Kansas State's limping status in Big 12 basketball play could be due to the inconsistencies of its youthful roster, which includes three freshmen in the regular rotation in Angel Rodriguez, Thomas Gipson and Adrian Diaz. Of those, Gipson and Rodriguez have earned their way into the starting lineup, but with inconsistent play.
"Consistency is the hardest thing for all freshmen. That's not just this year, but every year it's tough to get them to understand the importance of playing every possession to its fullest," said K-State coach Frank Martin.
"When Jacob (Pullen) was a freshman, he drove me nuts. I remember him playing his tail off against Kansas and then showing up the next day to practice thinking that he did not have to practice. This is what all freshmen go through; that is part of the process."
But that doesn't make it any easier to accept.
In Saturday's 63-60 loss to Oklahoma Rodriguez did score 10 points, but on only 4-of-10 shooting, plus he turned it over four times and fouled out in his 16 minutes of court time.
Gipson didn't take a shot and controlled just one rebound in his seven minutes of play, while Adrian Diaz came off the bench to play 12 minutes, but missed his only shot, and while controlling five rebounds, he also committed two turnovers.
So out of the team total of 20 give-aways, seven came from freshmen, who also collectively shot at only a 4-of-11 clip from the field.
After Saturday's loss, Martin said, "Our turnovers are not aggressive turnovers, they are just careless passive turnovers that lead to easy points.
That is a problem. "
In fact, in KSU's last three losses against Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma, it has committed 19, 20 and 20 turnovers.
While the bullish 6-7, 275-pound Gipson was a force early in the league with twin-figure games in five of his first seven games, he has had only one game in double-figures since early November. In Big 12 play, he's averaging only five points and three rebounds.
And while 5-11, 185-pound Rodriguez is averaging over six points a game in Big 12 play, it's come on only 33 percent shooting, and his turnovers have exceeded his assists 16-14 in league action. In his last nine games, three times he's been in twin figures, but in four games he's scored no more than four points.
Martin recently said of Rodriguez's play, "He got here as a fighter and is willingness to work. He's been refocusing on those things like he did earlier in the year. From time to time he just takes a step back in practice. Like all freshmen, there are times when they start thinking it's easier than it really is."
At one time, Martin added, "That was him just getting a little full of himself."
As advice to Rodriguez, sophomore Will Spradling says, "Frank's coaching style is to be hard on everyone. It all depends on how mentally tough you are and how positive you can stay when he yells at you for doing things wrong. If you're not mentally strong, you can't play for Frank. He expects 100 percent from you every day. If you're not willing to do that, you're going to be in trouble."
With Spradling, as well as Rodriguez, they're playing the most important position on the team. As Spradling explains, "Everything goes through the point guard. If we're not having a good game, it's hard for our team to have a good game. It's the point guard who gets the team into offense, and it's the point guard who starts the defense by picking up the ball at half court. If the point doesn't do that, the defense is destroyed."
But Martin is quick to point out that he doesn't coach his point guards any differently that the other positions on the game.
"I am hard on anybody, who does not do their job. If they do their job, I leave them alone. That is the way I want people to treat me," said Martin. "You will never hear me complain when people are doing their job. That is why trust is such an important word to me."