Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Gipson has performed admirably despite its limitations, but it's the Wildcats' embrace of an offense without a true post scorer that has led to their success.
Kansas State's offense has a dynamic point guard, a reliable go-to scorer, and several other guys who can shoot as well as provide points in their own unique ways. But there's one type of player that seems to missing.
Thomas Gipson's big body and decent jump shot makes him dangerous and occasionally Jordan Henriquez still shows some flashes of the player we once thought he could be. Unfortunately, though, this team simply doesn't have a player with the back-to-the-basket scoring abilities of a Jamar Samuels, Curtis Kelly, or hell, even a Matt Siebrandt (loved that guy).
No, none of those guys were dominant post scorers by any means, but they had enough versatility to their games that you couldn't neutralize them in the low block with just size and athleticism, which seems to be the case with Gipson. His offensive rebounding can be a critical X-factor and of course he did a great job getting 10 of his 16 points on traditional post-entry passes against the smaller Cyclones. But other than a sweet little post-up and-one by Rodney McGruder following an offensive rebound, that was it for the first-place Wildcats' low block offense.
Perhaps it's worth noting that this trend is evident throughout the Big 12, a league where the top 7 scorers are all guards and you simply can't find anything resembling a dominant big man like, say, Thomas Robinson or LaMarcus Aldridge (defensively dominant not included, Jeff Withey). ISU and KSU have already been mentioned, but Oklahoma State's backcourt trio of Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le'Bryant Nash provide us with yet another example of a guard-heavy offensive attack.
We may be discussing come tournament time what a weakness this is, but in league play the first-place Wildcats (yes, I'm typing that every chance I get) have found a way to make it work. The most critical component was the brilliant decision by Bruce Weber (more words I wasn't really expecting to type early in this season) to move Shane Southwell to the 4 spot, but there's more to it than that.
K-State's motion offense with all of the off-ball movement and screening is just much better for more athletic players, which is why you don't really see Gipson doing a whole lot other than cross screens and those nifty little handoffs McGruder especially has learned to utilize to perfection. Defensively, teams simply can't hope to defend the lane as well, which just so happens to be perfect for Kansas State's personnel.
Angel and Rod both have an uncanny ability to finish those little floaters, while Shane and Martavious are both at least pretty good at getting the shot, even if they're not as good at making it as they sometimes think they are. Luckily, Shane has figured out a pull-up jumper that works better, and it's all more available in the efficiently run offense.
Bruce Weber's offense is not Iowa State's wide open 5-out, NBA-style look, and it doesn't need to be. Big Gip and JO can at least do enough to keep defenses honest or finish a pick-and-roll with a good entry pass, so that keeps the mid-range game open enough, as well as the perimeter.
Of course, this all gets a little trickier against Kansas thanks to the presence of Jeff Withey and a whole lot of length and athleticism, as we saw in Manhattan 3 weeks ago. The key may be finding a way to draw him out of the paint, though that won't be easy and will also be rather dangerous considering JO and Gip generally look about as comfortable as a Floridian in Alaska when they're more than 15 feet away from the basket.
In fact, it's probably against this type of team that K-State's lack of a post presence hurts the most, which should worry us a bit in two upcoming games against Baylor as well, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. The jump shots will have to fall for K-State to win this one, without a doubt.
The good news is defending Kansas has gotten a lot easier lately, and K-State certainly has the personnel to make life Hell for Elijah Johnson, Naadir Tharpe and the rest of the Jayhawk guards. High pressure will be critical, especially early, because we all know what happens when Kansas gets into a rhythm early at Allen Fieldhouse.
In fact, KU has jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first 8 minutes (6 for all but one) of the last six Sunflower Showdowns played in that city between Topeka and KC. The last time that didn't happen? That was Jan. 21, 2006, when Kansas State still had to rally back from a double digit deficit and won 59-55 in a game that I believe ended some sort of streak.
To recap, if KSU falls behind big very early, start drinking heavily. If the 'Cats stay close for a while, even if the Jayhawks eventually get out in front, don't lose hope.
Random closing thought: Has there ever been such a huge difference between Big Monday matchups than last week's game featuring two awful, not-even-close-to-ranked teams (WVU vs. UT) and this one between two top 15 teams? I doubt it.