Category archive: Kansas State Wildcats
The Big 12 men's basketball coaches wrapped up their meetings Tuesday in Phoenix with its new members -- West Virginia and TCU -- replacing the departed Missouri and Texas A&M.
And the consensus was that the league is actually as strong as it's ever been.
"I never questioned the stability," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "The anchors were always the ones that wanted to keep it together -- Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. I know our AD [DeLoss Dodds] never wavered on keeping the league together. We're very comfortable with where it is right now."
The Big 12 made an easy switch in adding West Virginia and TCU. The league will continue as a 10-team conference for the foreseeable future with a new television agreement that will ensure even more status quo.
Kansas is coming off an appearance in the national title game. Baylor made an Elite Eight trip for the second time in three years. And four others made the NCAA tournament, meaning 60 percent of the league went dancing. The odds are high that the Big 12 can duplicate that percentage going forward.
And keeping the conference at 10 teams also ensures that the round-robin schedule will continue. The Big 12 is now the only conference among the power six that plays a true round-robin.
"It's the best basketball league in the country," Barnes said. "Divisional play wasn't fair. [With the round-robin] you play everybody twice and the rivalries continue, so we can build our league."
Even though his team won the conference yet again last season, Kansas coach Bill Self said the 18-game, round-robin schedule was "tiring."
"I thought it was long. My opinion is that the perfect number of league games is 16," he said. "But it was still great and it was better from a fan perspective to play everybody twice. But it's a long season."
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg called the league slate a "grind" but added that crowning a true champion was a "great format, and it really prepared you for the postseason."
New Kansas State coach Bruce Weber didn't have a true round-robin with Illinois in the Big Ten. But he did when he was at Southern Illinois in the Missouri Valley.
"As far as getting in the NCAA tournament, it helps your RPI and gets you more quality games," Weber said.
Trent Johnson, who came over from LSU to TCU, said he enjoyed the Pac-10's round-robin schedule while head coach at Stanford and that it "was the right way to determine a true champion."
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins agreed.
"It just makes it hard if you don't play everybody twice," Huggins said. "It's more fair to play everybody home-and-home. I think we went to Syracuse 12 years in a row. Well, maybe it was three, maybe four."
Weber, Johnson and Huggins all said they were impressed by the growing sense of stability in the Big 12.
As for going to Morgantown, a place that is 870 miles away from its nearest Big 12 neighbor (Iowa State)? Well, this is an era in which every team travels by charter, so by and large the coaches contacted by ESPN.com didn't seem all that concerned. Hoiberg said the trip to WVU will be looked at like the road trip to Colorado in the Big 12 before the Buffaloes left.
As for the Mountaineers' schedule, Huggins said he wouldn't be against playing several road games -- a Texas road trip for example -- in early January, when school isn't in session.
The Big 12 said that's unlikely, however.
"It's not my call," Huggins said. "I'll do what they want."
How many people can say they got to keep $3.9 million from their previous job (Illinois) and then were hired for a new gig (Kansas State) for $8.5 million over five years?
Well, probably only a handful of coaches in sports and Hollywood actors, among a few select professions.
"I had a good week last week," Weber said.
Weber was fired last month from Illinois. He said he was shocked over the way the season ended. But the Illini had floundered down the stretch and a blowout loss at Nebraska in February seemed to spell doom.
A season ago, he decided against pursuing openings at Oklahoma and Missouri. He wanted to stay as coach of the Illini and Meyers Leonard. His wife, Megan, didn't want to leave Champaign. Daughter Emily was finishing her freshman year at Illinois.
But the season spiraled out of control after a strong start that included wins over Gonzaga and Ohio State. Illinois lost 12 of its last 14 games.
"It was a tough time in my life," Weber said. "We coached our butts off but the team lost its spirit and lost its heart. They were still playing hard and trying. But we couldn't get over the hump. I thought if we won two games in the Big Ten tournament we would have had enough top-100 wins to get in the NCAA tournament.
"Whatever happened with my job, I wanted the kids to have success and the opportunity. I stayed there because of my family and the freshmen and the younger guys. It was hard."
But Weber was in a rare situation for a fired coach. He was a wanted commodity.
He could have gone back to Southern Illinois, where he once coached. Instead, he waited to see if there would be other offers.
And there were.
Weber detailed his week Wednesday night for ESPN.com.
Weber feared that he wouldn't get another job when the phone didn't ring. But suddenly, prior to the Final Four, there was interest. He had visited College of Charleston the week before and seriously considered the job. He has vacationed in South Carolina often.
"I thought this might be the place I end up but then things changed," Weber said. "My wife said 'Are you ready to not be at the highest level? I know you. You spent 27 years in the Big Ten [at Purdue and Illinois] and I want you to be happy and if you are go for it.' And then this came up."
It was kind of amazing. I went to New Orleans not expecting to be in Manhattan, Kansas [on Saturday].” -- Bruce Weber
It started last Monday and went into Tuesday. Weber was setting up a number of interviews. But then he heard that Kansas State coach Frank Martin was going to South Carolina and Weber could be a dark horse candidate for the Wildcats' job.
