COLUMBIA — Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen is doing everything he can to make sure the Wildcats don’t end up in the NIT tournament in the postseason.
Pullen, the preseason choice to become the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year, made his intentions clear Jan. 12 after Kansas State lost to visiting Colorado to fall to 0-2 in conference play.
No. 20 Missouri Tigers (22-6, 8-5 Big 12)
at Kansas State Wildcats (19-9, 7-6 Big 12)
WHEN: 11 a.m.
WHERE: Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan, Kan.
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM, 100.5 FM
With Missouri fourth in the Big 12 standings and Kansas State fifth, this game has major implications for the Big 12 Tournament, which starts March 9 in Kansas City. The top four teams in the standings will receive a bye in the first round of the tournament.
“I’m not going to the NIT," Pullen said. "I won’t play basketball in the NIT. I’m saying that now. If we lose and we have to go to the NIT, I will not play.”
Five days after that comment, Kansas State traveled to play Missouri. The fans at Mizzou Arena hassled Pullen by chanting “N-I-T” when he was at the free-throw line or would miss a shot. After Missouri won 75-59, the chants continued as the Kansas State players walked off Norm Stewart Court. Pullen's NIT comments followed him into the postgame press conference.
“(Kansas State coach) Frank (Martin) and I haven’t even talked about it,” Pullen said after the game. “It’s just a statement. Hopefully my team hears that, and it makes us all work harder so we can get to the NCAA because at the end of the day that’s the place where every team wants to be and that’s the place where all the focus is.”
Pullen paused for a second.
“I don’t know too many people that watch the NIT,” he said.
After the loss at Missouri, the Wildcats dropped two of their next three games to fall to 2-5 in the Big 12. But since then, they have turned things around.
Kansas State has won its past three games and five of its past six entering Saturday’s game against Missouri in Manhattan, Kan. Pullen scored 38 points in an 84-68 win Feb. 14 over then-No. 1 Kansas, had 27 points in a 77-62 win Feb. 19 against Oklahoma and 27 points in Wednesday night's 61-57 win over Nebraska. The stretch makes up his best three scoring efforts of the season.
In Missouri’s recent games, Tigers coach Mike Anderson has assigned junior guard Marcus Denmon the task of slowing down the opponent’s top scorer. On Wednesday night, Denmon helped hold Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn scoreless in the first half. Dunn had led the league in scoring entering the game but fell to fourth in the Big 12 at 18.4 points per game after Missouri's 77-59 victory.
After Kansas State's victory over Nebraska, Pullen is now the conference's leading scorer at 21.6 points per game.
“I don’t know how he’s been playing in the last couple of games because I haven’t seen them, but he didn’t do that against us the last time we played,” Denmon said about Pullen.
“We’re going into the game with the same mindset (as Wednesday night). Earlier this year, we played them, and I felt we did a good job on him, but now he’s at home and playing well, so we’ll have to see.”
Denmon said he hopes this trip to Kansas State goes better than Missouri's last two visits to Manhattan. Missouri lost 88-72 in 2009 and 63-53 last season.
“I think there and Kansas are the toughest places to play in the conference,” Denmon said. “We just got to go in there and be mentally prepared to play with just us 13 players and coaching staff and not let where we play dictate how we play.”