MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Some would argue Kansas State coach Frank Martin substitutes so readily because the Wildcats are deep. Others would say the Wildcats are so deep because he substitutes so liberally.
They might all be correct.
While teams like Kansas get by on five starters and a couple of go-to reserves off the bench, No. 22 Kansas State is the only team in the Big 12 with 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game.
"If I was a football coach, I'd drive you guys crazy," Martin said with a sly grin. "I'd sub the quarterback — I'd sub everybody. If guys don't do their jobs, why should they play? I don't care what they did last year or last week, last game. You've got to do your job every day."
That's why it's not uncommon to see full line changes during games. Or star guard Rodney McGruder heading to the bench in the opening minutes. Or dependable forward Jamar Samuels taking a seat next to Martin in crunch time.
"How would your backup ever be ready to play if he never got in?" Martin asked.
That level of depth is why any player who commits a sloppy turnover, takes an ill-advised shot or misses a defensive assignment likely will be on the bench within about 30 seconds. And why the guys coming off the bench have played enough important minutes to understand what the Wildcats need in any given situation.
Junior guard Martavious Irving is fast and strong, a good perimeter defender who can get to the rim and the foul line. Sophomore guard Shane Southwell gives the lineup more height, transfer Jeremy Jones can get off a shot as quickly as anybody, and freshman Adrian Diaz has instincts that allow him to always find the ball. Senior Victor Ojeleye epitomizes work ethic and leadership.
All of that depth has already come in handy.
Six-foot-11 junior Jordan Henriquez was recently suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, removing one of the most assertive big men on the team from the starting lineup. He was reinstated on Tuesday and is available for Wednesday night's game at Texas Tech.
Redshirt freshman Nino Williams, who scored 12 points in his first significant playing time against Oklahoma, is trying to recover from a grade-two sprain of the MCL in his knee.
Martin's constant changing of players keeps the Wildcats on their toes, both in practice and in games. A player must earn his time through practicing well, but just because he earns a certain spot does not mean he'll keep it for the duration of the game.
It's certainly a different philosophy than elsewhere around the league.
When the Wildcats hosted Texas on Jan. 18, McGruder and fellow guard Will Spradling were the only Kansas State players on the floor for more than 30 minutes. Three others played about 20 minutes each, and another trio got off the bench for least a quarter of the game. Three more provided just shy of 10 minutes, and the result was enough energy down the stretch that the Wildcats hung on for an 84-80 victory.
By comparison, when the Jayhawks faced the Longhorns on Jan. 21, their five starters each played at least 30 minutes.
All that depth may come in handy late in the season. Now that there are only 10 teams in the league, the conference schedule has expanded to 18 games, with each team playing everybody else twice. Next up for the Wildcats (14-4, 3-3) is the Red Raiders as they continue the opening slate of games against Big 12 opponents.
While a seven- or eight-man system might work for other teams, it's not the way Martin operates. He believes in giving players what he calls "line" based on how responsible they are — the line representing an ability to make mistakes and remain in the game.
"If you make some mistakes consistently, and your behavior doesn't change, and you go out in the game and you make the same mistake that you make over and over, then that line is real short," Martin said. "When you go out there and you're a guy that continues to grow, when you make a mistake, that line's a little longer."
For many players, that constant cycle of evaluation and consequence takes some getting used to.
"It's definitely new to me because I was always playing a lot in high school — I barely got off the floor in high school," Diaz said. "And now that he subs me out like every second, it's like, 'OK, I've got to find a way to get back on the court.'"
The Wildcats have seen the merit in their coach's method.
Irving started four conference games before Martin replaced him with Rodriguez. And since coming off the bench, the veteran guard has been playing better than ever.
''If you have somebody coming off the bench giving you great energy, you don't really lose nothing from the starting five," Irving said, "and then the starting five players, they can also get a break, get a rest, come back with the same energy. So as far as Big 12, I think it helps us a lot and creates problems for a lot of teams."