At the beginning of this season, calling Kansas State a 3-point shooting team probably would have gotten you some weird looks. Sure, we knew Will Spradling and Rodney McGruder could light it up from time to time, but this team's identity revolved around attacking the rim, then attacking it some more after the shot.
It would be wrong to say that's completely changed, but at some point K-State became quite capable of burying teams with shots from far away. Just ask Oklahoma, Texas or even Iowa State.
Thanks in large part to the remarkable improvement of Shane Southwell, Kansas State has the highest 3-point percentage in the Big 12 in league games at 38.8%. That's rather remarkable, especially when you consider Angel Rodriguez shoots only 30% and is actually tied for the team lead in attempts at 65 in 15 conference games (*cue Jen here*).
Clearly, Kansas State is not Iowa State, who ranks second in the country behind VMI with 743 (26+ per game!) 3-point attempts. But other than the 'Clones, Baylor is the only team in the Big 12 that has shot more from deep (KSU will surpass last year's total on Saturday with 11 attempts) than the Wildcats, and that's just because in Waco they don't have a coach smart enough to tell them that's a bad idea.
So far, the 'Cats have generally done an excellent job of keeping defenses honest without putting themselves in position to live or die by the three, with one obvious exception. Nonetheless, we've seen far too many teams shoot themselves out of the NCAA tournament when they should have made an adjustment to not be a little bit concerned by KSU's transformation.
Sure, K-State didn't shoot well from 3 against Michigan (4-18) or Gonzaga (6-18), but that was more because of excellent defenses that simply stopped everything K-State tried to do. It should be encouraging that the 'Cats can still win comfortably while shooting 3-16 against a team like Texas Tech, while losses during decent shooting nights at Iowa State (7-19) and Kansas (8-19) probably show us 3-point shooting can't cover all deficiencies for this team.
I'm not proposing any set number of 3-point attempts Kansas State should never surpass or anything like that, since different defenses will clearly give you different looks. But hopefully Bruce Weber and his staff are keeping a wary eye out to make sure their team doesn't develop any bad habits as far as shooting 21-footers when 10-15 footers or driving lanes are available.
Cold shooting nights tend to happen more often on the road, probably due to a combination of factors including but not limited to unfamiliar backdrops, difficult atmospheres, and better defense by opposing teams able to communicate better and get out to shooters quicker. Ideally, this won't happen Saturday night against Baylor, who just so happens to have by far the best 3-point field goal percentage defense (28%) in the conference.
That's probably attributable to the impressive athleticism and length of the Bears, though that didn't help them stop Kansas State from making 11 of 25 3-pointers in Manhattan. It would not be smart to count on that again, but we can certainly learn some other things from that game.
First of all, the key will once again like in stopping Pierre Jackson from creating shots for himself and others. Angel did a phenomenal job of keeping Jackson in check scoring two weeks ago, which just made it all the more jarring when Josh Gray repeatedly burned Rodriguez off the dribble Monday night.
Presumably Jordan Henriquez will be back, but it might be asking too much of him to hope for a repeat performance against the Baylor bigs after all that he's endured off the court in the last week or so. We need his energy the most on the defensive end and hopefully Rod or maybe our new go-to-guy (kidding, but that 9-point stretch was clutch) Nino Wiiliams can pick up the slack.
The Bears should be playing with a sense of desperation, which might make them more dangerous. Hopefully, though, a strong start will be enough to make the Bears get out of control and self-destruct, since they don't have a coach capable of righting the ship once it's sinking.
Spradling's defense on Brady Heslip will be critical, and the good news (I think) is that he missed all 6 3-point attempts in the win over West Virginia Wednesday. It would be great if Thomas Gipson could have another big day, but I just don't think he matches up well with the Bears.
A win Saturday would set things up for a huge game in Stillwater next weekend (provided KSU shows up against TCU) that could be the most important regular season game for the Wildcats in a long, long time, at least for a young person like me. Let's there so we can have that discussion.