No. 25 K-State dives into start of Big 12 play


No. 25 K-State dives into start of Big 12 play

Kansas State coach Bruce Weber was asked whether he thinks his No. 25 Wildcats are ready for the start of Big 12 play, and his answer didn't exactly fill anybody with confidence.

``I don't think you know until you get there,'' he said.

Weber has already gone through an up-and-down nonconference slate, getting blown out by Michigan and Gonzaga before upsetting then-No. 8 Florida. So perhaps it's no surprise Weber doesn't know exactly what to expect from Saturday's game against No. 22 Oklahoma State.

``I thought we had made some progress up to the Florida game, and then you have some setbacks with traveling and the injuries,'' said Weber, whose team scattered for a holiday break and then had trouble returning to Manhattan because of lousy weather.

When players did return, some of them were nursing injuries.

Starting point guard Angel Rodriguez has been dealing with tendinitis, and backup guard Martavious Irving had his knee lock up in practice. Weber is hopeful both will be ready when the Wildcats (11-2) play the Cowboys (10-2), but he won't know until game time.

``We need them,'' Weber said. ``We can grind and fight without them, but if we are going to be really good, we need those guys. It would be nice to have both of them healthy.''

Especially considering the way Kansas State played without them.

The Wildcats plodded and muddled and shuffled through an uninspired win over Missouri-Kansas City in their first game after the holidays, and then needed a big second-half charge to put away South Dakota in their final tuneup for Big 12 play.

Neither time did they look anything like they did in beating the Gators.

``We learned a lot,'' said senior Rodney McGruder, who has had to shoulder an even greater scoring role without his two backcourt makes. ``It's just about how to get shots without guys creating for you and things like that. It's been a switch up in the offense.''

The offense has been the biggest hurdle for the Wildcats to overcome this season.

Under former coach Frank Martin, Kansas State ran half-court sets in which every player on the floor had a prescribed role. But when Weber was hired, the Wildcats began to implement his motion offense, a more free-flowing system that involves constant cutting and moving.

Predictably, the results early on were disastrous.

Passes were sent sailing out of bounds, three guys would bump into each other on the same spot on the floor, nobody was crashing the boards on offense - and Weber was left to stand on the sideline, raise his arms in frustration and ask, ``What was that?''

Slowly, the Wildcats started to get things figured out, and they looked like a fluid machine against Florida. But then injuries set in and the past couple weeks have been ugly at best, and now the Cowboys are visiting for an important Big 12 game.

``I'm ready. Our team is ready,'' said junior guard Shane Southwell. ``They're a really good team. I don't know if they are still in the Top 25 after their loss, but they played well and they honestly should have won that game. It is a big game and I am ready to play.''

Indeed, the Cowboys are still ranked after their 69-68 loss to No. 10 Gonzaga on Monday night. Their only other loss came against Virginia Tech early in the year, and North Carolina State and Tennessee are among their victims this season.

The game could play a big part in how the Big 12 shakes out.

While sixth-ranked Kansas remains the heavy favorite to win its ninth straight conference championship, the league is wide open after that. Kansas State and Oklahoma State are among a handful of teams vying for second place, with an eye on at least challenging the Jayhawks.

``They're a great team. We just have to come out and bring it,'' McGruder said. ``They're coming into our home and we have to protect our home court. I look forward to it.''

Quick Links

Blue Jackets sting Caps in their return to Washington

Blue Jackets sting Caps in their return to Washington

WASHINGTON --  The Capitals saw their six-game winning streak snapped on Monday in a 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, their first game at Capital One Arena since Nov. 29.

After sweeping a four-game road trip, the Caps could not keep up that momentum at home as they lost to a Columbus team that had lost its last four, all in regulation. The loss drops Washington's record at home to 8-3-4.

Here is how the Caps lost.

An early deflection

Columbus set the tone for this one early. Less than four minutes into the game, Cam Atkinson gave the Blue Jackets the 1-0 lead with a deflection goal.

