atrocious when it played against Kansas State in January, but that felt like more of an aberration than anything else.

If anything, the biggest cause for concern is on the defensive end. The Jayhawks scored 1.11 PPP against Oklahoma State and 1.0 against Oklahoma; they allowed 1.18 to the Cowboys and 1.09 to the Sooners. That's the bigger problem. The Kansas defense is always been its biggest strength this season, and if it suddenly becomes porous for any reason, the Jayhawks suddenly become -- gasp -- vulnerable.

That's why you can't consider a win at Allen Fieldhouse automatic against Kansas State. The Wildcats defend and rebound and grind with the best of them, but in Big 12 play they've actually been the league's best offense, scoring 1.09 points per trip. Bruce Weber goes deep into his bench and spreads minutes around, and all the pieces -- Angel Rodriguez's perimeter ballhandling, Rodney McGruder's scoring, Thomas Gipson and Jordan Henriquez's interior strength -- fit together. You watch K-State play long enough and you start to think of them as a strictly defensive team, but they can really score. And if Kansas wants to avoid a fourth straight loss, and a real statewide freakout, it will have to stop that offense Monday night.

It's going to be a good one.

Elsewhere: I wonder if TCU and Oklahoma are going to get together before the game and swap stories about beating Kansas. Maybe they can make a burn book or something. … The CAA and MAAC are in action, but the real team to keep an eye on is Weber State. Even with former point guard Damian Lillard tearing it up for the Portland Trail Blazers, Weber State is actually better. Does the Ewing Theory apply to the NBA draft?

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
9:00
AM ET
Kansas State has moved up a spot in this week's Big 12 power rankings -- and the Wildcats could be even higher by this time next week if they capitalize on two huge opportunities in the coming days. K-State's next two games are against Oklahoma and Kansas -- both at home. The Sooners and Jayhawks are the only schools in the Big 12 besides K-State that have yet to lose a league game. Should be a fun week. Here are the latest rankings.

1. Kansas. The Jayhawks' offense has sputtered a bit lately, but defensively Bill Self's squad has been stout. The Jayhawks held Baylor to 44 points on 23.2 percent shooting Monday. Leading scorer Ben McLemore injured his ankle but is expected to play against Texas on Saturday in Austin.

2. Iowa State. After nearly upsetting KU in Lawrence nine days ago, Iowa State has defeated Texas by 20 points and staved off a late rally by West Virginia. The Cyclones' next two games are road tilts against the league's worst two teams: TCU and Texas Tech.

3. Kansas State. No other player in the Big 12 has been as good as Rodney McGruder since the beginning of conference play. The senior is averaging 22 points per game against Big 12 opponents and is shooting 54 percent from the field. Center Jordan Henriquez has given his team a nice boost off the bench in recent weeks.

4. Baylor. The Bears can't be as bad as they looked against Kansas on Monday, can they? Baylor is in for a long Big 12 season if it doesn't show more discipline and start taking better shots. Baylor plays a nonconference game against Hardin-Simmons on Saturday before hosting Oklahoma State in a crucial contest Monday night.

5. Oklahoma. The Sooners hit the jackpot by hiring Lon Kruger. Oklahoma is one of the league's three remaining undefeated teams along with Kansas and K-State. Romero Osby leads the team in points (13.7) and rebounds (6.3). Saturday's game at K-State is huge for both teams. Four of OU's next six games are on the road.

6. Oklahoma State. By the time they take the court for Saturday's game against Texas Tech, the Cowboys will have had a week to think about last weekend's 77-68 loss to rival Oklahoma in Norman. Marcus Smart has shown great leadership, but he's shooting just 41.3 percent from the field and 29.7 percent from 3-point range.

7. West Virginia. The Mountaineers haven't lived up to their expectations, but they certainly appear to be getting better, especially in the toughness department. Bob Huggins' squad erased an 18-point second-half deficit against Iowa State but lost when Cyclones forward Georges Niang hit a layup with 2.5 seconds remaining. WVU is a threat to beat anyone in the conference.

8. Texas. The Longhorns have lost four of their past five games, including two in overtime. With Kansas visiting this weekend, things probably won't get better soon. Sheldon McClellan played just one minute in last weekend's 20-point loss to Iowa State as coach Rick Barnes, displeased with McClellan's effort, sent the team's leading scorer a message.

9. Texas Tech. Chris Walker's squad has lost its past three Big 12 games by an average of 22 points. Jaye Crockett leads the team in points (13.8) and rebounds (8.3). Texas Tech's next two games (at Oklahoma State on Saturday and at home against Iowa State on Wednesday) will be tough. But a Jan. 26 tilt at Texas could be interesting.

10. TCU. The Horned Frogs led Baylor at halftime Saturday before losing 51-40. Trent Johnson's squad simply doesn't have the personnel to compete with major college schools. No one would be surprised if TCU finished 0-18 in league play.

Rapid Reaction: Kansas State 67, Florida 61

December, 22, 2012
12/22/12
10:27
PM ET

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A few quick thoughts from Kansas State's 67-61 victory over No. 8 Florida on Saturday.

Overview: His ability to land top-ranked recruits has been questioned, and more than a few folks have called him quirky. But one thing about Bruce Weber is hard to deny.

The man can coach.

That was evident Saturday, when Weber's Kansas State squad pulled one of the biggest upsets of the college basketball season by defeating Florida behind a deafening crowd at the Sprint Center. A team that often seemed out of sync in its first 10 games couldn't have looked more cohesive Saturday. Even though it shot just 41.7 percent against one of the nation's top defenses, K-State limited its turnovers (10), showed patience on offense and got good looks at the basket. The Wildcats missed a lot of shots, but they hit some big ones too.

The victory should provide a huge jolt for the Wildcats (9-2) as they prepare for Big 12 play. It should also enhance the image of Weber, who was hired in Manhattan just weeks after being fired at Illinois, where he spent eight seasons. Weber's 2004-05 squad went 38-2 and lost in the NCAA title game to North Carolina.

