Originally Published: October 22, 2010

A Welcome Pressure: K-State As The Hunted

By Eamonn Brennan

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When he finally finished with his media day responsibilities -- after he was done being swarmed by TV cameras, recorders, and constant questions for over an hour -- Kansas State coach Frank Martin decided to play reporter.

He grabbed a TV news station microphone, turned to Baylor coach Scott Drew and asked Drew the same question he'd been hearing all day: "Tell me, Scott, how will YOUR team deal with the expectations?"

Drew laughed, Martin smiled -- a rare sight for the coach with the most notorious glare in college basketball -- and the assembled reporters chuckled.

It was, after all, a fair parody.

Martin and his charges answered some version of that question countless times throughout Thursday's Big 12 media day, and it's no mystery why. (And no, it's not just because reporters ask the same questions over and over. Though we do.) It's because, thanks to last season's breakout Elite Eight finish and the Big 12 coaches' near-unanimous vote of K-State as the preseason favorite, Martin's program finds itself in an unfamiliar position.

For the first time in decades, the Wildcats are the hunters, not the hunted.

"All the preseason stuff is great, especially when it comes from the coaches you compete against," Martin said. "That means the people that you have to go beat respect your players and the way they play, where they vote you No. 1. They don't do that because you're a nice guy."

Martin, who is as well-known for his sideline death stares as his team's recent success, does actually seem like a nice guy. Here in KC, he spent more time hobnobbing with fellow coaches, reporters and conference officials than any other coach in the building, the image of a social butterfly in deep contrast with his intimidating style.

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AP Photo/Paul SakumaCan Jacob Pullen and KSU unseat rival Kansas atop the Big 12?

But Martin is also blunt, especially when expressing his skepticism about the Wildcats' preseason hype, which only increased with a No. 3 national ranking in the ESPN/USA Today preseason coaches poll.

"We're still not there," he said. "We have a ways to go before any of that can become reality."

To be fair to his players, Kansas State doesn't have that far to go. The preseason hype is justified, thanks in large part to the return of guard Jacob Pullen, an All-American candidate and the preseason pick for Big 12 Player of the Year.

There's also forward Curtis Kelly, who flashed a potent mix of interior strength and finesse during K-State's thrilling 2010 tournament run. Kelly should team nicely with newcomer Freddy Asprilla, a junior college transfer who has a ready-made interior offensive game.

The Wildcats do have a few key losses to deal with. Among them are forward Luis Colon and defensive stalwart Dominique Sutton, but the biggest loss will no doubt be senior point guard Denis Clemente. The occasionally frustrating but always exciting Clemente was a major catalyst in last season's uptempo offense, and his absence leaves a major hole in the KSU backcourt. How Martin decides to fill that hole -- whether he decides to give Pullen more of the point guard duties -- could end up changing the dynamic of the team entirely.

The expectations game is a tricky business. Compared to rebounding rate and defensive efficiency, "pressure" is far more difficult to quantify. But Pullen is convinced his team needs to have the right attitude to succeed under the bright new lights.

"You've just got to adjust and make sure everyone in the locker room who has no clue understands that we're a target," Pullen said. "Once we understand that, we can start growing as a basketball team."

Martin, for his part, will continue to play the role of skeptic, waiting for the tangible accomplishments to follow. But, given the history of K-State basketball, and the sudden life his tenure has breathed into it, he has a right to relish the moment.

"I think that's what anyone who has pride works toward, is to try to be good," Martin said. "I don't like working to hide behind doors. If we're going to do this thing, let's do it right."

This Isn't The Spotlight Baylor Was Seeking

By Eamonn Brennan
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Scott Drew did his best to avoid the topic.

After taking the podium for his turn at a media day press conference, Drew delivered lengthy, bubbly opening remarks detailing the ins and outs of his personnel -- players that were looking good, returners who had improved, recruits that promised big things. He covered all the bases except one: LaceDarius Dunn.

This is no surprise, but it was telling all the same. Just six months removed from Baylor's best season in a half-century -- and in the process of welcoming to his first Big 12 media day the program's biggest recruit, well, ever -- Drew would no doubt have liked to focus on the positive. After Thursday's proceedings, it appears that won't be possible, at least not anytime soon.

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AP Photo/Rod AydelotteDunn averaged nearly 20 points a game for the Bears last season.

It took exactly one question for Dunn's name to come up. You know what they say about wishful thinking.

"The only thing I will comment on Lace is what we put out in the last release, and that is that he is back in school and we are pleased about that," Drew said. "He is attending practice but he remains indefinitely suspended as far as competition goes until further notice. That's all I can comment on right now because it is a legal matter."

Next question. Something about Perry Jones, the uber-recruit lining up for Baylor this season, perhaps? A gentle request for information about athletic forward Quincy Acy? A slight nudge in the direction of positivity?

No dice. Instead, inquisitor No. 2 asked Drew how he was "handling" the "public relations flip" in the wake of "certain things that have happened." Those certain things, beyond Dunn's indefinite suspension in the wake of an alleged domestic incident with his girlfriend, involve a recent FoxSports.com report implicating a Baylor assistant in threatening Colombian recruit Hanner Perea with visa troubles if Parea didn't choose to attend Baylor next fall. The report was never mentioned explicitly, but it, like Dunn's case, hung over the room.

"Coaches control what they can control," Drew said. "I know media is going to do a fair and honest job. So you put your trust in that."