He was on the phone for eight or nine hours last Tuesday while his home in Champaign was prepped for a prospective buyer.
"Then all of a sudden, I was asked if I could meet with Kansas State in Chicago on Wednesday [before the Final Four]," Weber said.
He was supposed to meet for one hour, but it lasted three.
He returned home and pulled an all-nighter to get ready for a home inspection at 8 a.m. Thursday. He had to find a place for his dog during the day. And he had a flight to catch for New Orleans, where he had three or four more interviews for other jobs.
Kansas State asked him to meet on Friday, but it turned into another three-hour interview. Later on Friday, K-State president Kirk Schulz traveled to New Orleans to meet with Weber, along with athletic director John Currie. They met again later in the evening.
"And then after 11 p.m. or midnight, they offered me the job and asked if I could be a on a plane at 8 a.m. to pick up my wife [in Champaign] for a press conference at 3 p.m. [in Manhattan, Kan.]," Weber said. "It was kind of amazing. I went to New Orleans not expecting to be in Manhattan, Kansas [on Saturday]."
Weber met with the Kansas State players prior to the news conference.
The first player he met with was Rodney McGruder. Weber wanted to make sure that the junior guard was on board. He went to a reception with boosters Saturday night. By Sunday morning he was at a church in Manhattan for mass and then went out with a real estate agent.
Weber followed that with individual meetings with each returning Kansas State player, a must considering this Wildcats team has the core returning after losing to Syracuse in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Weber then headed back to Champaign on a private plane for Emily's cheerleading banquet. He packed up enough clothes and returned Monday morning to Manhattan for workouts with the players.
Since Monday, he has worked out the team three times.
"It's been so positive," Weber said. "Everyone has been really receptive. I know they could be wary about the new guy and what he's about, but they've been pretty good."
Weber offered at least one assistant position to a member of Martin's staff but was turned down. He hired former SIU head coach and his former assistant Chris Lowery. He said he will likely mix in some members of his former Illinois staff, but is waiting for answers including from top assistant Jay Price. But he needs to know sooner than later so he can move in another direction if need be. Weber said he will hire an assistant with different recruiting contacts, notably Texas ties.
But so far, less than a week on the job, he is convinced that no one is leaving from the team.
"I would tell you that I feel that everybody is going to stay," Weber said. "McGruder has been the best. I got ahold of him before I took the job ... to see how he would feel about things. He was very positive and that was a good step in making my decision."
Weber said that chatter over Will Spradling leaving is unfounded.
"Frank was great here, there was a great culture here," Weber said. "I figured when I got to Illinois I had to win the players over [that were recruited by Bill Self]. That's what I'm attacking now. I'm making sure the players are happy and if they're happy the fans will come."
Lowery reached out to Martin. Weber will soon. He will also seek out former Kansas State assistant Brad Underwood.
"We've got good athletes, a point guard, McGruder, we just need to mix in a few guys," Weber said. "It's a good group. They can't score or had trouble doing so during the year."
McGruder hasn't worked out yet with Weber due to stress fracture surgery on his foot. But he'll be back soon. Weber is looking for a transfer to fill out the recruiting class.
"Frank did really good things, so did [ex-Kansas State coach Bob Huggins]," Weber said. "I'm replacing a coach that was well liked and did good things. We've got to continue what he's done. That's the biggest thing."
Frank Martin is intense.
And by the definition of that word, you could easily describe him as tough.
But the Kansas State head coach knows the difference between being responsible and irresponsible. That's why the actions during the Cincinnati-Xavier brawl Saturday afternoon struck a nerve with him, like most associated with the sport.
"If you're on the street and not representing a university, a team or other people, then toughness is a little different than when you are representing a university,'' Martin said as he visited ESPN's campus Tuesday afternoon in Bristol. "The word 'tough' is not whether or not you're willing to fight. It means being able to do your job to the best of your abilities.
"It's your job to never lose sight of who you are and what you represent,'' Martin said. "You do your job, and you don't accept fear of anybody. But you don't cross the line, either.''
Martin said the fight between the Bearcats and Musketeers reminded him of a similar melee that he witnessed in 1990 as an assistant coach at Miami Senior High when his team was in a tournament in Ocala, Fla., against D.C. Dunbar.
"It was an ugly scene,'' Martin said. "It was a tremendous teaching point for me as a 23-year-old high school coach to never lose sight of what can happen. You can't let your players lose sight of who they represent.
"Everyone wants to talk about my intensity and my desire to get our teams to play hard. That's the way it should be. But I never get technical fouls -- only three in my career. My players don't get technical fouls. We're intense with each other. But we don't cross the line. We represent our university, the game of basketball and our sport. We represent something that is supposed to be an avenue to prevent people [from] acting like that and to teach people how to handle moments better than that. It's an unfortunate situation.''
