Before Kansas State suffered another upset loss at home against Colorado on Wednesday night, senior guard Jacob Pullen issued the following edict to the Manhattan Mercury.
"We have to fight and make our own identity and become our own team," Pullen said.
Sadly, an identity is one of the few things Kansas State doesn't lack right now. Until further notice, the Wildcats have more than earned their reputation as an underachieving team derailed by spotty effort, lackluster rebounding and questionable senior leadership.
The latest example came Wednesday when Kansas State squandered leads of 14-4 and 33-24 in a 74-66 loss to suddenly surging Colorado. Defense and rebounding have been season-long issues for the Buffs as well, yet they out-rebounded the Wildcats 30-27 and limited them to 40 percent shooting from the field.
While the return of Curtis Kelly from his six-game suspension will surely help Kansas State's interior game, the truth is that it will take more than one player to cure the character and leadership concerns that have emerged the past two months. A team projected to win the Big 12 and contend for a Final Four berth just two short months ago has proven completely unprepared for its close-up, dropping four of its past seven games and falling to 0-2 in the Big 12.
If Kansas State isn't the nation's most disappointing team at this stage of the season, the Wildcats are certainly on the short list. Memphis' immaturity has been maddening, Michigan State's early malaise has been puzzling and Baylor's inability to beat anybody remotely relevant has been frustrating, yet none of those teams have watched their supposed stars fail more spectacularly than Kansas State.
Pullen has been productive on the court, but immature off it, lashing out at critical fans on Twitter to "go cheer for somebody down the road" last month and then getting suspended for three games for accepting a discount from a local department store. Kelly sat out Kansas State's first three games for disciplinary issues and then its past six as a result of a suspension for accepting the same department store discount as Pullen.
The talent is still there for Kansas State to turn things around, but the schedule is daunting to say the least.
Because the Wildcats play Big 12 South powers Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas A&M all on the road, their schedule is probably the most difficult in the conference. As a result, it's entirely possible that we could see the Big 12's preseason favorite well back in the pack in the conference race and perhaps even fighting to stay off the bubble come March.