MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) -Kansas State wasn't supposed to win much more than half its games, finish anywhere near the top of the Big 12.
Frank Martin didn't have the chops to coach at a big-conference school, couldn't possibly win without Michael Beasley and Bill Walker.
So much for predictions.
Exceeding everyone's expectations except their own, the Wildcats and their feisty coach have clawed their way into the NCAA tournament bubble with a third straight 20-win season.
``It's a special, special group of kids,'' Martin said. ``They refuse to lose. I know that's John Calipari's line, but that's the kind of guys we've got.''
The NCAA tournament was an expected outcome for last year's team. Kansas State had Beasley, a highly touted freshman who led the team in scoring and rebounding and went on to become an All-American. His sidekick was Walker, a redshirt freshman who could pick up the slack when opponents double- and triple-teamed Beasley.
for the first time in a dozen years and into the second round for the first time since 1988.
Beasley and Walker lasted just one year together and are now in the NBA, leaving Kansas State bereft of big names and a roster full of unproven players. No one outside Manhattan believed in the Wildcats, with the Big 12 coaches picking them to finish eighth in the conference, some magazines lower than that.
``Just irrational stuff,'' sophomore guard Jacob Pullen said. ``You'd think we had five high school kids and a sophomore playing for K-State the way they predicted us.''
Determined to prove everyone wrong, Kansas State has put together quite a nice A.B. (After Beasley) season.
The Wildcats rallied from a bad three-game stretch in nonconference to finish 12-3 and bounced back from an 0-4 conference start to win their next six games. Kansas State made perhaps its biggest statement Saturday, grinding out a 77-72 win over pesky Nebraska after being blown out by Missouri three days earlier.
Now, at 20-9 overall and tied for fourth with Texas in the Big 12 at 8-6, Kansas State still has a shot at reaching the NCAA tournament in consecutive years for the first time since 1988-89.
ade the NCAA tournament.
``I don't know what's going to happen the rest of the season, but I know I enjoy every second I'm around them, how resourceful they are, how unwilling they are to give in,'' Martin said. ``They just rely on each other and they keep battling and believing, and that makes it a whole lot of fun to be associated with them.''
The knock on the second-year coach is that he's a temper tantrum waiting to happen, that he got the Kansas State job by riding the coattails of Bob Huggins.
The truth is, Martin would probably be the front-runner for Big 12 coach of the year if it weren't for the turnaround Mike Anderson has guided at Missouri. Infusing his players with own never-back-down approach, Martin has turned a team lacking star power into a cohesive, defensive-minded unit that can beat nearly any team on any given night.
``People give him a lot of trash about how he's not a good coach, but he did it with Mike and Bill and now he's doing it with no All-Americans, just guys that he recruited, hard-nosed kids that he wanted,'' Pullen said. ``That just says a lot about our team and our coaching staff.''
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