Martin was an assistant under Bob Huggins when he was the head coach at Cincinnati. So he understands the intensity of the UC-XU rivalry.
"The two schools are so close [in proximity] and compete for the same social scene, but they have completely different student bodies,'' Martin said. "It's a rivalry that's deeper than the game. But there's no place for that. We have to preach to our guys to never cross the line and that toughness on the street is a different world than toughness in education.''
Martin said he wasn't surprised by the nastiness leading up to the game, but he also said that hiding behind a computer created some of the bitterness between the two schools that led up to the game.
"It's different than looking in someone's face and articulating that,'' Martin said of the Twitter banter. "Our youth today puts stuff out there that they wouldn't say in front of people. It creates unfortunate moments.''
Martin said that the officials failed to get control of the game Saturday by not issuing technical fouls for the trash-talking that was going on between players on the court and on the bench. Both coaches at Xavier and Cincinnati agree on this point, but Atlantic 10 coordinator of officials Reggie Greenwood said Monday that the officials were right in not calling any technical fouls for talking before the fight.
"If my players talk to the other bench, then I take them out of the game and they don't play again,'' Martin said. "I don't budge. Jamar Samuels got a T at Oklahoma State and didn't play, and [former player] Bill Walker got T at Nebraska, and he didn't play again. I have no room for that. I'm not trying to throw Chris Mack or Mick Cronin under. We all have to be on our own [players].''
Martin said that he feels for both coaches because what occurred last Saturday could happen to any coach -- even one who is as intense with his team and preaches controlled toughness the way Martin does.
"I fear being in that moment,'' Martin said. "I've been there [at Miami Senior HS], and it's not comfortable. It's an embarrassing situation. I feel for Mick. It's a difficult place to be in.
"But I don't blame the kids. The kids are only a product of what adults allow them to do,'' Martin said. "Those kids were in a difficult moment and didn't act the way we'd like. We have to, as adults, put our arms around them and teach them so that the next group does the right things and show why it happened and how it should not happen again.''
And if the decision were up to the men's basketball coaches (although it never is), they would rather see the balanced schedule continue, regardless of what Missouri decides to do with its conference affiliation.
The Big 12 has 10 remaining schools this season after losing Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12). So the conference finally was able to scrap the unbalanced schedule that was based on a north-south football split that saw Texas and Kansas playing only once every season. The need to have those two teams play twice was so real that Texas coach Rick Barnes said he looked into playing a nonconference game against the Jayhawks at one point.
Texas A&M is off to the SEC in 2012, but the Big 12 has already replaced the Aggies with TCU for next season. If Missouri were to leave at some point for the SEC, it would leave the Big 12 with nine schools. That's where Kansas coach Bill Self would stop, if it were up to him.
"I want nine, that's what I want, to choose to stay at nine," Self said. "That way we would have 16 league games and a round-robin instead of 18. If we don't do nine, then I'd rather do 12 for 16 games."
Multiple Big 12 sources said Mizzou is leaning toward a departure to the SEC, but there is still a chance that the Missouri board of curators could decide to stay in the Big 12 with the new revenue sharing and grant of rights for Tier I and Tier II television games.
If the Tigers leave, then the Big 12 has to decide if it wants to go to 10 (Self's wish of nine is highly unlikely) or bump up to 12. The choices for either are centered on West Virginia, Louisville and Cincinnati from the Big East and BYU, which is an independent in football and in the WCC for everything else.
"I'd like to stay at 10 for a bit and see what happens with it," Barnes said. "I'd love to see us at 10. I love the round robin. When I was in the ACC and Big East, we were at nine teams. As long as we keep Kansas, we're going to have a good league."
Barnes said that as Self walked by to give him a ribbing. But Barnes did say playing 16 games allows the Big 12 schools to play a "great non-league schedule."
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford wants to see the Big 12 pull an ACC and be proactive, going after elite basketball schools the way the ACC did with Pitt and Syracuse.
"I have so many mixed emotions here, but I'd love for Louisville, West Virginia and Cincinnati to come in for basketball and make us a 12-team league," Ford said. "But if we went 12 and went divisions, I wouldn't be a fan of that. I do like 10. I like that the schedule is fair. And I think it will be exciting for fans to see all the teams come through the gym. We'll have a true champion. A guy like me from Kentucky, I'd love to see Louisville. Boy, what a great basketball league you'd have. But we're in a good position now."
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is coming off a true round-robin schedule in the Mountain West while at UNLV. He doesn't want to see a change.
"It's a true champion," Kruger said. "It's good for the fans too. It's the best way to determine a championship."
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg agreed with that assessment. So, too, did Baylor's Scott Drew, Kansas State's Frank Martin and Texas Tech's Billy Gillispie.
The Pac-10 used to have a true champion, the ultimate grind of home-and-home with every school. But then the additions of Utah and Colorado meant there would be unbalanced scheduling. A true champ isn't a foreign concept and happens in various conferences in Division I. The Missouri Valley comes to mind.
