Once No. 3, Kansas State plunges out of rankings
As the final seconds ticked away in Colorado's first victory over Kansas State in 10 games, a loud voice in a quiet arena rang out.
''This one's on you, Frank,'' someone shouted.
It's anyone guess whether Frank Martin heard the disgusted fan, but the emotional head coach of the Wildcats would not have argued. As a once-promising season threatens to turn into a nightmare for the preseason Big 12 favorites and disappointed fans send out a searching party for scapegoats, Martin is offering up himself for sacrifice.
''When the fish stinks, it stinks in the head first,'' he said. ''If we stunk the way we've been playing, it starts with me, not the kids.''
After losing 75-59 to No. 13 Missouri on Monday, the Wildcats are 13-6 overall and 1-3 in the conference. They've been in a Top 25 freefall, plunging from No. 3 all the way out of the rankings.
In the past month, the program has been rocked with player suspension and player defection. Some promising young players have shown no progress from last year, and even appear to have regressed.
Martin's even found himself trying to explain how a team leader's embarrassing declaration was misunderstood.
All this from the team that won a school-record 29 games last year and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. Martin, the first Kansas State coach to win 72 games his first three years, was rewarded with a seven-figure contract extension, and senior guard Jacob Pullen was picked as the school's first preseason All-American.
For the first time since the Big 12 was formed, the Wildcats were the coach's preseason pick to win the conference. Pullen was favored to be Big 12 player of the year.
Oh, what a lovely season it was supposed to be.
Since Dec. 21, however, when Pullen was suspended for three games and forward Curtis Kelly for six, the Wildcats have not beaten anybody who was not a heavy underdog. They've lost to UNLV, Oklahoma State, Colorado and Missouri. If they don't pull themselves out of this tailspin and fix whatever's ailing them, the season could quickly be lost. Their next three games are against No. 11 Texas A&M, No. 2 Kansas and Baylor.
''It all ends up on me,'' Martin said. ''I've done a bad job coaching this team. I did a pretty good job early, and I've let this team down, and that's not going to happen again.''
In a victory last week at home over Texas Tech, which remains winless in the Big 12, Martin seemed to tone down his fiery sideline antics.
Or did he?
''I was my emotional self,'' he said. ''Just as enthusiastic about my job and as demanding as I've ever been. I said after the game I haven't done a very good job of coaching this team the last five or six weeks. I have to refocus on what I was doing, get us playing the way we're supposed to play the game, the way we built our program over the last four years.''
Freddy Asprilla, a 6-foot-10 junior college transfer, was expected to add heft and offense inside this year, but the Colombia native abruptly quit the program last week.
''Sometimes guys can't handle Frank, they can't handle the way he demands,'' said senior Curtis Kelly. ''He wants the best out of you every time, and even though you may not be able to give it to him every time, he still wants you to try, and I think Freddy failed at that, unfortunately.''
Pullen, the top scorer and acknowledged team leader, sat out three games and Kelly missed six after questions were raised over clothing they obtained at a Manhattan Dillard's store.
Almost as soon as he came back, Pullen created another controversy following the loss to Colorado.
''This is my last go-around. I'm not going to the NIT,'' he told reporters. ''I won't play basketball in the NIT. I'm saying that now, if we lose and we have to go to the NIT, I will not play.''
To most people who heard it, Pullen seemed to be saying he was not willing to adjust his goals, that he still planned to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
But around the country, his words were viewed as arrogance.
''Anyone who believes that's what he feels isn't a very good journalist,'' said Martin. ''What do you expect from a four-year senior who's worked his tail off to change the culture in our program and has come off two consecutive conference losses including your home opener and your team didn't play well? I've heard grown men, coaches, make that same statement about their teams. It was an emotional moment. He probably said something he shouldn't have said.''
If Kansas State does get everything straightened out, Pullen's declaration could be tested when the NCAA selection committee passes the Wildcats by.