Florida, which got 19 points from Patric Young, lost for the second time in three games and fell to 8-2. The Gators lost to Arizona 65-64 last week in Tucson.

Star of the game: Guard Will Spradling scored a season-high 17 points for Kansas State, but it was 6-foot-11 Jordan Henriquez who gave the Wildcats their biggest, and most unexpected, boost. He scored a season-high nine points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked five shots off the bench. Henriquez was a huge factor for the Wildcats last season but has been in the doghouse ever since Weber's arrival. He played a season-high 18 minutes Saturday and was incredibly vocal and spirited on the court -- not to mention effective.

Key stat: Kansas State's outscored Florida 21-7 in bench points and 20-10 from the foul stripe.

Turning point: Florida appeared to have gained momentum after shaving K-State's lead to 50-47 midway through the second half, but a 3-pointer by Wildcats guard Martavious Irving ignited a 7-0 run that gave his team a 10-point bulge. Florida never posed much of a threat after that.

Observations: Kansas State fans are some of the rowdiest in the country. When they're revved up, the Wildcats are incredibly difficult to beat. Even though Saturday's game was in Kansas City -- two hours away from Manhattan -- Kansas State supporters showed up in full force. Nearly all of the 18,000-plus seats at the Sprint Center were filled, making it feel like a true road game for Florida. If this type of support continues at Bramlage Coliseum, the Wildcats could go undefeated in Big 12 home games.

Up next: Florida takes on Air Force, and K-State hosts UMKC.

What I can't wait to see: Big 12

October, 18, 2012
10/18/12
11:30
AM ET
Here are five storylines I look forward to following in the Big 12 this season.

What I can’t wait to see:

How will Kansas replace Thomas Robinson?

I know the Jayhawks have the goods to make a run at their ninth consecutive Big 12 title. Jeff Withey proved his worth in last season’s run to the Final Four. He’s one of the top interior defenders in America. And he has spent a lot of time working on his mid-range game. He should be a different player this season.

Highly touted recruit Perry Ellis joins the fold. I think Elijah Johnson can carry the program. And Ben McLemore is a projected lottery pick on some boards. Losing Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson will hurt, but it’s not as though Bill Self hasn’t replaced top-notch talent in the past.

Robinson, however, was an emotional leader for the team as much as he was its top player a season ago. There were moments in which the Jayhawks appeared to be on the brink of collapse and he simply willed them to a victory. I think that’s the one question facing this team. Who’s that guy right now? Perhaps it’s Withey or Johnson. But someone clearly has to assume that role early, especially with so many young players in the mix. A failure to identify a player in that vital position could prove detrimental in Big 12 play.

What is Oklahoma State’s ceiling?

Oklahoma State should challenge Kansas and Baylor for the Big 12 title. “Should” is the key word. But the Cowboys will fulfill their potential only if they find a way to play disciplined basketball, a challenge for the program last season.

It just didn’t make sense for a program with this talent (Le'Bryan Nash, Markel Brown) to struggle the way it did last season (15-18, 7-11 Big 12). Freshman Marcus Smart has been listed as one of the top young point guards in America. If he can bring Oklahoma State’s talented contributors together and teach them to man up on defense, Travis Ford could have a special year with this program. That, however, is the biggest "if" in the Big 12.

How will Bruce Weber and Bob Huggins fare in the Big 12?

The league welcomes Kansas State’s Bruce Weber and West Virginia’s Bob Huggins to the mix this season. Both coaches found success in their former leagues (Big Ten and Big East, respectively). And I think they have the talent to make a great first impression (though Huggins coached at Kansas State, so he has been in the Big 12 before) in 2012-13.

Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez give Weber the building blocks for a successful debut. Weber scored solid recruits at Illinois, but he couldn’t meet expectations after the program’s Final Four run. The expectations at Kansas State should be more modest, which should allow Weber to coach comfortably and challenge for a spot in the top tier of the league.

Huggins might have a sleeper in West Virginia. The Mountaineers are all over the board on preseason projections. But Deniz Kilicli and a heap of impact transfers (Juwan Staten, Aaric Murray and Matt Humphrey) form a nucleus that could surprise the conference in 2012-13.

Last place goes to TCU or Texas Tech?

Both teams are hurting. Texas Tech lost Billy Gillispie during a highly publicized offseason mess. And according to players, that’s what they wanted. But even with him, Texas Tech’s chances of escaping the bottom of the league were slim with only six scholarship players returning from last season’s 8-23 squad. Trent Johnson introduces TCU to the league in what could be a very humbling debut. Johnson just doesn’t have a lot of talent on the roster. He’ll certainly take his lumps early. He already has added some pieces that will be available for the future. But for both TCU and Texas Tech, 2012-13 will be a tough season.

Can Baylor put it all together and upset Kansas?

Baylor is America’s “on paper” team. On paper, last season, the Bears looked like national championship contenders with Quincy Miller, Perry Jones and Quincy Acy. They were good. But various challenges throughout the season brought criticism to Waco. Even though they reached the Elite Eight, the Bears didn’t seem to come together until March. In 2012-13, Scott Drew has a roster that can challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title. He has one of the best backcourts in America (Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip, Deuce Bello, Gary Franklin and A.J. Walton) and he’s bringing in one of the top freshmen in the country in Isaiah Austin. If he can get this group to play to its strengths, Baylor will be the Jayhawks’ toughest challenger for the Big 12 crown. The potential, once again, is very high. But seeing is believing with the Bears.

Syracuse, Ohio State had their guards up

March, 17, 2012
3/17/12
6:51
PM ET

Aaron Craft was 7-for-9 from the field, 5-for-5 in the paint on Saturday.
Guard play was the story of the early-afternoon games in the Men's Basketball Championship on Saturday. Here's a closer look at the wins by the Syracuse Orange and Ohio State Buckeyes, each of whom advanced to the Round of 16.

