After losing to Northern Colorado, Charlotte and Georgetown before November ended, Kansas State coach Bruce Weber challenged his players to assemble a perfect December.
They’ve taken perfection into the new year.
Since those three losses, the Wildcats have won nine straight games, including wins that would help any team’s NCAA tournament seeding — against Gonzaga and most recently on Saturday against Oklahoma State.
“We had some nice wins the last few weeks,” Weber said. “Obviously, the locker room was a lot more excited after the game against Oklahoma State. Now the big thing is you have the long journey.”
No. 25 Kansas State (11-3, 1-0 Big 12) made its first appearance in the Associated Press rankings this season after the 74-71 victory against the Cowboys.
After facing TCU on the road Tuesday, the Wildcats visit Kansas on Saturday, hoping to fuel their suddenly sunny journey against their fiercest rival.
Weber, who was fired from Illinois in 2012, said last season’s Kansas State team was filled with veterans trying to learn a new system. This season’s team is composed of many newcomers and players promoted to starting roles.
Weber described them as players “on the inside of the media guide, not the cover.”
“The big thing is we have a lot of, I don’t want to say surprises, but unknowns more than anything,” he said. “We’re playing four freshmen.”
Freshman guard Marcus Foster leads the team with an average of 14 points per game and scored 17 against Oklahoma State.
“Marcus Foster has been as consistent as any freshman in the country,” Weber said. “From day one, when he stepped on campus we knew he was going to be good.”
Few could have said the same about Kansas State.
Fuming Fran: Reflecting on the outburst that led to his ejection against Wisconsin on Sunday, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said he should have used better judgment.
“I didn’t put our team in a position that benefited them,” he said on Monday’s Big Ten teleconference. “You have to be man enough to admit that. I don’t want to, in any way, put them in that position. You don’t want to do anything in any way to embarrass the university.”
He received back-to-back technical fouls after yelling at officials in the Hawkeyes’ 75-71 loss, seemingly changing the outcome of the game.
In a statement released by Iowa, athletic director Gary Barta said McCaffery “crossed a line of acceptable behavior and accepts the responsibility for his actions.”
Team of the week: Notre Dame. The Irish easily could have crumbled after leading scorer Jerian Grant was dismissed from the university for academic reasons. Instead, they staged a momentum-changing 79-77 upset against Duke on Saturday and turned heads in their ACC debut. Notre Dame sent a message that the team still has plenty of fight — and talent — left.
Player of the week: Askia Booker, Colorado. The junior guard scored a career-high 27 points to hand Oregon its first loss. Eleven of his points came in the final five minutes as Colorado rallied for the 100-91 victory on Sunday.
Games to watch:
Tuesday: Ohio State at Michigan State, 9 p.m. EST, ESPN. A top-five matchup. Enough said.
Baylor at Iowa State, 7 p.m., ESPN2. The Bears have to try to slow the Cyclones, who are averaging 87 points per game.
Wednesday: Illinois at Wisconsin, 9 p.m., BTN. The Illini seek another upset victory to add to their win against Missouri.
Thursday: Arizona at UCLA, 9 p.m., ESPN. The Bruins’ only losses are to Duke and Mizzou. Not too shabby.
Saturday: North Carolina at Syracuse, noon, ESPN. The Tar Heels actually play best against ranked teams (see: Louisville, Michigan State, Kentucky).
Kansas State at Kansas, 2 p.m., ESPN. The Wildcats are on a roll, while the Jayhawks need to get back on track. This rivalry game is usually wild.