As conference play heats up for the Missouri mens basketball team, the games get tougher, the rivalries become fiercer, and the competition gets more formidable. The shift to Big 12 play also means a greater degree of familiarity with Tiger opponents, for both the team and the fans.
Even though Mizzou is already 1-0 in conference play following a 87-49 beat down of Oklahoma on Jan. 3, we begin our Know Your Foe: Big 12 edition with the Kansas State Wildcats. The Kansas State University of Agriculture and Applied Science, more commonly known as Kansas State University or K-State, is located in Manhattan, KS. It was founded in 1863 as the first land-grant institution created under the Morrill Act, which gave each state 30,000 acres of land for each senator or representative to establish a college “related to agriculture and the mechanic arts”. Blue Mont Central College, a private college that already existed in Manhattan, was chosen to be converted into the land-grant college in the state of Kansas, and became the Kansas State Agricultural College after two years of legislative debate.
The University’s first session included 52 people, and was the second public higher learning institution to equally admit men and women. The school’s focus depended on the ideals of its presidents in the school’s early years. It changed between an agricultural focus and a liberal arts education. The school was also a pioneer in offering both women’s home economics and printing classes, which led to its journalism program opening in 1910.
The school has grown considerably from its first graduating class of five people in 1867 to an enrollment today of 23,863 students. It offers 250 undergraduate majors in nine different colleges, including agriculture, veterinary medicine, and human ecology. Its agriculture college, around which the University was originally founded, remains a major focus for KSU academics. KSU’s academic profile is on the rise as of March 2010, when a plan called K-State 2025 was introduced by current president Kirk Schulz. The plan intends to elevate Kansas State into the top 50 nationally recognized research universities by 2025.
The main campus of Kansas State is located in Manhattan, though there are also locations in Salina and Olathe. Manhattan is located in the Flint Hills, about 120 miles west of Kansas City, and is home to 52,281, according to the 2010 census. It has a distinct, small campus town feel to it, and has been rated in the top 10 places in America to retire by Money Magazine. The Little Apple, as it is known, revolves primarily around Kansas State students, including Aggieville, the main attraction in the city for both students and residents.
Because Manhattan is so closely connected to K-State students, KSU athletics are a major attraction in the city. K-State offers 16 men and women varsity teams that compete in the Big 12. It also competes in Conference USA for rowing, because it is not offered by the Big 12. As a whole, the Wildcats have won 64 conference championships, dating back to their days in the Big 6, which eventually became the Big 12. They have no team national championships, but have 26 individual national champions.
Their football team saw a great deal of success this year, going 10-2, finishing second in the Big 12, and was selected to play in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas. Success has not always been the standard, however, seeing that they were one of the worst football programs in the nation up until 1990. Between 1935 and 1990, the Wildcats had only four winning seasons, and had lost 27 consecutive games from 1986 to 1989. They rose up from the bottom of the barrel when Bill Snyder was hired as head coach in 1989. Snyder was able to completely turn the program around, winning the first bowl game in Wildcat history in 1993, a 52-7 Copper Bowl victory over Wyoming. This started a string of 11 straight bowl appearances, including four Big 12 North championships and an appearance in the school’s lone BCS bowl, the 2004 Fiesta Bowl. Snyder won as many games in his first 17 years in the program, 136, as K-State had won in the 53 years before Snyder’s arrival from 1935-1988.
In 2005, Snyder retired and was replaced by Ron Prince. The Wildcats did not see the same kind of success under Prince that they did with Snyder in charge, and Prince was fired after his third year following back-to-back 5-7 seasons. Snyder was brought back to coach in 2008, and was again able to turn a struggling program back into contenders. Snyder led them to the Pinstripe Bowl in 2010, and this year, in one of the biggest surprises in the college football season, compiled a 10-2 record and a berth in the Cotton Bowl, though they lost 29-16 to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Kansas State’s most storied athletic program is its mens basketball program, which has reached the NCAA Tournament 25 times, including the Final Four four times and national runner up in 1951. The Wildcats went to the NCAA Tournament six times in the 1980s, but struggled during the 1990s and early 2000s. They returned to national prominence with the arrival of head coach Frank Martin in 2007. Martin’s team returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 12 years in 2008, led by All-American Michael Beasley. Martin enjoyed his best season in 2010, winning a school record 29 games and earning a No. 2 seed in the Tournament. Led by guards Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, they reached the Elite Eight, but lost to eventual national runner up Butler.
This year’s Wildcat team has been an early season surprise, after losing Pullen to graduation, who had become the heart and soul of the team last year. Despite this loss, they have been able to put together a 11-2 record so far this year, with losses coming against West Virginia and most recently at Kansas. They are currently ranked 22nd in the ESPN/USA Today poll. The Wildcats are a physical, defensive-minded team led by junior guard Rodney McGruder, who averages 12.7 PPG. Their other main contributor is senior forward Jamar Samuels, who averages 11.8 PPG and 7.0 RPG. The Wildcats have size and clean up on the glass, ranking 12th nationally in rebounding. They have two players standing at seven feet tall, junior Jordan Henriquez and freshman Adrian Diaz, though neither starts and only Henriquez plays significant minutes.
No. 6 Missouri and No. 22 Kansas State have contrasting styles on the court, with Mizzou boasting the nation’s most efficient offense, averaging 86.2 points per game, while K-State likes to slow the game down and prides themself on their defensive prowess. Missouri’s lack of size has been pointed out as a major weakness, and could be exposed by a good rebounding Wildcats team. But keep in mind, Mizzou recently out-rebounded the 11th best rebounding team in the country, Oklahoma, 38-23. K-State, 12th best in rebounding, just got obliterated on the boards by Kansas 50-26. Missouri has three players (Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Ricardo Ratliffe) that average more points than McGruder, K-State’s leading scorer, and a fourth (Michael Dixon) just a tenth of a point behind. If Mizzou can get out in transition and play at the fast pace they are accustomed to, they can match their win total from last year’s Big 12 road schedule (one). But Mizzou hasn’t won in KSU’s dreaded Octagon of Doom since 2004, and if K-State is able to slow the game down and dominate inside, it can make for a tough day in the Little Apple for the Tigers.