USA TODAY Sports
Kansas State's sophomore big man is hitting his stride at just the right time and could be poised for a big game against the Longhorns.
At first glance, it really seems like Thomas Gipson should be too limited as a player to make a significant impact offensively against good basketball teams.
His quickness and jumping ability isn’t going to ipress anyone, and it often seems like his only real post move is that little left-handed jump hook that requires him to be within at least five feet of the basket . Of course, he is really, really good at that and as the picture above shows, he can occasionally do that with his right hand.
Sure, you’re going to notice his bulk and strength from the moment he walks into a gym, but theoretically you should be able to neutralize it by knowing his favorite moves and his obvious limitations. So based on all of that, how has Big Gip been able to average almost 12 points per game in the final six games (including just 4 at Baylor) in a conference with a round-robin format that should mean every team knows everything about each other by the end of the year?
The simple answer is relentlessness like the kind more often found in Kansas State’s offensive lineman than its post players. Gipson just seems to be playing with more fire and desire recently, and well…. would you want to get in his way?
But another critical factor is him learning how he can best contribute within the offense, whether that’s a pick-and-roll, being in the right position when the guards penetrate, knowing where to post up to get the best angles for entry passes, or just crashing the boards like a madman. I remember one time against Oklahoma State Gipson got stuffed by Michael Cobbins on that signature jump hook, but for the most part he uses his body beautifully and knows just when he can get it off.
Of course, another factor might be that teams are rightfully more focused dangerous players like Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez, sometimes allowing Gipson to sneak to the basket or maybe gain a favorable matchup if the defense switches on a screen. But with Jordan Henriquez struggling for any number of reasons (some beyond his control) Gipson deserves some major credit for responding and picking up a heavier load.
It has been much needed for an offense that was at times in danger of relying too much on outside jumpers and really lacking in interior scorers. D.J. Johnson may get there eventually, but at the moment he and Adrian Diaz really don’t pose much of a threat to put the ball in the basket unless they get it about 2 feet away.
Gipson still isn’t a guy that’s going to give you a ton of minutes, and in fact it’s rather astounding that he leads the team in rebounds (162 to McGruder’s 161) despite playing a mere 19.3 minutes per game. Like an offensive lineman, or maybe a fullback, he’s going to get winded quicker than most with his style of play, but I’d much rather have that for 15-25 minutes than a more subdued version.
With all of that being said, it must be understood that he’s probably not going to be very useful against a team with the length of athleticism of a Baylor or Kansas or, looking ahead, a team like Georgetown or Gonzaga. The more vertical a team can go, the less they have to worry about actually getting around Gipson in order to shut him down.
However, Texas really doesn’t have as much of that kind of size, which helps explain why Gip scored 17 in the win over the Longhorns in Manhattan and another 10 in Austin. He’s coming one off a solid performance in Stillwater that saw him play 29 minutes for only the second time in Big 12 play, so I’m expecting another big effort if K-State needs it.
Ideally, though, the Longhorns will be put away early, a goal best accomplished by shutting down Myck Kabongo. UT is actually 5-3 with him in the lineup, including wins against Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor.
In fact, Texas has only lost to the top 3 teams in the league since Kabongo came back, though they were quite lucky to not fall at Texas Tech when he shot 0-for-12 in the season finale. Somewhat remarkably, he actually had a fairly efficient 24-point performance at Kansas State that wasn’t nearly enough.
My biggest concern is that an excellent shooting night for the ‘Cats made that game look more lopsided than it could have been, so K-State had better either plan to shoot that well again or step it up on the defensive end. The partial homecourt advantage should help KSU and our guards are capable of turning this into an easy win, but it would be unwise to underestimate a desperate Texas team.
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