Drew was eventually allowed to talk about the exciting aspects of Baylor's program, but the reprieve was short-lived. One question later, Drew was discussing bad PR and defending his program again, and it was hard not to see this as a developing trend. Dunn's case casts immediate aspersions on Baylor's 2010-11 team. The alleged recruiting abuse brings Drew's program into long-term doubt, even on a day when it signed two more ESPNU 100 recruits.

It's a potent combination, and it's one Drew will be dealing with all season -- no matter how exciting his team is.

As Selby Waits, Kansas Preps Its Plan B

By Eamonn Brennan

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- At first glance, the 2010-11 Jayhawks -- winners of six consecutive Big 12 titles -- look downright vincible.

That perception has a lot to do with the still-uncertain eligibility status of freshman point guard Josh Selby, a game-changing talent ranked in the top three of his class by ESPNU and as the best player in the country by other recruiting services. With a mere three weeks left before the start of the season, Kansas coach Bill Self said he's still no closer to hearing about Selby's eligibility than he was three weeks, or three months, ago.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it took another two or three weeks," Self told reporters Thursday. "It could take that long. We just don't know."

It's possible, given the NCAA's willingness to take its time with borderline eligibility cases, that Selby's case could stretch well into the start of the 2010-11 season. It's also possible the NCAA could force Selby to serve a suspension, a la Mississippi State forward Renardo Sidney, after his eligibility case is decided.

That raises an unusual and interesting prospect for the Jayhawks: the idea of preparing for a new season with two different teams.

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Brian Spurlock/US PresswireThe multitalented Selby has Kansas fans salivating. But will they get to see him play?

Selby's impact could be that great. If available, Selby would immediately become the team's go-to point guard, fast-break distributor and primary perimeter threat. In a Selby-less world, Self said he would expect guard Tyshawn Taylor to take on the majority of the team's point guard responsibilities. The coach also said the team would require more from veteran guard Brady Morningstar, 2009-10 redshirts Mario Little and Travis Releford, and defensive specialist Tyrel Reed.

For most teams, that sort of guard depth would be a dream scenario. For Kansas, it's Plan B.

In other words, with or without Selby, KU is still a very good team. The Jayhawks still have forward All-American candidate Marcus Morris, who said he added greater perimeter versatility and a scoring mentality to his already wide array of skills. Morris will be the team's primary offensive option, with or without Selby in the lineup.

But with former center Cole Aldrich no longer demanding swarms of interior defenders, Morris will face greater defensive attention than ever this season. Can he still be productive without Selby as a second fiddle?

"I know people are going to be looking at me, doubling me," Morris said. "That's fun for me. I want them to double-team me. I'm trying to add things to my game that, even if the other team focuses on me, I can still do some things."

Still, there's no doubt Self would love to have his surefire freshman star as quickly as possible. But until the NCAA makes its long-awaited call, Self will have Plan B ready.

"We're going to have to see how we are going to approach things as we learn more information," Self said. "It is unique. But it's something we knew we were going to have to deal with. It hasn't come as a shock."

Pat Knight: 'Get An Extension Or Get Fired'

By Eamonn Brennan
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Texas Tech coach Pat Knight almost never wears a suit. Consider him a hybrid of his sweater-clad father, former Indiana and Tech legend Bob Knight, and West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. The younger Knight feels more comfortable in a windbreaker.

So when Knight showed up (thanks, he said, to a push from new Red Raiders football coach Tommy Tuberville) in a tidy brown wool number Thursday -- he didn't go so far as to wear a tie; best to overhaul such things incrementally -- it was safe to wonder if he was trying to send a message.

He was. Mostly, it seemed, to himself.

"To me, this is either a 'get an extension or get fired' kind of year," Knight said. "This is a big year for me."

It's a quote bold enough to give coaching colleagues goose bumps. Few sideline contemporaries would dare to question their own job security in so brash a fashion. Such honesty must have sounded, to Knight's fellow coaches, like nails against a chalkboard.

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Ray Carlin/Icon SMIPat Knight is just 11-31 against the Big 12 since taking over at Texas Tech. But there's plenty of optimism about this season's veteran team.

But Knight wasn't just airing some private insecurities. He was backing his self-analysis with some serious confidence, too.

"Obviously, this is the best team I've had," he said. "I really think it could be one of the better teams we've had in the 10 years since I've been here."

Another quote, another bold statement. Two for two.

As for the latter, though, there are some signs that Knight's brazen stance isn't just hot air. Texas Tech returns perhaps the most veteran lineup in the Big 12. Seniors include forward Mike Singletary, forward D'walyn Roberts and guard John Roberson, all major returnees from a team that started 9-0 and beat then-No. 12 Washington before derailing in the Big 12 following a nagging injury to Roberts' knee. In all, the Red Raiders return six of their top seven scorers from last season's team.

Some of the chatter around media day had Texas Tech -- not Oklahoma State or Texas A&M -- as the most likely team outside the conference's top five to build a solid bid for the NCAA tournament. Excited yet?

Knight admitted his team has plenty to work on, namely defense, though Tech has developed a slightly unfair reputation in this regard. Based on scoring defense, TTU has been the worst team in the Big 12 for the past two years, but when you factor in pace -- the Red Raiders were ranked No. 19 in the nation in pace last season -- Tech's defense appears merely mediocre.

Still, flaws and all, expectations for this team are up, and Knight was clearly amped at media day.

"We get overlooked sometimes," he said. "It's tough with our location, we have one little newspaper. … It's something we have to overcome. If you win, people will take notice of you."

And if the Red Raiders don't, their coach might pay the price. He said so himself.


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