(1) Syracuse 75, (8) Kansas State 59

Syracuse’s win was the 47th in the Men’s Basketball Championship for head coach Jim Boeheim. That’s tied for the fifth-most all-time with John Wooden (who did all of his coaching before the tournament expanded to six rounds). Boeheim is two wins behind Jim Calhoun for fourth-most, 32 behind all-time leader Mike Krzyzewski.

The Syracuse bench dominated, going 10-for-15 from the field (including 3-for-4 on 3-pointers) and 10-for-11 from the free throw line. The Orange bench outscored Kansas State’s reserves, 33-0.

In particular, Syracuse was at its best with Dion Waiters on the floor. The Orange outscored Kansas State 47-30 in the 24 minutes in which he played, and tallied all 12 of their transition points with him in the game.

Scoop Jardine was also a catalyst. He scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, and also had eight assists for the game, his most since February 8th.

During Jardine's career, Syracuse is 17-1 when he has at least eight assists. Syracuse held Kansas State to just 18 percent shooting (6-of-33) outside the paint. That's the lowest percentage by a Syracuse opponent on those types of shots in the last three Men's Basketball Championships.

The Orange shot 67 percent in the second half, including 5-for-5 from 3-point range.

Kansas State was able to hang in with Syracuse for much of the game because of its offensive rebounding. Jordan Henriquez had 11 of the team’s 25 offensive rebounds, one shy of the tournament record set by Bo Kimble in 1990.

Looking ahead, the Orange have lost their last three games in the Round of 16 since winning the national championship in 2003.

(2) Ohio State 73, (7) Gonzaga 66

The Buckeyes are headed to the Round of 16 for the third straight season, the longest such streak since the Sweet 16 began in 1975.

Ohio State’s Aaron Craft finished with his first career double-double, recording 17 points and 10 assists. His seven baskets tied a career high. Craft was 5-for-5 in the paint and finished with a team-best 10 of the Buckeyes’ 24 paint points.

In two seasons, Craft never had more than nine assists in a regular-season game, but he's now had at least 10 assists in the Round of 32 twice. Last year against George Mason in the Men’s Basketball Championship Round of 32, Craft had 15 assists.

Ohio State made nine 3-pointers, with Craft assisting on seven of them.

The Buckeyes accounted for 27 of their 73 points (37 percent) on 3-pointers, their highest percentage of points from 3-pointers in a game this season. Entering Saturday, they ranked last in the Big Ten in percentage of points from 3-pointers (20 percent).

Rebounding was also a key. Gonzaga dominated the offensive glass in the first half, with nine offensive rebounds and 13 second-chance points. The Buckeyes clamped down in the second half, limiting the Bulldogs to four offensive rebounds and two second-chance points.

Ohio State entered Saturday allowing opponents to grab only 25 percent of their missed shots, the best percentage in the Big Ten.


PITTSBURGH -- Scoop Jardine sort of hung there for a handful of seconds, inverted over a press table, a computer and the other superfluous paraphernalia of a sportswriter’s workspace, his legs dangling in the air and his hands somehow on the floor to complete the awkward handstand.

Brandon Triche came over to make sure Jardine wasn’t hurt, thinking maybe he could sort of use Jardine’s legs to crank his teammate to an upright position.

Just as he got there, though, Jardine stood up, his trademark grin smiling across his face.

“He said he always wanted to do something like that, go Dennis Rodman over the press table,’’ Triche said. “As soon as he got up, I knew he was fine. He was smiling.’’

And when Jardine is smiling everything is right in the Orange’s world.

Syracuse goes hockey-line deep, giving Jim Boeheim the delighted luxury of playing the constant tinkerer. If one guy is off, surely someone will be on.

But the Orange accelerate from good to special when Jardine and his senior cohort, Kris Joseph, are good and in the second half against Kansas State, Jardine found his extra gear, lifting Syracuse to the 75-59 win and a date in the Sweet 16.

“I’ve been here five years. This is about my legacy and I’m not ready for that to be written yet,’’ Jardine said. “We lost in this round last year [to Marquette] and I took that personal. That’s why I came back. I wasn’t going to let it happen again.’’

Since the brackets were revealed on Sunday, the news surrounding Syracuse has been about anything and everything but basketball. Fab Melo was suspended for the duration of the season on Tuesday, igniting a firestorm of conversation about just how the Orange would win without their big man and if the Orange could win without their big man.

[+] EnlargeSyracuse's Scoop Jardine
Richard Mackson/US PRESSWIREScoop Jardine was still smiling after a diving attempt to save a ball left him upside down.
Syracuse did little to quell the worries with a lackluster opener against UNC Asheville, a win that left plenty of people convinced questionable officiating victimized the Bulldogs.

On Saturday, particularly in the second half, the Orange redirected the conversation.

Playing arguably its best basketball in weeks, Syracuse finally looked like a No. 1 seed.

And more, it played like a team that wasn’t carrying around a Melo-sized albatross.

“We were having fun again, out there smiling,’’ Joseph said. “I think some of it maybe was because of pressure. We talked about it, me and Scoop, before the game to the team and at halftime. There’s no reason to not just go out and play. We know what we want to do. We know what we want to accomplish, so let’s just go do it.’’

It sounds easier than it is, frankly. Playing with a target isn’t easy and it’s especially difficult for the Orange, where the target flashes in neon amid the myriad controversies to have hit the team this season.

This team has had more doubters than fans as far back as November. There is no star here, no collection of future NBA talent ready to cash in shortly, which is usually the prerequisite for NCAA success.

A few doubters had to turn convert after this one, when Syracuse showed that the team-as-star theory can work quite nicely. Evidence? How about this? Syracuse had 33 bench points, Kansas State 0.

“Everyone says you have to have a go-to guy and I’m not sure if you’re not better if you have different guys,’’ said Jim Boeheim, who had no problem riding one guy to a national title in 2003. “We’ve had different guys make plays all year.’’

