Originally Published: December 14, 2009

Kansas State ready to be player in Big 12

Katz By Andy Katz
ESPN.com
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Jacob PullenChris Cozzone/US PresswireKansas State's early play shows the Wildcats could be a contender in the Big 12.

Editor's note: This edition is for games played from Monday, Dec. 7, through Sunday, Dec. 13.

Team Of The Week: Kansas State

Last week: Beat Xavier, 71-56; won at UNLV (Orleans Arena), 95-80.

The top-ranked team in the country is in the state of Kansas, but one of the best-kept secrets is there as well: Kansas State.

The Wildcats' only loss this season was by 12 to a likely NCAA tournament-bound Ole Miss team in the semifinals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic in late November.

Since then, the Wildcats have ripped off six wins in a row, including an eight-point win over A-10 favorite Dayton, a 17-point win over Washington State (one of the better teams in a weak Pac-10), a 15-point win over A-10 contender Xavier and a 15-point win over 17th-ranked UNLV in Las Vegas. The game wasn't at the Thomas & Mack, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking this was anything but a true road game for the Wildcats. UNLV had just knocked off Louisville and won at Arizona in overtime. These are are solid wins for a K-State team looking for national recognition.

Well, here it is.

Kansas State is not just about Denis Clemente and his ability to get major numbers. Jacob Pullen is actually leading this team in scoring with 19 a game and made seven 3-pointers and scored 28 points in the win over the Runnin' Rebels. KSU coach Frank Martin has a team that's a good watch and will put up points, averaging more than 80 a game. The Wildcats play another true road game this week at Alabama on Saturday. Just ask Purdue if that's an easy task.

The search for the third-best team in the Big 12 is on, with the likely candidates being Kansas State or Texas A&M, unless Texas Tech can show staying power once league play begins. Oklahoma and Baylor can't be ruled out and neither should Missouri. But so far, the Wildcats and Aggies may have proven to be the most viable. The Wildcats' wins last week are putting them in position to be the ones to watch.

Player Of The Week: Greg Monroe

Greg Monroe was a lock for the lottery last season. But he knew he wasn't ready to be a contributor in the NBA. He will be now whenever he decides to leave.

His passing has never been a question, but Monroe needed to be more demonstrative. He was this week in what was the biggest week for Georgetown in the nonconference portion of the schedule.

Monroe had career-highs in points (24), shots (20) and rebounds (15) in a neutral-site win over Butler at Madison Square Garden in New York. He followed that up with a 15-point, seven-rebound, 14-shot outing in a win over Quincy Pondexter and No. 16 Washington at the Wooden Classic in Anaheim. Monroe had four steals in the two games and three blocked shots.

The offense runs through him, whether it's at the top of the key or rotating through him when he's moving. He has asserted himself quite nicely to the point where John Thompson III can rely on getting a star performance on a nightly basis. He got two of them this past week.

The Rest Of The Rotation

Jamel Jackson, Jr., G, Seton Hall: Jackson was averaging just 7 points a game and had just one point in 12 minutes in the previous outing against UMass. But something special occurred Saturday against VMI. He put together an unbelievable outing, scoring 40 points off the bench, making 12 3s and connecting on 14 of 17 shots. Wow. Who saw that happening?

Xavier Henry, Fr., F, Kansas: Henry gets dwarfed nationally by John Wall, but he's hardly an unknown -- and he's not playing like it either. Henry scored 31 in a win over La Salle in Kansas City, making an efficient 10-of-15 shots and 4-of-5 on 3s. Henry was always billed as a talented player to complement preseason all-Americans Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, but who had him scoring this much (18.0 ppg) and leading the consensus top-ranked Jayhawks?

John Wall, Fr., G, Kentucky: Wall continues to be the bookend player. He starts strong, finishes strong and the Wildcats win. Wall hit the decisive bucket to beat Connecticut in New York City in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night in the SEC/Big East Invitational. He finished with 25 points, making 10 of 16 shots and swiping six steals. His scoring numbers weren't as high (11) in a win at Indiana, but he had eight assists and just one turnover.

Jeremy Lin, Sr., G, Harvard: Lin had a super week after the previous Sunday saw him score 30 in a six-point loss at Connecticut. Lin scored 25 and was nearly untouchable for the Crimson in their second upset win at Boston College in as many seasons. Lin made 7 of 10 shots, 10 of 12 free throws and dished out four assists (with just two turnovers). He's easily one of the nation's best-kept secrets. Perhaps no more.

Get To Know ...

[+] Enlarge
AP Photo/Denis PoroySan Diego State's Kawhi Leonard collected 36 points and 30 boards in the last two games.

Kawhi Leonard, Fr., F, San Diego State: San Diego State has been on a tear of late, winning five straight games, and a lot of that has to do with Leonard. He scored 23 points and grabbed 18 boards in a win over Cal State Fullerton and then notched a solid 13 points and 12 boards in a win over Arizona.

Noruwa Agho, Soph., G, Columbia: He might be one of the best shooters in the country that no one is talking about. Agho is shooting 64.4 percent on 3s, with 29 made already this season. He scored 30 in a win at Wagner and then 23 in a win at Bryant, making 6 of 9 3s in the two games.

John Roberson, Jr., G, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders had a huge win at TCU to go to 9-0 under Pat Knight, and a lot of the credit has to go to Roberson. He scored 25 points last week in the win over Washington and then followed it up with 21 points and 10 assists and just four turnovers (and two steals) in the win over the Horned Frogs.

