I know basketball's not at the top of anyone's priority list right now, and if you're just getting here today, you should definitely go back and read TB's informative Cotton Bowl posts before you read this one. Still, no matter what happens, try not to get too crazy tonight because Kansas State still has a very important basketball game tomorrow, and 12:30 may come pretty quickly.
Let's start, though, with the nonconference review that I would have put together earlier this week if I weren't so
busy lazy. Unfortunately, Wednesday's Big 12 opener was quite forgettable, so let's just pretend for a moment that it didn't happen. OK? Good.
As you may recall from our preview, none of us (with the possible exception of Bracket) really thought this team was capable of getting to January with just one loss in at the beginning of this season. With that in mind, I feel pretty good about the fact that we were one Kevin Jones 3-pointer (or a little bit of defense from Jordan Henriquez, if you prefer seeing the glass half-empty) away from being undefeated heading into Big 12 play.
That being said, 11-1 now certainly doesn't look quite as good as it appeared it would at the beginning of the season. I would argue that Virginia Tech, Alabama, and West Virginia have all performed below expectations so far, though that could change before it really becomes important in March.
Certain wins were unspeakably ugly and it wasn't too hard to find some glaring weaknesses, most notably poor shooting from everywhere, especially 3-point range, the lack of a go-to scorer, and inconsistent play inside. On a personal note, I was quite frustrated that the only loss came against the
team coach I really, really wanted to see the 'Cats beat.
Still, the defense and rebounding was consistently stingy enough to grind out a lot of ugly wins, and a whole bunch of guys showed some great potential, which was really a nice surprise. All in all, it was a successful nonconference season, and it even came with a trophy in Hawaii, though it's really a shame that Xavier picked such a poor time to implode.
If the one loss hadn't come in such heartbreaking fashion against West F****** Virginia, I might be willing to give this team an 'A.' In any case, the Wildcats put themselves in great position to get another NCAA bid if they can just finish 4th or 5th in the conference and win at home once or twice against the top 3 teams.
Which brings us to the undefeated Missouri Tigers. Click the jump for a preview.
This is the point where we have to stop pretending that the KU game didn't happen, because it did and it could have some serious consequences. None of us have forgotten that disasters like that happen every year in Lawrence with Frank on the sideline, but it may be useful to review what has followed those disappointing letdowns.
I regret to inform you that the answer is not positive. Following losses in Lawrence, Frank Martin teams are 2-2, and it gets even worse. The wins were at home against Nebraska by 16 last season and at home against a terrible Colorado team by just 6 in 2008.
The losses are more disturbing. First, you had that disastrous home loss to Iowa State (on Fake Paddy's Day in front of a listless crowd, as I recall) from Frank's best team two years ago. Then you also had an ugly 22-point loss at Nebraska (!), which was immediately followed by an18-point loss at home against a ranked Baylor team.
We don't know a lot about this team's resiliency right now (I don't want to talk about UNF), but we're about to find out. I know Oklahoma is pretty terrible this season, but I still have some concerns about what could happen if KSU travels to Norman following an ugly 3-game losing streak.
I've learned to never count the 'Cats out at Bramlage, but it's kind of hard to imagine K-State beating Baylor if we can't beat Missouri tomorrow. Fortunately, I think the Wildcats match up very well with Mizzou and I'm trusting Frank has gotten his team's morale back up after that absolute beatdown.
The first thing you should know about the Tigers is that they play a 4-guard lineup and shoot better than 52% from the field, which leads the nation. You may want to read that again, because it really shouldn't be possible.
The keys are this team passes better than just about anyone else, and every single player (outside of Steve Moore) is capable of taking you off the dribble. That means you've got to be really, really alert on your help defense. I'm looking at you, JO, Jamar Samuels, and Thomas Gipson.
At the same time, you've got to know where Marcus Denmon and Kim English are at all times, because if those two guys get hot from 3 — 45.7% and 55.3% (!!), respectively — they will put points up in a hurry. The other key, of course, is getting back in transition, which is something K-State has done very well this season considering how hard they attack the offensive glass.
Obviously, the 4-guard offense is going to lead to some defensive deficiencies inside, and while K-State won't be able to exploit that as much as a Baylor or a Kansas, it should be an important edge. I'd love to see Kansas State dominate the boards against Mizzou as much as Kansas did against us, although Mizzou's rebounding margin (+4) is a lot better than you would expect.
In any case, the most important thing for K-State to do is attack the basket, then attack it some more. Not only does Mizzou really lack any significant shot-blocking threats (it's not that hard to avoid Steve Moore, is it?), but the Tigers are now down to just 7 scholarship players, since Kadeem Green announced he's transferring.
Their rotation is about 7.5 deep (Andrew Jones is the .5), so the constant worrying about officiating in these games from our friends at RockMNation is probably warranted this year. K-State can put out anywhere from 8-12 players, depending on how Frank's feeling, so while I don't expect Mizzou to get physically tired, I think K-State could wear them down mentally.
Of course, we've also got some history on our side. Kansas State has beaten Mizzou 8 straight games in Manhattan, and Frank's teams have shown the ability to knock off undefeated conference opponents in the Octagon of Doom.
I'm feeling optimistic about this one, and I say K-State pulls away late to get a tough and much-needed win. But if the 'Cats can control the boards and limit turnovers (two big ifs, to be sure) then it's not impossible to see Kansas State winning this game comfortably.
Bonus preview: The Lady 'Cats — who were picked to finish 9th in the Big 12 — travel to Lawrence Saturday night to try to put on an encore to their stunning win over #8 Texas A&M on Wednesday and move to 3-0 in conference play.* Surprisingly, KU might actually have the most underrated 12-1 team in the country, considering they won at #25 Texas earlier this week.
The Wildcats will probably need another strong effort from Brittany Chambers and Jalana Childs to beat KU for the 20th time in their last 22 meetings. K-Stats is shooting a horrendous 38% from the field on the season, but made 54% of its shots against A&M.
Kansas, on the other hand, leads the Big 12 by shooting better than 50% from the field, so K-State may want to solicit some defensive tips from Frank Martin heading into this one. It should be interesting, and this may be the only sport outside of men's basketball where KU has a better team than Kansas State.
*I'm counting home vs. Mizzou next week as an automatic win. It may seem presumptuous, but I'm telling you, Mizzou women's basketball is terrible.