He’s right. On Thursday it was James Southerland saving Syracuse from epic disaster.

This time it was Jardine.

The difference is, the more often its Jardine, the better off the Orange is.

Kansas State, playing without Jamar Samuels, who was withheld due to eligibility concerns, gave Syracuse a dose of Big 12 toughness in the first half. The Wildcats didn’t merely expose Syracuse’s Achilles heel -- its rebounding -- it eviscerated it. Kansas State outrebounded the Orange, 28-16 and even more critically, 15-3 on the offensive glass.

That allowed the Wildcats to hang around, with Syracuse clinging to a 25-24 edge at the break.

But when Jordan Henriquez, who would finish with 14 points and 17 rebounds, picked up his third foul, it was all but over for K-State.

Syracuse should patent its ability to go on a run whenever it needs one. The next time the Wildcats looked up, the scoreboard went from 39-34 to 55-42.

In that dash, Jardine scored six points and dished out three assists, entirely converting his boxscore. In the opening 20, he had 2 points, three assists and four turnovers. By game’s end, he had 16, 8 and six.

“In the first half, in spite of what he might think, he struggled,’ Boeheim said. “He made some bad decisions. You know, I don’t know what he was doing on a couple of plays. And we struggled. But we’re a point guard-oriented team, especially when you play a team like Kansas State. They take away your wing passes, so you really have to do stuff off the dribble.’’

Which is where Jardine comes in.

Jardine does not lack for confidence. He insists he has played well for weeks, even though his coach has practically been begging Jardine and Joseph to play like seniors.

And he argues that his team has played just fine, too, though outsiders might beg to differ.

“I don’t know what a No. 1 seed is supposed to look like,’’ he said. “I just know we’re supposed to win and that’s what we’re doing.’’

They will continue to better their odds if Jardine continues to play as he did against Kansas State.

He was aggressive, going directly at Angel Rodriguez. Because he did, it opened a lid on a Syracuse offense that has been sealed shut recently.

“You know when Scoop is out there, playing aggressive like that, sacrificing his body, it makes us so much better,’’ Triche said. “We feed off of him and his energy. That’s what makes us go.’’

About that ‘sacrificing the body’ thing, Jardine has a confession to make.

“I made a bad shot,’’ he said sheepishly, “so I was trying to make up for it with dramatic effect.’’

And then Jardine smiled.

And all was right with the Orange.

PITTSBURGH — Quick thoughts on Syracuse’s 75-59 win against Kansas State in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Overview: Syracuse found the easiest way to change the narrative on its NCAA tournament run — play like a top seed.

Since the brackets were revealed Sunday, most everyone has wanted to talk about everything but the Orange’s actual basketball abilities — the premature loss in the Big East tournament, the suspension of Fab Melo, the controversial win against UNC Asheville.

Syracuse played a smart, decisive game against Kansas State, using every bit of its most powerful weapon — its bench — to win the game. The Orange's reserves outscored the Wildcats' depleted bench (without Jamar Samuels) to the tune of 33-0.

It was more than just a wave of players, it was how those players performed. The Orange took smart shots, shared the ball and, defensively, forced Kansas State (an average-shooting team) out of the paint.

There are still issues to overcome, namely Syracuse’s Achilles' heel of rebounding. The Orange were beaten on the offensive boards badly, 22-8, and will struggle especially against a team that is adept on the glass.

But the team that everyone has picked to lose finally reminded everyone why it was chosen as one of the favorites to win.

Turning point: Jordan Henriquez, who kept the Wildcats alive on most of their possessions with yeoman’s work on the boards, picked up his third foul with his team trailing 36-32. Though he didn’t sit long, Henriquez couldn’t afford to be as aggressive and the Wildcats’ offense fell apart.

Smelling the blood in the water, the Orange took over. Scoop Jardine led the charge, scoring six points and dishing out two incredible assists in a Syracuse dash that stretched the lead to 55-42. K-State could never recover.

Key player: Jardine, who’d been only average since the Big East tournament, played his best game in weeks. The senior scored 16 points and dished out eight assists, leading a Syracuse offense that looked far more in sync than it has in recent games.

Key stat: Kansas State shot just 4-of-17 from the arc. You cannot beat Syracuse if you can’t shoot. Sounds simple? It is.

The other equally big one: 33-0, that was the difference in the bench scoring between the teams.

Miscellaneous: Both teams were down a player. On Tuesday, Syracuse announced Melo would be out for the duration of the Orange’s NCAA tournament run because of eligibility concerns, and just 20 minutes before tipoff, Kansas State announced that Samuels was being withheld for similar worries. ... Without Samuels, Thomas Gipson was pressed into service. Gipson usually averages 17 minutes per game. He'd hit the 20-minute mark by the first media timeout of the second half. ... Vice President Joe Biden, a Syracuse alum, was in town for the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Biden served as the grand marshal.

Next game: Syracuse will meet Vanderbilt or Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 in Boston. It’s the Orange’s first regional semifinal appearance since 2010. Syracuse lost that year to Butler and has not made an Elite Eight appearance since its national title run in 2003.



PITTSBURGH -- Here’s a quick rundown of what to look for in Saturday’s third-round games at Consol Energy Center:

No. 1 seed Syracuse (32-2) vs. No. 8 Kansas State (22-10), 12:15 p.m. ET

One looks like The Thinker, pensively holding his chin in his hand as he solves the world’s mysteries from his courtside seat.

The other looks like The Incredible Hulk, his eyes narrowing and his veins popping as he flails at the world’s inadequacies from the bench.

Turns out there’s plenty of fire in Jim Boeheim and plenty of calm in Frank Martin.

We just don’t see it.

“I think it’s more behind closed doors,’’ Syracuse junior James Southerland said of Boeheim. “He’ll get after you if you make a mistake or if you’re not playing hard, but honestly, with him, I think you worry more if he’s not yelling at you.’’