Less is more for the men's basketball coaches. They'd like to see the league preserve something that they've coveted for some time -- a true home-and-home with every school.
This season -- Texas A&M's last -- will give the Big 12 the feeling of truly being a conference. If Missouri is in the league next season, then the Big 12 can experience two seasons of this so-called scheduling bliss.
Beyond that is still a great unknown. The basketball coaches don't have a vote. They have a voice and they have expressed it. But clearly, like almost everything else, this will be a football-driven decision.
That seems to be a common theme of late.
How could he not have been when the very real possibility of a temporarily homeless K-State loomed like a black cloud? Would the Cats and Kansas remain in the Big 12? Would they be the backup plan in the Pac-12 if Texas and Texas Tech didn't want to join Oklahoma and Oklahoma State? Would they end up in the Big East? Would KU dump Kansas State if the ACC called?
In the end, though, only Texas A&M left. And while there's still a chance Missouri bolts to the SEC, the Big 12 is now revisiting expanding beyond nine rather than an every-man-for-himself scramble to find a new home.
"It was frustrating at times -- the uncertainty,'' Martin said of conference affiliation. "But I thought we'd be OK.
"Our league is sticking together. We're in the middle of the country and it's easy to see why all these other leagues would be interested. But contrary to popular belief, I think our league now is so much stronger than five years ago. It's making our league leaders sit down and figure this out. We're going to be making more money than five years ago. Our presidents now have to engage with each other and move forward as a league.''
Conversations at the athletic director level occurred Tuesday in Grapevine, Texas, among the nine remaining Big 12 ADs. There is an expansion committee that will resume talking in the coming weeks with the likely targets coming from its original list of BYU, Louisville and West Virginia. Whether the Big 12 and/or those schools have mutual interest is still to be determined.
Martin said he'd like to see the Big 12 return to 12, even though this season the league will have a true round-robin schedule in its only season with 10 teams. Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) split after last season.
"Ten is the perfect scheduling scenario and when our league season ends we'll have the truest winner of any conference in America since we'll play everybody twice,'' Martin said. "I came from the Big East (where he was an assistant at Cincinnati under Bob Huggins) and I'm not saying we're better than the Big East, but every fan base at every school is absolutely nuts about their school. You don't have a game where you go into someone's arena and it's half full. It's a hard, hard league.''
Martin said he'd like to see the expansion turn to teams with similar traits. BYU, Louisville and West Virginia would certainly qualify. Brigham Young traditionally has had one of the most loyal followings in the West, and Louisville and West Virginia have two of the most devoted fan bases in the Big East.
"I want to make sure if we do grow that, whoever comes in, that school adds value,'' Martin said. "I want the schools the bring long-term credibility and substance. We want this league to continue to be bigger and stronger, because that's what makes this league so much fun. We don't play in empty arenas in men's basketball. If the Big 12 went in that direction [BYU, Louisville and West Virginia], then I don't care what anybody else says, you can't come close to the strength of that basketball league.''
Like some of the schools in the Big 12, it appeared Martin himself might be headed to the ACC this offseason. When Frank Haith left Miami to take the Missouri job, the hometown Hurricanes were looking for a coach and it seemed natural that Martin would be the leading candidate. He never publicly said he wanted the job, but he was the clear front-runner in the minds of many.
And he didn't exactly defuse those rumors with these comments to the Associated Press back in April:
"Everyone's reporting that my salary is $1.55 million. Actually, my salary is $1.1 million," he said. "Now, I'm an old high school teacher who was making 32 grand when I moved to Boston, and I'm extremely grateful and thankful for the salary I make right now. If I stayed the length of the [five-year] contract and I collect every bonus on the contract, it will average out to $1.55 [million]. And you know what? There is a chance that the University of Miami never called because they think I make 1.5. There's a chance just because it was released at 1.55 the University of Miami said, 'We can't call him. Why waste our time? We can't pay him.'"
Miami hired George Mason's Jim Larranaga.
And that's why it was surreal that a communication error with a security detail led to Martin not being allowed on the field last Saturday for an ESPNU on-camera interview during Kansas State's football win at Miami. UM associate athletic director Chris Freet said Tuesday that Martin was denied field access because of a new university policy that won't allow anyone but Miami players, staff and essential personnel to be on the Hurricanes' sideline. The policy was put in place in response to the scandal that rocked the university after an extensive investigation by Yahoo! Sports.
No harm, no foul ... right? Martin is still in a good spot, even without the Miami offer. He can probably win at a higher level by staying in Manhattan. The Wildcats were in the Elite Eight two seasons ago, and while last season was a bit of a disappointment, they still rallied in time to make another NCAA tourney appearance. KSU did lose its leader in Jacob Pullen, as well as recruiting ace Dalonte Hill, who left to become an assistant on Mark Turgeron's new staff at Maryland.
