MANHATTAN — By his own admission, Xavier Sneed's junior season for Kansas State has been one of ups and downs.
"A rollercoaster," in his words.
But it also has been one of personal growth.
"Being more of the all-around player, doing all the things — doing the dirty work and anything the team needs for us to win," he said. "I feel like I've been stepping up and taking on that role."
As the season winds down and the Wildcats fight to hold on to first place in the Big 12 — they take a one-game into today's 3 p.m. game against Oklahoma State at Bramlage Coliseum — Sneed has been a bit of an unsung hero in the shadow of seniors Barry Brown, Dean Wade and Kamau Stokes.
In last Monday's 65-51 victory at West Virginia, he came up big down the stretch to finish with 19 points and seven rebounds, knocking down five 3-pointers. That pushed K-State's record to 20-6 overall and 10-3 in the Big 12, a full game in front of Kansas and Texas Tech with five to go.
"He's been more consistent," K-State coach Bruce Weber said of Sneed, who came on strong at the end of last season as well. "The older you get, the more consistent you are (and) the more dependable you are.
"He was a good defender last year. I think he's become a defensive stopper and taking a lot of pride into that."
Adding to the 6-foot-5 Sneed's value is his ability to slide from small forward to power forward — the No. 4 spot — at a moment's notice. He was forced into that role at the end of last year when Wade went down with a foot injury and again when Wade missed six games in December and January.
"Since Dean went out in December, his rebounding has been really good for us," Weber said of Sneed. "It seems like second half of each game he goes and gets those big rebounds in traffic when we need them on stops.
"He leads us on the play-hard (chart), which he did a year ago. In a nutshell, he's advanced his game — he's more diversified and I hope a little more consistent."
Sneed's 10.3 points a game rank third on the team in scoring behind Brown (15.9 points) and Wade (13.5) and his 5.6 rebounds trail only Wade's 6.6. And after his experience at the power forward during K-State's Elite Eight run in last year's NCAA Tournament, he feels more at home switching back and forth this season.
"Just being able to be versatile and step up and play different roles for our team has been good for us and me learning and being able to be in that position," Sneed said. "So when it comes time with foul trouble or anything like that, I'm able to understand and be able to know what to do at the four and being able to guard the four as well.
"On the offensive end I have some advantages as well sometimes. I have a bigger defender playing me, so I can bring him out to the perimeter or the other way around."
That's music to Weber's ears.
"Freshman year I begged him to play four and he didn't really want to — he had to at times," Weber said. "Sophomore year, obviously he was forced into it and he really accepted it, and I think he found out he can use it to his advantage, the mismatches.
"He has bigger guys guarding him, and if he moves without the basketball and runs the screen, guys have trouble keeping up with him. Bu default he figured out that, hey, it's not bad to play that."
’Cats face Cowboys
The Wildcats face Oklahoma State team today that has struggled at 10-16 overall and 3-10 in the league. K-State drilled the Cowboys, 75-57, on Feb. 2 at Stillwater in a game that was not even that close.
But they have a quick turnaround, heading to Lawrence on Monday to face Kansas. Depending on today's games — KU has a big road test at Texas Tech — the Sunflower Showdown could be for first place in the Big 12.
"It's getting to the (point in the) season where it's almost win or go home, so every game is important from there on out — play every game like it's your last," Sneed said. "So I just have to have that mentality for every game, coming out and doing your best and giving your best effort has been key for us."