The man who has perfected the art of blasÚ, passing off even the biggest disturbance with a hand flick or shoulder shrug, has built his outer calm over inner fire in 36 years of coaching. Boeheim is the constant.

The players change. The zone gets tinkered, but the coach stays the same.

Like a strict parent, Boeheim can get his players’ attention sometimes without raising his voice.

“I think the level of both of our intensities is high,’’ Boeheim said. “[Martin] may show his level a little more than I do. You know, I wouldn’t want him to be mad at me.’’

But beneath the withering stare, Martin actually is one of the gentler souls in the game. Affable and easy going, he’ll tell stories and poke fun at himself gladly.

On a recruiting visit to the home of Jordan Henriquez, Martin, a Cuban-American, started speaking in Spanish. Only Henriquez didn’t speak it.

“I started rambling off in Spanish because that’s my natural language,’’ Martin said. “I could tell the way he’s looking at me that something wasn’t right. When I finished that great first three or four sentences, he looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I don’t speak Spanish.’ You can imagine how I felt.’’

As for the on-court act, one that he promised to try to improve this season when he memorably vowed to clean up his own salty language if his student section would do the same, Martin makes no apologies.

“I’ve got my own way of doing things,’’ he said. “It was the way I was raised. I’m a little emotional. I’m not scared to show my emotion in public. Some guys are real emotional in private and they have a public personality. With me, what you see is what you get.’’

Who to watch: Kansas State’s Jamar Samuels. The Wildcats’ second-leading scorer was in the witness protection program against Southern Miss, making just one free throw and worse, taking zero shots from the floor. That can’t happen again. It puts too much pressure on Rodney McGruder and it doesn’t lead to good results for K-State. In six of the Wildcats’ 10 losses, Samuels failed to score in double digits.

But more critically in this particular game, Kansas State has to get some inside play against the Orange and try to establish Samuels against the replacements in the Syracuse lineup.

Syracuse’s Kris Joseph. The Orange senior is the leading scorer and de facto leader, but hasn’t played like that lately. From the Big East tournament to the NCAA tournament first round, Joseph is just 10-of-33.

That’s got to change, a point of emphasis that even Boeheim has stressed, insisting that the Orange will only go as far as Joseph and Scoop Jardine take them.

What to watch: The 3-point line. Kansas State is not a very good 3-point shooting team, hitting only 34 percent from the arc and making just 5.6 per game. Syracuse played its way to this point with its defense, in particular its defense on the arc. Teams hit only 30 percent on average against the Orange.

Of course much of that was with Fab Melo in the lineup, when the big man’s size allowed Syracuse to really stretch that zone. The Orange got back to that late against UNC Asheville, but that was after the Bulldogs already had done enough damage from the arc to make it a game.

K-State is going to have to drain some 3s in order to crack the zone, but the Orange are going to have to stretch wider, making the middle a little more vulnerable with Rakeem Christmas instead of Melo.

No. 2 seed Ohio State (28-7) vs. No. 7 Gonzaga (26-6), 2:45 p.m. ET

Asked how he thinks Ohio State, his third-round foe, views his team, Robert Sacre smiled.

He then rambled on about how the Buckeyes probably think his team is like the “United Nations, a bunch of guys from all over coming together to make it work,’’ before concluding that he’s certain the Buckeyes respected his team.

Which is true. Ohio State does respect Gonzaga.

But what Sacre danced around, what he wouldn’t say is what everyone always thinks and says about the Zags: they’re soft.

Big Ten equals brawn.

West Coast Conference equals finesses (a euphemism for soft).

“We played two Big Ten teams, Illinois and Michigan State, tough and came out of those, I think, showing who we were,’’ Sacre said. “But everybody expected us to lose those games and everyone still expects us to lose now.’’

The perception really is all wrong. The truth is, Ohio State scores more points than the Zags (75.1 to 74) and shoots better from the floor (48.6 percent to 47 percent), while soft Gonzaga actually outrebounds the Buckeyes (37.1 to 36.8)

And this soft team annually traverses the country to play just about anyone anywhere. Along with those two Big Ten games, Gonzaga this season played Notre Dame, Arizona, Butler and Xavier. Not exactly a pansy schedule.

“There’s nothing we can do about it; it’s the nature of the beast,’’ Sacre said. “All we can do is play basketball.’’

Which brings us to Saturday.

Ohio State will try to ground the more uptempo Zags into the ground and most figure Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas will make life miserable for Elias Harris and Sacre.

If they can stand their ground, they might just be able to rewrite their own script.

Who to watch: Gonzaga’s Harris, who could be the Zags’ X factor. He has to keep track of OSU's Thomas, no easy task considering Thomas just went for a career-high 31, but Harris has the size and athleticism to make it interesting. More critical, with Kevin Pangos trying to get away from Aaron Craft and Sacre preoccupied by Sullinger, Harris needs to score.

Ohio State’s William Buford. For the same reasons as Harris, Buford is an X factor for the Buckeyes. The team’s third-leading scorer can be dominant (he dropped 29 on Purdue) and he can disappear (he came up with just four a night later against Michigan State). In this game, the senior needs to take charge and take advantage if he’s left alone.

What to watch: The frontcourt battle will get a lot of attention, but the game might be won or lost in the backcourt. That’s where Pangos will have to tango with Craft, one of the best defensive point guards in the game. Pangos has been a key offensive component for the Zags this season, averaging 13.8 points per game. They need him to score against the Buckeyes, but more critical, Pangos has to take care of the ball. He’s cut down on his turnovers considerably in recent weeks but has had his share of rough nights against more physical guards -- coughing it up five times against Xavier and Tu Holloway, for example.

PITTSBURGH -- Quick thoughts from Kansas State's 70-64 victory over Southern Mississippi in the second round:

Overview: Frank Martin likes to say his team is one of the hardest working in the country. Kansas State needed to be that and more against an undersized Southern Miss team that refused to go away.