Kansas State won't be picked in the first tier with Baylor, Missouri, Texas A&M and Kansas. But the Wildcats will still be a pest in the Big 12, with a chance at a tournament bid.
"This may be the most athletic team we've had here,'' Martin said. "We are fast. When Denis Clemente was here we were fast, but now we're fast at all five positions. We've got guys who were complementary that now can accept frontline positions.''
Rodney McGruder tops that list -- one that includes Shane Southwell, Will Spradling and Jamar Samuels.
"We've got a nucleus of guys,'' Martin said. "We've got guys who have played big-time minutes. We don't have a guy who could do what [Pullen] did right now. We're not there yet, but we've got a chance.''
What a shame.
When Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) bolted, the league was left with 10 schools that are all on the upward trend. There are no bad teams. None. All of the schools are now fully committed to making men's basketball a premier sport. Finally, the Big 12 was going to have a true round-robin schedule in the sport. The Big 12 was going to be the newest and only major conference to play a balanced schedule.
And this season promises to deliver on one of the country's most competitive conference races.
But the Aggies will soon be gone for the SEC, if they can get over their legal woes, and the rest of the league is in serious doubt. If Oklahoma hadn't started the latest round of Big 12 exploration, nine remaining Big 12 schools would be together and all would be relatively well. But the Sooners are indeed exploring and that means four could bolt to the Pac-12, with Oklahoma leading Texas and those two schools dragging Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, too.
It's a tough pill to swallow for the men's basketball coaches at the remaining schools.
"Look at those nine teams in all major sports -- football, men's and women's basketball, baseball, I don't understand," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "What other league has what we do top to bottom?"
Added Kansas coach Bill Self: "I think every school but Iowa State [and Texas Tech] has been to the Elite Eight since 2004. No other league could probably say that."
Here are the facts the Big 12 likes to tout:
• The nine schools have combined for a total of 201 NCAA tournament appearances.
• Of the 115 NCAA victories in the history of the Big 12 (since 1996-97), a total of 109 wins (94.8 percent) have come from the nine teams that would make up the league if the Big 12 remained together.
• The Big 12 has earned 80 NCAA bids in its history (since 1996-97), all but nine (88.8 percent) have come from those nine schools.
• The Big 12 has 24 NCAA bids in the past four years and 42 since 2004. Only six of those bids came from one of the three other teams (Texas A&M).
• A total of 24 of the 26 consensus All-Americans in Big 12 history have come from the remaining nine schools.
So let's pause for a moment and actually consider what could be lost from a basketball standpoint if the remaining nine don't stay together
Kansas: This one is easy. KU is one of the five best programs in the country. Phog Allen is easily one of the top three venues in the sport. The Jayhawks consistently rank in the top 10. Bill Self won a national championship in 2008.
Texas: Rick Barnes has one of the best jobs in the country. Texas can pluck the best talent in the state or go elsewhere as it did with Kevin Durant and its host of Canadian imports (Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Myck Kabongo et al). The Longhorns are consistent winners, usually play a national schedule and are regulars in the NCAA tournament.
Kansas State: The Wildcats were dormant not long ago, but Frank Martin (with an opening assist from Bob Huggins) has helped resurrect the program and ensured that Kansas State is a regular in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats were in the Elite Eight two seasons ago. The passion for the Wildcats isn't equal to Kansas, but it's not too far behind anymore.
Baylor: The Bears were a disappointment a season ago but were in the Elite Eight in 2010. Baylor has hauled in some elite talent over the last few years, and it's clear that Scott Drew can get it done on the recruiting trail. The Bears already have the fifth-ranked class in the country lined up for 2012 and have a potential lottery pick (Perry Jones) suiting up for another year in Waco.
Iowa State: The Cyclones have hit a rough patch of late, but go back a few years and ask what opponents thought of going into Hilton Coliseum. They will tell you that it was one of the toughest environments in the league. Fred Hoiberg is going with a combination of transfers and new recruits. Let's see if that works. But you can't deny the talent he is bringing into Ames. If it works, Iowa State suddenly is relevant again.
Missouri: The Tigers have consistently had a winner in the region and been an Elite Eight team, despite coaching changes. If Frank Haith stays on despite the Miami allegations, he has an opportunity to continue the winning ways in Columbia. Athletic director Mike Alden is backing Haith, and that's a good sign for now. The Tigers have tremendous fan base, too.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys haven't been a Big 12 title team, but Travis Ford has had them as a regular pest in the league. Oklahoma State has as passionate a following as any of these schools, and Gallagher-Iba is a gem of an arena. Ford's recruiting has picked up, and the Cowboys are clearly on the rise.
Oklahoma: The Sooners are in a rebuilding mode after the gut of early entries, attrition and an NCAA investigation sent OU down to the bottom of the league. But this is a proud program that has had a history of national talent and success. Lon Kruger is an undervalued coach who has won wherever he has coached in college. There is apathy in the hoops fan base, but this program will trend upward under Kruger.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders haven't done much on the court lately, but they hired the right coach in Billy Gillispie. He has won in the state of Texas at UTEP and Texas A&M. He will win in Lubbock. The fan base needs to be prodded, but Gillispie will produce a product that will be a consistently decent team.
