Riding one of the best starts in school history, Kansas State coach Frank Martin feels his team is ready for a rugged Big 12 schedule.
The 11th-ranked Wildcats will get their first chance to see if they’re prepared Saturday, seeking their longest winning streak in nearly 33 years as they visit Missouri.
Kansas State (13-1) beat visiting South Dakota 91-69 on Sunday to match the program’s second-best start—only a 17-0 run to the 1918-19 season was better.
The Wildcats enter conference play with their highest ranking since they were No. 9 at the end of the 1972-73 campaign.
They have won 10 in a row overall—two over ranked teams—to post their longest winning streak since the 1993-94 season. They haven’t won 11 straight since doing so from Feb. 2-March 4, 1977.
“It’s the most prepared we’ve been in my three years as head coach,” Martin said. “Does that do you any good in the Big 12? I have no idea.”
Martin’s team must face previously ranked Texas A&M on Tuesday and has games remaining this month with No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Texas.
Junior guard Jacob Pullen averages 20.1 points to lead a dynamic Wildcats offense scoring 83.5 per game. Pullen is third in the Big 12 in 3-point shooting at 45.8 percent—51.4 during Kansas State’s win streak.
“(Opening Big 12 play is) an opportunity, and we’ve just got to be prepared for it,” Pullen said. “When preparation meets opportunity it equals success. Because we’ve prepared for it, hopefully when the door opens we can walk right through it.”
The first step won’t be easy against a Missouri team that won its first Big 12 tournament title last season and advanced to the NCAA regional finals.
The Tigers (12-3) have won seven in a row since a last-second defeat at Oral Roberts on Dec. 9. They also own a 29-game home win streak, the nation’s second-longest behind rival Kansas’ 51, following Wednesday night’s 74-45 victory over Savannah State.
“We had a couple of slip-ups. Those games are in the past so you have to deal with where you are now,” junior forward Justin Safford said. “I think we’re all right going into conference. I think we learned from our mistakes, and I think that says a lot about our team, too.”
Kansas State knows how tough Missouri can be at home. The Wildcats have lost their last two games in Columbia, including a 94-74 defeat last season, and have won there just twice in 24 visits since 1985.
Last season, Missouri recorded its best Big 12 finish since 1998-99, but leading scorers DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons graduated from that squad. Sophomore guard Kim English has stepped up to score a team-best 15.9 points per game this season, and he’s one of five players averaging at least 9.0.
Like Kansas State, the Tigers average 83.5 points, but they rely more on a frenetic, pressure defense. They’re allowing 61.5 points per game and lead the nation in forcing turnovers at 22.1 per contest.
Missouri has lost seven of the last 10 meetings overall with Kansas State.