According to Frank Martin, the immaturity issues that haunted his team earlier this season have gone full-blown Lazarus.
This time, he says, they're back from the dead in the form of an inflated sense of self-worth resulting from back-to-back road wins over top-10 teams Missouri and Baylor. So while Saturday's home loss to Iowa State was unexpected by most who watched Kansas State make quick work of the Tigers and Bears on their home floors just day before, the Wildcat head coach says he saw the signs early. To him, it was the crescendo of a painfully out-of-tune symphony.
The bus behind a stunned and silent Mizzou arena hadn't even had a chance to warm up before Martin first placed his face in his palm. The relapse is always more frustrating than the original ailment.
"Some of our guys were putting stuff on Twitter before we got on the bus," he recalled. "It's just a bunch of nonsense. How is that focusing on your team and what is important? It's a shame that this team refuses to embrace success."?
And so he sat behind a microphone on Feb. 25, still calling his team immature, questioning its focus and discussing the same practice-floor issues that have been talking points in spurts since the season's onset. He'd spoken the words before, sure, but this time he did so more emphatically.
See, it's the timing that's most troubling. As K-State prepares to play it's second-to-last regular-season game of the year at Texas A&M, concerns about its mental state remain. The situation isn't optimal. Not in late February. Not when the Wildcats' are attempting to earn a decent seed in the NCAA tournament.
Martin said he could keep reporters around "all day" explaining everything that went wrong in the days leading into the loss to Iowa State. The parasite began to feast in Columbia and by the time K-State took the practice floor back in Manhattan in the middle of last week, it had chewed its way through every bit of good will the team had earned with two marquee victories.
KANSAS STATE at TEXAS A&M
Tuesday, Feb. 28, 6 p.m.
REED ARENA (12,989) College Station, Texas
K-STATE: Frank Martin (Florida International '93); Career/School Record: 114-52 (5th season) Texas A&M: Billy Kennedy (SE Louisiana '86); School Record: 13-15 (1st season), Career Record: 224-194 (14th season)
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS (19-9, 8-8)
G - #55 Will Spradling (9.9 ppg., 2.2 rpg.)
G - #13 Angel Rodriguez (7.8 ppg., 2.4 rpg.)
G - #22 Rodney McGruder (14.8 ppg., 5.5 rpg.)
F - #23 Jamar Samuels (9.8 ppg., 6.5 rpg.)
F - #21 Jordan Henriquez (6.4 ppg., 4.9 rpg.)
TEXAS A&M AGGIES (13-15, 4-12)
G - #5 Dash Harris (5.8 ppg., 2.9 rpg)
G - #31 Elston Turner (13.8 ppg., 3.7 rpg.)
F - #22 Khris Middleton (12.6 ppg., 5.0 rpg.)
F - #10 David Loubeau (10.8 ppg., 4.6 rpg.)
F - #35 Ray Turner (8.9 ppg., 5.5 ppg.)
It didn't take a trained coaching eye to notice the damage.
"It is kind of like seeing one guy do it and then everyone else starts to do it," said junior Jordan Henriquez, who Martin identified as one of just two players who were engaged at practice prior to Saturday's loss. "It starts with the upperclassmen. The freshmen follow what we do. It all starts with leadership."
And so now Henriquez and company face one of those high-risk, low-reward propositions. Defeat 13-15 Texas A&M on the road, and so what? It's a game the Wildcats (19-9) are supposed to win. But lose in College Station, and start flirting with the postseason bubble with just one league game to play.
The carrot on the end of the stick these days is more like tin foil-stuffed tofu. But when being tailed by a pack of lions -- or in this case an uncertain postseason future -- there's no choice but to chase it.
So much for positive reinforcement.
"We have to try and get two more wins with one of those on the road," Henriquez said. "The next two days of practice are not going to be easy."
Seeding concerns are one thing, but it would take back-to-back losses to a pair of teams outside the RPI top 100 (A&M and Oklahoma State) for the Wildcats to be in any real danger of being locked out of the NCAA Tournament completely. It's a scenario that shouldn't come to fruition.
Then again, Martin will tell you his players shouldn't still be fighting immaturity at this point in the season, either.
"I guess they thought there was going to be some party at Bramlage (Coliseum) to celebrate us beating Missouri," Martin said. "I think that's what 98 percent of our team thought was going on.
"It's a shame that we still have the kind of immaturity that we have this deep in the season."