The Wildcats, bigger at virtually every position, looked ready to dominate early, building a 21-12 lead. But undeterred, Southern Miss drove into the gut of the Kansas State defense, pushing to the basket to take the lead and make it a ballgame.

Once in, the Golden Eagles never got out.

Credit Southern Miss for being scrappy, as Larry Eustachy’s crew has been all season, but this by no means was a great effort by Kansas State. Despite a ridiculous size advantage, the Wildcats managed to get outrebounded, 34-31.

Were it not for the heroics of Rodney McGruder, this would have been a quick exit for the Wildcats.

Turning point: This game didn’t really have a turning point so much as it had a sigh of relief for Kansas State. Angel Rodriguez hit one of two free throws with 57 seconds left to put the Wildcats up 65-61. On the next possession, Darnell Dodson’s baseline 3 fell short and the rebound bounced back to Jamar Samuels. Rodriquez, fouled immediately, drained both to seal the victory.

Key player: With Samuels having little impact, the onus fell on the shoulders of McGruder. He did not disappoint. The junior scored 30 points, practically carrying Kansas State to the third round. McGruder has been terrific all season -- he has scored in single digits just once -- and he was especially good when it mattered most. An extra nod to Jordan Henriquez, who picked up the inside game with Samuels on the bench. Henriquez finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.

Key stat: Usually a very good free throw shooting team (the Golden Eagles hit 74 percent on the season), Southern Miss struggled at the line, and in a close game that made all the difference. USM was just 12-of-17, with Maurice Bolden missing four in a row with the game tied.

Miscellaneous: In the search for progress department -- in the Golden Eagles' only two other NCAA tournament appearances, they could not keep it close. In 1990, fourth-seeded Southern Miss lost to La Salle 79-63, and in 1991 sixth-seeded N.C. State tagged a 114-85 loss on the Golden Eagles. ... Jamar Samuels was hardly a factor. The K-State senior picked up his third foul early in the second half and got into the scoring column thanks to a free throw with only 14 seconds left. He did have seven rebounds. He’ll need to be a lot better in the next round, especially if the Wildcats face Syracuse.

What’s next: Kansas State will face either Syracuse or UNC Asheville on Saturday. K-State now has won its first NCAA tourney game three years in a row and will try for its second Sweet 16 appearance in three years.


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Numerous times since becoming a basketball player, Baylor’s Perry Jones has received cheers after a thunderous dunk or a shot to win a game.

But he’s never heard applause on an airplane.

Or at least he hadn’t until this week.

As soon as Jones set foot on the team charter Tuesday, his Baylor teammates sprung from their seats and gave him a standing ovation. The occasion? Jones, a 6-foot-11 sophomore, was officially on his way to his first Big 12 tournament after being declared ineligible for the event a year ago.

His debut was a memorable one, as Jones finished with a career-high 31 points and 11 rebounds in Baylor’s 82-74 victory over Kansas State on Thursday.

“Our monster came to play today,” Baylor forward Quincy Acy said.

The performance couldn’t have come at a better time for Jones, who is often criticized for playing “soft” and passive. Even though he’s still projected as a top-10 pick in this summer’s NBA draft, Jones is the first to admit that he hasn’t always performed up to his potential during the past few months.

That all changed Thursday.

Dunks on putbacks, 3-pointers, baseline jumpers, reverse layups in traffic ... Jones scored in just about every way imaginable in what was arguably the best performance of his career. Jones’ effort was even more impressive considering it came against one of the Big 12‘s most physical teams.

“I opened up my whole arsenal,” said Jones, who had 21 points at intermission. “I guess I was just in a zone. My teammates told me to go out there and do what I know I can do.”

[+] EnlargePerry Jones III
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelCriticized for being passive at times, Baylor's Perry Jones punished K-State on Thursday.
Jones’ success was uplifting to the Bears, who have watched all season as Jones endured jabs on the Internet and from the media about his less-than-assertive play. Jones also took a hit last season when he was suspended for the Big 12 tournament after the NCAA deemed that his family had received impermissible benefits from an AAU coach while Jones was in high school.

Only recently, in a story on ESPN.com, did Jones say that the “benefit” was a small loan to help make a mortgage payment so he and his family could avoid losing their house and becoming homeless, a scenario they had already encountered several times throughout his childhood.

“To see him smiling out there on the court was a big change,” guard A.J. Walton said. “He’s getting back to being the real Perry Jones.”

Baylor coach Scott Drew agreed.

“Throughout the year he’s received a lot of negativity,” said Drew, whose team improved to 26-5. “We’ve all shared it with him. Everybody loves Perry.”

Except for maybe the Wildcats, who trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half before a flurry of late 3-pointers made the game seem closer than it truly was. Baylor shot 57 percent and outrebounded K-State 32-26.

Kansas State coach Frank Martin called the Bears a “Final Four-contending team.” And forward Jordan Henriquez -- who had 22 points, 14 boards and four blocks -- was highly complimentary of Jones.

“He’s a good player,” Henriquez said. “They all said he’s a pro, and he came out tonight and played like it from the 40-minute mark.”

The question now is whether Jones and his teammates can turn in another banner effort in Friday’s semifinal against regular-season champion Kansas. The Jayhawks own two victories over the Bears by an average of 16 points.

“We can’t lay down,” Acy said. “If we get punched in the face we’ve got to get back up and keep fighting.”

Jones reminded everyone on Thursday that he was more than capable of doing just that. If he plays that way Friday -- and during the NCAA tournament -- the potential is limitless for Baylor.

“He just needs to keep thinking positive things,” point guard Pierre Jackson said. “I think he’s the best player in the nation. I say it every day. He’s the best player in the nation. He showed that today.”