So that's what could've been.
"It would no question be an extremely strong basketball league," Ford said. "One of the positives of staying together, it keeps us all together in the region. Our rivalries would be strong. That will help with the excitement with the fans. I think it's a premier basketball league and this is the first year we're playing everybody twice. Even if it went to nine teams, it will be a battle every single night."
These schools have and will continue to produce strong, NBA-level talent. It would be too bad if they can't keep it all together.
"The Big 12 has had the most NBA lottery picks, first-round picks, total picks in the last four years and almost all of them have come from the nine schools left," Baylor coach Scott Drew said, clearly conscience of the league's talking points. "Since 2002, nine schools have had 17 Elite Eight teams and that's the most of any conference in the country. The second highest is the Big East with 14."
As you can tell, the Big 12 coaches are ready with ammunition. They don't have to be. Just look at the preseason top 25 when it comes out next month. More than likely, four of those remaining nine will be ranked -- Baylor, Missouri, Kansas and Texas (along with Texas A&M).
That speaks for itself.
The Hurricanes never called Martin, who grew up playing hoops across the street from the Orange Bowl.
There was a concerted effort by at least one representative of Martin's and plenty of his friends and followers in his hometown to get the Canes to hire the K-State coach as Frank Haith's replacement in Coral Gables.
The call never came. Miami made a run at Harvard's Tommy Amaker and then scooped up George Mason's Jim Larranaga in what turned out to be a surprise hire.
But Martin insists he wasn't scorned and said he's glad to still be in Manhattan, Kan., ready for another fight to prove the doubters wrong and to show that the Wildcats can sustain what he has built in the past four years, now sans his top assistant coach Dalonte Hill (who left for Maryland) and Mr. Everything Jacob Pullen.
"I'm excited for them," Martin said of the Hurricanes. "I'm not an alum but I grew up across the street, and everyone around there adopted Miami as their school.
"Only two things bothered me about the whole thing: No. 1 was that they portrayed it as a bad job, which is ridiculous. It's a great university. No. 2 was that there was so much talk about me and the job so I had to answer these questions. I was never contacted. I was never a candidate for the job. I was asked a question and I answered it. You try to be honest today, but they use it against you.''
The quote in question was when Martin clarified his salary to AP reporter Doug Tucker, saying: "Everyone's reporting that my salary is $1.55 million. Actually my salary is $1.1 million. Now, I'm an old high school teacher who was making 32 grand when I moved to Boston and I'm extremely grateful and thankful for the salary I make right now. If I stayed the length of the [five-year] contract and I collect every bonus in the contract it will average out to $1.55. And you know what? There's a chance that the University of Miami never called because they think I make $1.5. There's a chance just because it was released at $1.55 the University of Miami said, 'We can't call him. Why waste our time? We can't pay him.'''
Martin said he was humbled and flattered by how many people follow Kansas State in Miami, enough to push him for the position.
But he was emphatic about where he calls home now: "This is my home. I'm from down there and Kansas State is my home. I'm so excited about where I'm at and what we're going to do.''
Martin said he wasn't bothered that he was never a candidate at Miami, a job that would have paid him less in a league where it's harder to ascend to the top with North Carolina and Duke locked in as the prohibitive favorites on a yearly basis.
Sure, Kansas and Texas are the standard-bearers in the Big 12. But Kansas State has found its place with Martin, reaching the Elite Eight in 2010 and still being a formidable player a year ago, despite an up-and-down season with multiple suspensions of senior Curtis Kelly, one for Pullen, and Freddy Asprilla and Wally Judge leaving the team during the season.
And when it comes to K-State and Miami, you can't even begin to compare the fan bases, the passion for the sport, the history and the home-court advantage. South Florida and Eastern Kansas are another matter, but that's not always an issue for a college coach. Martin can win at Kansas State. That matters. At Miami, the obstacles are still formidable based on the relative lack of interest and the mountain to climb within the ACC.
"We've won more games in the last four years  than any four-year period in Kansas State and we have a top-20 program in the history of college basketball,'' Martin said.
But Martin is faced with the first real transition period as a head coach just as the Big 12 has been reduced to 10 teams and will play a true round-robin schedule, meaning two games against Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor every season to go along with the two against Kansas and Missouri that have been on the schedule.
Pullen is gone. Hill is out.
"He's the first person to leave our staff since we got here,'' said Martin, who is still working on a replacement. "The most important thing has been stability on a staff. But the kids can trust a different voice. There will be an adjustment.''
Hill had a pipeline to the DC-Baltimore area, one he will cultivate for Mark Turgeon at Maryland. The Wildcats' most recognizable player from the area was Michael Beasley, who played for Martin in his first season when he was promoted to replace Bob Huggins once Huggins went home to his alma mater at West Virginia after one season in Manhattan.
