Wednesday night certainly had to be bittersweet for Kansas State basketball fans, especially those from McPherson.
Our native son, Brad Underwood, is in his first year as head coach at Oklahoma State after three wildly successful years at little-known Stephen F. Austin University, where he led the Lumberjacks to three straight NCAA appearances and shocking upsets of VCU and West Virginia.
Underwood, of course, played his final two years collegiately at Kansas State under the guidance of the legendary Jack Hartman after cutting his teeth as a Bullpup under famed Hall of Fame coach Jay Frazier.
Underwood’s Cowboys were an early season sensation by going 10-2 and winning some games they probably had no business winning considering the youth of his team and a new system being put in place.
But once Big 12 play started, some thought Underwood might be in over his head when OSU started 0-6.
But Underwood adjusted to his personnel as he realized his frenetic defensive style from SFA wasn’t playing well in the more-athletic Big 12. The result has been a stunning turnaround as OSU has won eight of its last nine to improve to 8-7 in the Big 12 and perhaps a No. 5 seed in the Big 12 Tournament. It is 19-9 overall and should O-State stun Kansas when the teams meet soon at Gallagher-Iba Arena – where KU always seems to throw up all over itself – that should punch the Cowboys’ ticket, if the reservation is not already made.
Underwood’s team was dreadful at the start on Wednesday. It was down 14 and Kansas State was playing inspired basketball since it knew its own NCAA hopes could be on the line.
But the Cowboys closed the first half with a rush, then crushed the direction-less Wildcats in the second half. As has been the common thread in most K-State losses, starting guards Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes were way off, combining for just 5 of 19 from the field. K-State shot only 37 percent on its home court, which makes you have to scratch your head.
Two weeks ago I had Kansas State making the tournament with no problems, especially considering the final five games on the schedule were against the so-called “lesser teams.” The ‘Cats were done with KU, Baylor, West Virginia and Iowa State, so I thought they could finish white-hot.
But 6-9 in the Big 12 and 17-11 overall screams of NIT. However, it’s the four straight losses at home that is crushing their hopes. That’s nearly half the number of games Bill Self has lost at Allen Field House in his entire career (10).
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber probably can’t sit on his seat it’s that hot. And when Kansas State fans see one of their precious own come in and win by double digits, it’s like a firestarter for criticism. Weber wasn’t the most popular hire when Frank Martin left, but when he led the Wildcats to a share of the Big 12 title in his first year (with Martin’s players), the waters were calmed.
Now, they’re beyond choppy. If Kansas State doesn’t finish with three wins to get to .500 in the Big 12 or win a game or two in the postseason tournament, Weber may be gone.