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Gonzaga preview: Big win needed

With the Big 12 looking as bad as I can remember, the 'Cats two remaining chances at marquee nonconference wins loom large.

Mike Stobe

OK, Kansas State's basketball schedule is finally getting serious, so it's time for me to start giving this team some serious attention. Thus far the results have been adequate, but the product on the court has been rather disappointing especially for Rodney McGruder (40% FG/26%3FG is not even close to All-Big 12 numbers) and Jordan Henriquez (just....everything).

The good news is despite a couple scares, Kansas State has basically ensured it will get through the nonconference slate without a bad loss. It was often quite ugly (eerily similar to Big Ten basketball, in fact) but KSU does seem to have what it takes to win close games, which could even end up being the difference between the NCAA and the NIT come March.

Now before a couple of virtually automatic wins against UMKC and South Dakota State to close out the noncon, K-State and Bruce Weber get two valuable, though difficult, opportunities to make a statement. #14 Gonzaga and #5 Florida have suffered just one loss combined this season, and that came in a hotly contested game that saw Illinois' Brandon Paul become absolutely unstoppable against the Zags' defense.

A win in one of these two games would grab not only national attention, but also turn some heads on campus and in Manhattan, where most minds are still somewhat understandably fixated on football. K-State needs to at the very least look good and put a scare into the Gators or Zags to have the crowds it deserves and needs against a fairly rough early Big 12 home schedule (OSU, OU, KU).

That brings us to the state of the conference, which is pretty terrible right now. The league has just two wins over ranked teams, and both of them (OSU over NC State, Baylor over Kentucky) came against top 10 teams that have since proven themselves to be quite overrated. The records vs. other BCS conferences aren't pretty, either.

SEC 2-1

Big East

ACC 3-0
Big Ten 0-5
Pac-12 3-4

That's 8-12 overall, and the record against the Big Ten really makes me sad. Gonzaga has already utterly destroyed Oklahoma and West Virginia, though we can't really take the Moutaineers seriously at alll now after Huggs and his team lost to Duquesne. MMMM.....soak it in.

Despite their rankings, I still think KSU has a better chance of upsetting Florida than Gonzaga, and that's not completely because the Gators are playing in KC and today's game is in Seattle. Though it's not as extreme in recent years, with Kenny Boynton and a slew of other quality guards leading the way, KSU could win that one with some good 3-point defense and a little bit of luck,

It will take a lot more than that to take down Gonzaga, who as usual brings a very disciplined and balanced team into Saturday's game. The way I see it, the only way KSU wins is with a quick start and its best shooting performance of the season, which would really only require certain guys shooting at least up to expectations.

The Zags a have a more athletic big man than anyone for the 'Cats in Elias Harris, and he can't be allowed to get to the rim. He averages 16.6 points and 8 rebounds per game, making him the clear focal point of this offense.

Kelly Olynik is pretty good inside, too, though at least the big 7-footer isn't much a of a shot blocking threat. He's a little slow for that and Thomas Gipson or D.J. Johnson would be well served to go right at him and try to get him in foul trouble when they get the opportunity.

The guards aren't likely to get too rattled, even if they're both sophomores. Gary Bell, Jr., and Kevin Pangos shoot the 3 very well, and they'll probably give Angel Rodriguez and Will Spradling all they can handle defensively.

This would be an ideal time for McGruder to break out of his slump, and the halfcourt offense will have to show a lot more movement to crack Gonzaga. Defensively, extending the pressure and pushing the offense out a bit both on the perimeter and in the post might be KSU's best bet.

It's hard to imagine Kansas State winning this game, but at least the 'Cats don't have to deal with the noise and tininess of The Kennel in Spokane. Gonzaga has lost four of its last six in Seattle, admittedly against mostly excellent opponents, so perhaps there is some hope.