Gustav Nyquist took a pass at the half wall and saw Atkinson in the slot engaged with Garnet Hathaway. Atkinson was able to get his stick down and Nyquist snapped the pass to him. It deflected off his stick and hit the corner of the net beating the glove of Braden Holtby.

A rough start

Beyond the goal, the start to this game was an ugly one for Washington. They were thoroughly dominated through the first 20 minutes and were outshot badly to the tune of 20-6.

It wasn't just bad, it was confusing.

Columbus earned an early power play when Michal Kempny held the puck in the corner and basically shot it on his own net. It looked like he was trying to pass it cross-ice, but it went right on goal where an alert Holtby got a pad to it. He then had to trip a charging Pierre-Luc Dubois out of desperation.

Later in the first, Nyquist had a breakaway opportunity which was set up by a nice pass from...Jakub Vrana? Vrana was off-target with his pass and Nyquist was off to the races. Holtby was there to deny the breakaway. Holtby was about the only bright spot for Washington in the first. Columbus could have easily put up 2, 3 or even 4 goals in the opening frame, but Holtby denied 19 of the 20 shots he faced just to keep the Caps in it.

A tough shift for Jensen

Nick Jensen went to retrieve the puck behind the goal line and was feeling pressure from Alex Wennberg. He tapped the puck along the boards to Dmitry Orlov who passed it back to Jensen. He needed to send that puck around the boards. He took the pass on his backhand, but as he tried to go forehand, he was hit by Wennberg who physically pushed him off the puck and pinned up to the boards. That allowed Eric Robinson to collect the puck and feed Ryan Murray who had split the defense and was ready to fire the puck past Holtby.

2 nice exclamation points

As the Caps tried to rally in the third period, Alex Ovechkin pulled them to within one less than a minute in. The rally was cut short thanks to two nice third period tallies that put the game out of reach. Riley Nash fired a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that Holtby turned aside into the corner. He chased down his own rebound and won the board battle to free himself below the goal line. As he approached Holtby he saw some daylight between the netminder and post and fired it off Holtby and into the net.

Less than four minutes later, Oliber Bjorkstrand deflected a pass from Sonny Milano out of midair past Holtby to extend Columbus' lead to 4-1.


Quick Links

Here's how the Ravens can clinch division, home field advantage in Week 15

USA Today Sports Images

Here's how the Ravens can clinch division, home field advantage in Week 15

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Now that the Ravens have clinched a playoff berth, they’re focused on ensuring they don’t have to leave the state of Maryland in January. 

Should the Ravens beat the Jets on Thursday night, they’ll win the AFC North for the second straight season. Additionally, they can clinch the division even with a loss, should the Steelers lose to the Bills on Sunday Night Football.

Baltimore can also clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs with a victory over the Jets and either a Patriots loss or a Chiefs loss.

While that seems promising with three games left to play, the Patriots are headed to play the 1-12 Bengals while the Chiefs are hosting the Broncos. Both games are at 1 p.m., so it's likely the Ravens will have to wait another week to clinch a first-round bye.

And should the Ravens hit the lottery and both the Patriots and Chiefs are upset, the Ravens will clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win over the Jets.

With the injuries they’re expected to deal with on Thursday against the Jets, any chance to rest starters and veterans would be a welcome one for the Ravens. Especially considering past Super Bowl teams and how they reached the final game.

Since the Ravens' victory over the 49ers in the 2013 Super Bowl, five out of the last six champions were their conference’s No. 1 seed. 

Over the season, the Ravens have shown they’re up to the task of facing playoff-bound teams, too. As of the end of Week 14, they’ve already played the other five teams currently slotted to make the AFC Playoffs. They’ve gone 4-1 in those games — the lone blemish a 33-28 loss to the Chiefs in Week 3 — and have outscored those opponents 156-100. 

So if the Ravens beat the Jets on Thursday, they’ll certainly be scoreboard watching on Sunday afternoon.