Behind the box scores: Monday's games

February, 14, 2012
2/14/12
6:39
AM ET
A scan of the college basketball box scores each night guarantees all kinds of statistical oddities and standout performances. Here are some we found from Monday:

Kansas 59, Kansas State 53
Kansas’ Jeff Withey had nine blocks and Kansas State’s Jordan Henriquez had six blocks Monday night. They are the second pair of opposing players each with at least six blocks in the same game this season. On Dec. 31, Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis each had six blocks.

Belmont 106, Stetson 93
Belmont shot 12-for-20 (60 percent) on 3-pointers and 20-for-21 on free throws (95.2 percent) en route to scoring 106 points in Monday’s win. The Bruins are the first team this season to shoot at least 60 percent from 3 and 90 percent from the foul line, taking at least 20 attempts from each. The last team to accomplish that against a Division I opponent was Arizona on Feb. 12, 2009, against USC.

Utah Valley 70, Montana Tech 60
Utah Valley committed just five fouls in the win, matching the fewest number of fouls committed by a team this season. Boston College (Dec. 11) and Portland State (Dec. 3) are the others.

Conference power rankings: Big 12

January, 23, 2012
1/23/12
9:30
AM ET
Here are this week’s Big 12 power rankings:

1. Kansas: Bill Self said Saturday’s 69-66 victory at Texas was his team’s best win of the season. Not because the Jayhawks played particularly well against the struggling Longhorns, but because they found a way to grind out a victory in a tough road environment. Kansas is 36-7 in Big 12 road games in the past five-plus seasons.

2. Missouri: Ricardo Ratliffe scored 27 points in Saturday’s 89-88 win at Baylor, but many of those came on easy baskets against the Bears’ soft interior defense. The bigger story was the performance of point guard Phil Pressey, who had 18 points, seven assists and six steals in the Tigers’ most impressive victory of the season.

3. Baylor: Saturday’s 89-88 loss to Missouri was more lopsided than the final score indicates. The Bears were outscored 14-0 on second-chance points in the first half, when they were out-toughed and out-hustled in the paint by the undersized Tigers. The Bears trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half. Perry Jones III has a nagging ankle injury that has limited his performance the past two games.

4. Iowa State: Success in its next three games (at Texas and at home against Kansas and K-State) would go a long way toward improving the NCAA tournament hopes of a Cyclones team that is 14-5 overall and 4-2 in league play. Juco transfer Tyrus McGee had six 3-pointers in a 20-point effort in Saturday’s win at Texas Tech.

5. Kansas State: The Wildcats have won their last two games (against Texas and Oklahoma State), but their free-throw shooting has been abysmal. Frank Martin’s squad has made just 44 of its last 79 attempts from the foul stripe (55.7 percent). Center Jordan Henriquez has been suspended indefinitely.

6. Texas: The Longhorns are improving, but it hasn’t shown up in the win column. Texas’ last two losses (to K-State and Kansas) have come by a combined seven points. Freshman guard Sheldon McClellan is averaging 15 points in his last two games.

7. Texas A&M: Billy Kennedy’s team got a huge confidence boost when it defeated Oklahoma in overtime Saturday in College Station. It may be short-lived. Three of the Aggies’ next four games are against Kansas, Baylor and Kansas State. Khris Middleton, who is regarded as Texas A&M’s top player, missed most of Saturday’s game after bumping knees with a teammate and is questionable for Monday’s game at Kansas.

8. Oklahoma: The Sooners have a huge chance to regain some momentum when they host Baylor on Tuesday. Forward Romero Osby is averaging 17.3 points in his last three games, but he may have trouble against the Bears’ size and length. Upcoming road games at Kansas State (Saturday) and Kansas (Feb. 1) won’t be easy.

9. Oklahoma State: The undermanned Cowboys turned in an impressive performance before losing at Iowa State on a buzzer-beater last week. Saturday they fell at home to Kansas State for their third straight loss. Missouri visits Stillwater on Wednesday. The Cowboys are 9-10 overall.

10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are 0-6 in Big 12 play, and their losses have come by an average of 17 points. Billy Gillispie’s squad averages just 63.1 points per game. The biggest question the rest of the way will be whether Texas Tech can get a conference win. Its best chance may be at home against Oklahoma State on Jan. 31.

Tougher Jones, Baylor stay undefeated

January, 11, 2012
1/11/12
1:52
AM ET


MANHATTAN, Kan. — For years he has been hailed as a future NBA lottery pick. Baylor’s Perry Jones III is a phenom, professional scouts have said, an athletic freak.

Lately, though, the 6-foot-11 forward whom some have labeled as the most talented player in America has heard a new set of adjectives to describe his game.

Timid.

Passive.

Soft.

“Every day someone asks me, ‘Is Perry going to get any tougher?’” Bears coach Scott Drew said. “I think he answered that question tonight.”

Indeed, in one of the most intense games of the college basketball season to date, Jones put on his best scowl and muscled up when Baylor needed him most in a 75-73 victory over Kansas State at Bramlage Coliseum.

[+] EnlargePerry Jones
Scott Sewell/US PresswirePerry Jones' 17 points helped Baylor remain undefeated.
Jones scored a team-high 17 points, but his biggest moment came when he fought off K-State forward Jamar Samuels to rebound a missed 3-pointer by teammate Brady Heslip with 26 seconds remaining and Baylor leading 74-73. Jones was immediately fouled, and he split a pair of free throws to give the Bears a two-point cushion.

Drew couldn’t help but scream and pump his fist when time expired after Kansas State failed to score on its final possession. At 16-0, fourth-ranked Baylor remains one of three undefeated teams in college basketball. And as for Jones, who snared a game-high 8 rebounds?

“No one can say he’s not tough now,” Baylor forward Quincy Acy said. “For people to call him soft ... he just [has] taken that and ran with it.”

In some ways, Baylor has, too.

Much like their All-America candidate, the Bears have spent much of the past two seasons listening to fans and pundits question their focus and heart. Last season they were ranked as high as ninth but floundered down the stretch and failed to make the NCAA tournament.

