Kansas State has cracked the Top 25 for the first time in nearly two years with its highest ranking in more than two decades. Coach Frank Martin knows that doesn’t mean much with still more than three months left in the season.
The 17th-ranked Wildcats look to build on an impressive victory and win their seventh in a row Saturday night when they visit Alabama.
With Jacob Pullen and Denis Clement leading a high-powered offense, Kansas State (9-1) is off to its best start since opening the 2004-05 season 10-1.
The offense was nearly unstoppable in last Saturday’s 95-80 win over then-No. 18 UNLV, as the Wildcats finished with a season high in points and shot a season-best 57.1 percent from the floor, including 14 of 23 from beyond the arc.
Pullen hit seven 3-pointers and scored a season-best 28 points, while Clemente added season highs of 22 points and nine assists.
“We shot it well in practice and shot it even better (Saturday),” Martin said. “I felt if we made passes, we’d make some shots. It’s a heck of a win for our young team.”
With the victory, the Wildcats moved into the poll for the first time since being No. 24 on Feb. 18, 2008. This ranking is also their highest since they were No. 14 in February 1988 en route to their most recent NCAA tournament regional final appearance.
Kansas State, which defeated then-No. 18 Dayton 83-75 in the Puerto Rico Tipoff on Nov. 22, also has won two games over ranked non-conference teams in the same season for the first time since 1958-59.
“There’s been a lot of good teams and good players the past 50 years and this is the first team to do that, so these kids have accomplished something,” Martin said.
The coach is still looking for the team to accomplish something more.
“We’ve got to take this experience and build on it,” Martin said. “They don’t give parades for wins in December.”
Kansas State’s strong start has already earned praise from first-year Alabama coach Anthony Grant, who played high school basketball with Martin in Miami. The two also coached prep basketball together for five years.
“Obviously he’s got his ball club playing extremely well right now,” Grant said. “It’s always tough when you have to compete against a friend, but I’m really proud of what he’s done and what he’s put together out at Kansas State.”
The Crimson Tide (7-3) are also playing well. Their only two losses in their last nine games came against Florida State in Orlando’s Old Spice Classic and to then-No. 5 Purdue.
After losing to the Boilermakers 73-65 last Saturday in a game that it led by 16 points in the second half, Alabama bounced back with a 60-45 victory over Samford on Wednesday.
The Tide led by as much as 20 points and forced 20 turnovers against Samford’s Princeton-style offense.
“We felt really prepared,” said JaMychal Green, who finished with 14 points. “(This win) will give us a confidence boost.”
Mikhail Torrance had game highs of 15 points and seven assists for the Tide, who will need another strong defensive effort against a Kansas State team that averages 81.6 points.
In the only other meeting between these programs, Alabama won 79-48 on Nov. 16, 1994.