When a team goes 10, 11, or even 12 deep, the intuitive assumption is that team should be getting better as the game goes along. Yet here we find K-State — with perhaps the most-used bench in the Big 12 — has gotten blown away in the second half in two of its last four games.
So what's the problem? I wish there were an easy answer. I tried desperately to find some sort of statistical correlation to prove this issue didn't suddenly come up out of nowhere, but to no avail.*
*Did you know prior to these last four games K-State was virtually tied with opponent in the first (228-229) and second (252-257) halves? And that the Wildcats either tied or won the second half in their first four Big 12 road games?
We can safely rule out physical fatigue, and I think it's hard to place too much blame on the coaching staff, considering Frank really hasn't made any noticeable changes to his game management lately.
Mental fatigue is a possibility, as maybe this team is feeling the stress and pressure caused by a shrinking margin for error after two losses to a pathetic OU team put the Wildcats into the bubble discussion.
Or perhaps the issue is a lack of leadership, as K-State has had six different leading scorers in its last six games, and no one has reached 20 points since Rodney McGruder dropped 33 against Texas. While on the one hand that shows kind of incredible balance, I'd rather see someone consistently reaching the 15-20 point range.
Instead, McGruder's last four games have been the four lowest-scoring games of his Big 12 season. I have to imagine that's a direct result of his foot injury, but the fact is Kansas State just doesn't really have a player to fill that role of go-to-guy if Rod is incapable of doing it.
It's (NOT) worth noting that if you combine the way K-State played in the first half in Lawrence with the horrible second half play in Ames and Austin, you'd have the perfect recipe for KSU's biggest loss of the season. Stay Positive!
For a quick KU preview, check the jump.
Thanks to Baylor's complete lack of defense, especially on the interior, Jeff Withey managed to transform from slightly better than Eric Chenowith to Cole Aldrich in the course of a week. This could be a big, big problem for Kansas State.
If Thomas Robinson plays like the Big 12 POY he probably is and Withey decides to become more involved (he had a very quiet 8 points and 9 rebounds in Lawrence) then we'll need to see the very best from Jamar Samuels, Thomas Gipson, and Jordan Henriquez/Adrian Diaz to shut him down early and remind Withey who he is.
I'm a little nervous.
I'd like to say offensively K-State should attack the basket hard and try to draw some fouls against a Kansas team that is really not very deep, but yeah, the UT game is still pretty fresh in my mind.
In theory, it's the right thing to do, but in my experience All-Americans and big white guys that play for KU don't get called for a lot of fouls, even in Manhattan.
Kansas State shot 5-20 from beyond the arc in Lawrence (4-14 in the second half) and that's clearly not going to get it done. Will Spradling seems to have found his stroke and if Rod is really limited with his injury, then setting him up for some open looks off screens may be the best way to go.
Defensively, I think the Wildcats just kind of have to hope the Jayhawk guards, especially Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford, don't get hot on the perimeter, because you have to take chances somewhere if you want to stop the big guys. Obviously Connor Teahan only has the three, so that must be taken away from him.
It would be awesome if Will didn't get embarrassed defensively, but it seems like a foregone conclusion that Johnson or maybe Releford will catch him napping on a backdoor cut for an alley-oop at some point. Hopefully he can take enough charges to make up for it.
The real key on the perimeter may be containing Tyshawn Taylor. Whoever is on him (likely Martavious Irving or a steadily improving Angel Rodriguez) must find the balance between putting too much pressure on him and letting him drive by you, or backing off too much to let him get going from the outside or see the floor.
Really, a repeat of last game from Taylor would be fantastic. He had eight turnovers to just three assists while making 5 of 14 shots, but regrettably, he has become a smarter player since then.
Kansas State was blown out in Lawrence, and the most egregious stat from that game was KU's 50 rebounds to KSU's 26. With the energy from the home crowd and desperation K-State should be feeling, there's absolutely no excuse for that to happen again.
My bigger concern is finding good shots, and getting the ball to go through the big orange circle. At times, this offense has been harder to watch and featured more stumbles than a Republican primary debate, and that's just not going to work when you're trying to beat those cocky liberal front-runners from Lawrence.