Hill also lured DC-area players Rodney McGruder, who will be the centerpiece of next season's team, as well as returning forward Jamar Samuels and Judge, who left midway through the season and eventually transferred to Rutgers.
"We've had a transition every year,'' Martin said. "When I got the job they said it was a joke. Then Beasley left and I was going to get fired in six months without Beasley. Then we went out and won games. But then we went to the NIT and I was going to get fired because we weren't very good. And then we nearly won the whole thing and lost in the Elite Eight. But then maybe we couldn't quite get it done last year and Jacob Pullen struggled but then we turned it around, won big games and lost a heartbreaker to Wisconsin [in the NCAA tournament].''
Martin is 6-3 in three NCAA tournament appearances. Before his arrival, Kansas State hadn't been in the tournament three times in a four-year period since 1986-90. The last NCAA appearance before Martin was 10 years earlier in 1996.
"Now they say we stink and we have a bunch of nobodies,'' Martin said.
Not sure who "they" are, but Kansas State certainly will be projected in the Big 12 mix, or at least in the second tier behind Texas A&M, Baylor, Missouri, Kansas and Texas -- all of which have some questions to be answered and are hardly way ahead of KSU.
The Wildcats essentially lose Pullen and Kelly from last season's team. That hurts. But McGruder, Samuels, Will Spradling and Shane Southwell are all more than capable of being a core group that can keep this team in the running for an NCAA bid. The Cats also have a class of six newcomers.
"I'm excited about our team,'' Martin said.
During all the Miami chatter, he certainly had plenty to keep him occupied.
Martin hurt his knee in January. He couldn't sleep and knew he needed surgery after the season. He had the surgery, but soon after he found himself with intense pain in his right calf. He went to the doctor and it was discovered that he had a blood clot. He had to immediately be put on blood thinners and took medication for five days, every 12 hours. He will remain on the blood thinners for a three-month period.
Martin has had seven or maybe eight knee surgeries -- he's lost count at this point -- and this is the first time a blood clot occurred.
But the initial scare is over. And the one hometown job that may have piqued his curiosity is filled. And you know what? He's fine with that. He's ready for everyone else to doubt him again.
"I couldn't be happier where I'm at,'' Martin said. "We've done a lot of great things in four years here. I've got a great job and a great administration.''
HOUSTON -- Quick hitters on the day of the national championship game:
• BYU's Dave Rose would have considered leaving the Cougars despite the school's most successful season since the Danny Ainge era. But BYU showed a high level of commitment it hasn't in the past with the men's basketball program, and offered Rose, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, a significant pay raise. Terms weren't disclosed, but Rose is likely to accept it. BYU has traditionally underpaid its men's basketball coaches, believing that they want to stay because they are at BYU. With the move to the WCC next season, the Cougars can't afford to let Rose leave. The program is rolling with five straight NCAA tournament appearances and a Sweet 16 appearance and needs to feed off the Jimmer Fredette phenomenon.
• Rose's success is one of the reasons that top assistant Dave Rice is a legitimate candidate at his alma mater, UNLV. If UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood is willing to go the assistant route with someone who has a tie to UNLV, then Rice and Reggie Theus, another former Jerry Tarkanian player, make for interesting choices. Theus was a productive coach at New Mexico State before going back to the NBA. Rice and Theus come from two different Tark eras at Vegas. The Rebels' opening is a high-quality gig and could command plenty of attention, as it has in the past from top head coaches.
• Missouri's hiring of Frank Haith was a bit a of surprise after Tigers athletic director Mike Alden made a failed play for Purdue's Matt Painter. Alden was adamant that he had to get a coach who would fit at Missouri. You can debate Haith's level of success at Miami (he reached one NCAA tournament and was unable to get a bid this season with a talented backcourt), but Haith has strong ties to the region. He was an assistant under Texas coach Rick Barnes and had previously talked to Oklahoma, although it wasn't a serious conversation. Haith is well respected and well liked. He recruits at a high level and had one of the top big men in the ACC for next season returning at Miami in Reggie Johnson. At Missouria, he will have a team that's ready to win next season with possibly everyone returning except senior Justin Safford. Haith should and must win with this veteran team in Columbia. In 2012-13, the pressure will be on to recruit at a high level and to compete with Kansas and Texas, the two anchors in the league, Kansas State and Texas A&M, two upstarts that aren't going away, and a Baylor team that continues to recruit at a high level and reached the Elite Eight in 2010.
• Kansas State coach Frank Martin is from Miami, but he has a better job now than a potential one in Coral Gables. Martin would have to be lured to a big-time gig to leave Kansas State. Would NC State qualify? Certainly, but he doesn't have to chase. Miami has never paid well enough or shown the commitment to men's basketball the way a school like Kansas State has.
• A source with direct knowledge of the situation said North Carolina coach Roy Williams will meet with Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller individually on Tuesday in Chapel Hill to review what NBA personnel have told Williams about their draft status. The source said no decisions have been made but would likely be announced later in the week. The source said it would be premature to say which way the players are leaning at this point.