Even during the early portions of this season there were times when it seemed as though the Bears needed to develop a mean streak -- especially in the paint, where Baylor boasts one of the most talented front lines in college basketball with Jones, Acy and Quincy Miller. Getting outrebounded by undersized squads such as BYU was inexcusable.

“It seems like every time we’re picked to lose, it’s because we’re not tough enough,” Jones said.

No. 18 Kansas State -- which was fresh off a blowout of then-unbeaten Missouri -- probably begs to differ after Tuesday.

Much like Baylor, Frank Martin’s squad boasts excellent size and depth in the paint, and the Wildcats are regarded yearly as one of the country’s most physical teams. But Kansas State outrebounded Baylor by only 28-26 on Tuesday, and the Bears outscored the Wildcats 36-32 in the paint.

Acy, though, said Baylor’s mental toughness -- and not the physical kind -- is the biggest reason for the Bears’ 16-0 start.

“Tough isn’t about going out and elbowing someone,” Acy said. “It’s about how you respond in certain situations when the crowd is against you. We’ve done a good job of persevering.”

A year ago, Baylor was 3-10 in games played outside of Waco, Texas. This season, the Bears are 7-0 in road and neutral-site games. Their points per game (65.8 to 73.1) and field-goal percentage (42.3 to 49.2) in those contests have improved dramatically from season to season.

Four of Baylor’s past five victories -- against BYU, West Virginia, Mississippi State and Kansas State -- have been decided by three points or less. None of those games were in Waco.

That’s poise, that’s toughness. Especially considering the added pressures that come along with being undefeated.

“We have a target on our back,” Jones said. “We’re getting everyone’s A-game. It’s difficult, but it feels a lot better than losing, definitely.”

The reasons Baylor is playing with more moxie are plentiful. With a 10-man rotation, BU has one of the deepest benches in America. Fresh legs and spirits are always a good replacement for a worn-down teammate who is upset with himself because of a turnover or missed shot.

The Bears also have two strong tone-setters in Acy and junior-college transfer Pierre Jackson, a point guard who had 11 assists Tuesday. Jackson’s fearlessness and spunk -- he often lets out a “Woooo!” after a big play -- have been infectious to his teammates, many of whom are beginning to take on his swagger.

Acy is the senior veteran who has reveled in the glory of advancing to the Elite Eight and felt the disappointment of missing the NCAA tournament one year later.

“We try not to pay too much attention to [our rankings],” Acy said. “Last year we got a little fame and we got embarrassed a couple of times. I stressed to the guys that we shouldn’t get caught up in the rankings and all that. Every game, we’ve got to play like we’ve got something to lose, like we have a target on our back.”

The Bears certainly did against Kansas State, when they trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half. Baylor fought back and trailed by only two at intermission.

Numerous Baylor players came up with clutch plays in the second half of a game that featured six ties and 10 leads changes.

Moments after K-State’s Will Spradling hit a 3-pointer to put his team ahead 63-62, freshman Miller responded with a 3-pointer on the other end to help Baylor regain the lead and quiet the crowd.

Soon after, KSU looked as though it may pull away when Henriquez swished a pair of foul shots that made it 71-67, but Heslip did a nice job of drawing contact on the Bears’ ensuing possession. He went to the free-throw line and made it a two-point game again.

“Guys didn’t get mad at each other,” Jones said. “We still played basketball the way we know how to play. When we see someone down we say, ‘C’mon, we’ve got to do this for 40 minutes. We’ve got to grind. There’s no time for sulking.’”

[+] EnlargePierre Jackson
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesWith 10 points and 11 assists, Pierre Jackson was the glue that held Baylor together against Kansas State.
Acy scored five consecutive points -- four of which came as a result of his own steals -- to turn a 71-69 deficit into a 74-71 lead. A basket by Kansas State’s Rodney McGruder made it 74-73 with 2:04 remaining.

The only other point of the game came on Jones’ free throw with 20 seconds remaining following his heroic rebound.

Kansas State still had a chance to win or force a tie, and it looked as though it would happen when freshman point guard Angel Rodriguez broke free for what appeared to be an easy layup. But at the last moment, Baylor’s A.J. Walton ripped the ball away from Rodriguez with 3 seconds remaining.

The ball sailed out of bounds, and the Wildcats’ hopes died moments later when Acy got a hand on Rodriguez’s high-arching entry pass to Samuels and batted toward the other end of the court. Time expired as Kansas State chased down the loose ball.

“We assumed they were going to throw a lob because of the time,” Acy said. “They had run that play a couple of other times earlier in the game. I was fortunate to tip it and let the clock run out.”

Martin, whose team fell to 12-3 overall and 1-2 in Big 12 play, couldn’t have been more dejected after the game, mainly because the Wildcats had 20 turnovers.

“The guys wearing our uniforms threw the ball to the guys wearing their uniforms so they could go down and dunk,” Martin said. “For us not to protect our home court and not close this game out because of a comedy of plays is embarrassing.”

The win was easily Baylor’s biggest of the season -- and possibly one of the monumental of the Scott Drew era. Bramlage Coliseum is regarded as one of the toughest places to play in the country. Other than Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse, the Bears won’t encounter a louder, more difficult road environment all season.

Drew also realizes his squad beat an exceptional team in Kansas State, whose only two losses before Tuesday were to West Virginia (in overtime) and Kansas.

“I’d put them up against anyone we’ve faced or up against any top-10 team in the nation,” Drew said. “They’re that good.”

People would’ve said the same thing about Baylor before Tuesday’s game. But now the narrative is different. Perry Jones and the Bears were always one of the nation’s most-talented teams.

Now they’re one of the toughest.

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.

[+] EnlargeWill Spradling
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelWill Spradling and Kansas State made executing difficult for Marcus Denmon and Missouri on Saturday.
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.”

SPONSORED HEADLINES