Kwadzo Ahelegbe, Jr., G, Northern Iowa: The Panthers have been cruising, save for a bad loss to DePaul in the Virgin Islands. Ahelegbe scored 32 on BC in St. Thomas and then cooled for two games and then rose back up to score 20 in a 17-point win over Iowa and a solid 14 in a win over Siena.

Tony Crocker, Sr., G, Oklahoma: So much of the preseason hype at OU was about Willie Warren and deservedly so. But Crocker has been more consistent. He had one game earlier this month when he went for 16 points and 16 boards in a win over Arkansas. Last week, Crocker scored 33 points (29 in the first half) and grabbed 13 boards in a win over Centenary and then followed that up with another double-double (12 points and 10 boards) in a road win at Utah.

Roman Martinez, Sr., F, New Mexico: The Lobos are easily one of the surprise teams this season at 10-0 with wins over Cal, a road win at San Diego and a neutral-court win over Texas A&M in Houston. Martinez, averaging 17 points a game, has been one of the primary reasons. He was stellar in scoring 26 points and making 8 of 9 3s (the only shots he attempted) in the win at USD and then scored 22 points with seven boards in the win over the Aggies. He made 4 of 7 3s in that game. The tough slate for the Lobos continues with a game against Creighton (yes, even with the Bluejays' struggles they're not easy), a trip to Oral Roberts (already beat Mizzou at home) and home games against Texas Tech and Dayton before opening the MWC at surging San Diego State.

Juan Fernandez, So., G, Temple: Fernandez made seven 3s and scored a career-high 33 points to put himself into Big Five lore with a stellar performance in leading the Owls to a 75-65 win over third-ranked Villanova. If only the Owls had come back and beaten Georgetown (lost by one in D.C.), they would have two of the best wins against the Big East this season.

Rhode Island: The Rams are now 8-1 after upsetting Boston College on Sunday night at Conte Forum. URI's only loss is at VCU by two, which is nothing to be ashamed of at this point in the season. Rhode Island beat rival Providence, and even though the Friars will finish near the bottom of the Big East, the Rams can claim to be the best in the state. URI has a tough slate ahead with a home game against surging Fairfield out of the MAAC, at Drexel's bandbox, and then against Oklahoma State at the Mohegan Sun on Jan. 2. The Rams start the A-10 by hosting Temple. Don't sleep on this squad, which loves to push the basketball and can create turnovers and turn them into points.

The Atlantic 10: The league knocked off two Big East teams Sunday (Temple over Villanova and XU over Cincy) and an ACC school (URI over BC). If you're looking for a beneficiary from the Pac-10's woes, then head east. The A-10 could ultimately have plenty to choose from among Dayton, Temple, Rhode Island, Xavier, Charlotte and Richmond if there is some clear separation come March between this lot and the rest.

Rivalry games: They are different. They just are. Cincinnati has more of a shot to make the NCAAs and win games than Xavier, but still lost in double overtime Sunday night at the Cintas Center. UTEP has more of a chance to win Conference USA than struggling New Mexico State does in the WAC, yet the Miners lost at home to the Aggies on Sunday night.

Places To Be This Week

Southaven, Miss., Wednesday: UTEP, my personal sleeper, travels to the suburbs of Memphis to play Ole Miss in an attempt to get some national recognition. This should be one of the better games of the week between two teams that have had little national profile so far but could make some noise in March.

Arlington, Texas, Saturday: Texas probably can't command the massive crowd that Michigan State could against North Carolina at Ford Field in Detroit last December. But we'll see if the Longhorn faithful come out in droves to see Carolina. This matchup could be repeated in Indianapolis or in the Elite Eight.

Lawrence, Kan., Saturday: Michigan has swung and missed in each of its high-profile games this season. No one expects the Wolverines to win this game, but a strong showing at KU would do wonders for a strong push in the Big Ten. This, by the way, is ESPN's Green Game, an attempt to prove that a broadcast can be done and a game put on with environment-first thinking.

New York City, Saturday: Gonzaga plays Duke for the second-time ever at Madison Square Garden. This will be yet another chance for some of the Zags' new stars like Elias Harris and Robert Sacre to be on a big stage. Zags guard Matt Bouldin is already having an All-American season. Gonzaga lost to Wake Forest and probably could use another signature win post-Maui. But Duke is always the home team in the New York/New Jersey area.

Sunrise, Fla., Saturday: Richmond has fallen to in-state schools William & Mary and VCU yet took out Missouri and Mississippi State in South Padre Island, Texas, and gets a shot at banged-up South Carolina on Wednesday. The Spiders have the potential to pick up another SEC win when they face Florida. The Gators are back to some extent and the Spiders could use another résumé win before they hit the A-10.

Seattle, Saturday: Washington doesn't have a win yet that it can shout about. There only a handful of opportunities left. Portland is one of them. The Pilots need this just as much after a successful 76 Classic week was subdued by losses to Portland State and Idaho.

Los Angeles, Saturday: There might be nothing of note here, but it will still be interesting to see if a Pac-10 team can beat an NCAA tournament team from a power-six conference. USC hosts Tennessee in one of the league's last opportunities.

Atlanta, Sunday: The ACC continues its early openings with Florida State at Georgia Tech (BC has already defeated Miami, and the FSU-Tech game is followed by NC State at Wake). Both teams need their bigs to be dominant throughout the season. Seeing how Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton of Florida State match up against Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal should be a good watch.

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