• Conference commissioners and at least one coach from all 31 conferences met Saturday to discuss the recruiting calendar in the spring and summer. The consensus is that there will be some sort of July recruiting. Coaches want some access in April and more access to their players. The ideal situation would be getting four days in April and then 16 in July, while taking away the end of the month that has been a drain on coaches and players as they trek across the country. WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich led the meeting, and said there was good discussion. However, no formal proposal will be made until the end of the summer.
Quick thoughts for the final week of the regular season:
• If Kansas State continues on its current pace and finishes in third place in the Big 12, why shouldn't Frank Martin be coach of the year in the league? Martin has dealt with multiple suspensions and defections and has the Wildcats positioned to be a threat to win the Big 12 conference tournament and go into the NCAAs on quite a high.
Even though it took until late in the season, Martin got Jacob Pullen to become the leader he needed him to be for the Wildcats. Martin is pushing the right buttons with this squad at the right time and, ultimately, isn't that how a coach should be judged? How a team finishes, not just how it starts, should be part of the criteria.
• Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette is the leader for national player of the year. Why isn't Dave Rose getting similar attention for national coach of the year? Rose has the Cougars in position to nab a No. 1 seed or at the very least a No. 2. The Cougars have become a solid interior defensive team as evidenced by how they handled San Diego State on Saturday and they've been calm, cool and collected in hostile road games throughout Mountain West play. Rose has BYU on the verge of a historic season. He's also coached and developed Fredette into a star.
• I'd love to hear from the selection committee if wins over Duke by Florida State and Virginia Tech were the deciding factors in admitting them into the Dance. St. John's didn't need just its win over Duke to earn a bid. But will the Duke win be all the Seminoles and Hokies have to show on their résumés? The numbers may add up for selection but how much of that bid would be based on beating Duke?
• We had an interesting debate on our Experts show Tuesday about comparing middling high majors with conference champs from lower-tier leagues with a gaudy record. Belmont would be an interesting team to watch if the Bruins (19-1 in the Atlantic Sun, 27-4 overall) were to lose in the conference championship. They likely wouldn't get a bid but could be a first-round upset team if they make the tournament.
• The Colonial may be the most competitive conference tournament outside of the power six. The top four seeds -- George Mason, Old Dominion, VCU and Hofstra -- are all capable of winning the event in Richmond, Va. Drexel, the No. 5 seed, has shown that it can beat anybody in the league as well as lose to just about anybody. The winner of this tournament will be battle-tested for a first-round NCAA tournament matchup. A George Mason-ODU final would be an NCAA-caliber type affair.
• We chose our most disappointing teams on the Experts show Tuesday. Michigan State is an easy answer. But I believed Northwestern would make the Dance this season. That's the second time I've predicted Northwestern would make the field (last season being the first). The Wildcats didn't make it then, they won't make now -- they had a number of chances to win quality games and whiffed.
• WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich is on quite a roll of late. He lured BYU into the WCC after a deal with the WAC fell apart and he's getting the Cougars after what could be a historic season in Provo. This week he was named to a five-year term on the NCAA tournament selection committee, beginning in the fall. Zaninovich joins LSU athletic director Joe Alleva as the new members on the committee.
• Purdue's JaJuan Johnson has to be a first-team All-American. And if Purdue ends up tied with Ohio State for the Big Ten title then why shouldn't he be Big Ten Player of the Year over Ohio State's Jared Sullinger?
• A month ago Connecticut's Jim Calhoun and Kemba Walker looked like the coach and player of the year in the Big East. Now, I don't think Calhoun will win the award with St. John's Steve Lavin, Louisville's Rick Pitino, Notre Dame's Mike Brey and Pitt's Jamie Dixon ahead of him. Meanwhile, St. John's Dwight Hardy and Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough may have the inside track on Big East Player of the Year.
• Long Beach State coach Dan Monson was relieved when he left Minnesota in 2006. He was able to secure the best job in the Big West and now has a league title. Minnesota continues to be a tough place to coach, as Tubby Smith has learned.
• Conference USA is highly competitive from top to bottom. But that doesn't mean it should get more than one bid. If forced to choose the stronger conference between the CAA and C-USA, I'd go with the CAA -- it will have more bids and a better chance to advance in the tournament.
• If there is one team that should be in a better position now it's Washington State. The Cougars crushed Washington in Seattle and secured the season sweep of the Huskies. But Wazzu shouldn't be 8-8 in the Pac-10. The Cougars had a chance to beat Kansas State at home in December and lost, beat Gonzaga and Baylor, and then lost to Butler in the Diamond Head Classic final. But Wazzu couldn't beat Arizona at home, lost at Oregon, and had befuddling losses to Stanford at home and at Arizona State. Wazzu has been the most erratic team in the Pac-10 and yet could end up winning the Pac-10 tournament.