Amidst all the celebrating, praising, and hand-wringing that goes along with Angel Rodriguez as the man leading the offense, it's easy to forget that Kansas State also has a guy who seemed like at least a serviceable point guard at the start of this season. Only the most delusional among us would ever predict All-Big 12 status or anything close to it for Will, but he didn't do a terrible job.
Will Spradling avoided egregious turnovers, could knock down open shots, and I'd like to think it would throw opposing defenses off a little when they heard the voice of a 12-year-old calling out plays. Sometimes, it makes me sad to think those days are over.
Still, much like Will's individual talent, it was always evident the K-State offense with him running it had a definite ceiling. Though he has learned to make opposing guards pay if they fall asleep, Will generally couldn't make something out of nothing off the dribble, and he's not one to make those crazy passes that can either lead to incredible alley-oops (about 40 seconds in), remarkably stupid turnovers, or anything in between.
In spite of everyone hopping aboard the Angel Rodriguez Roller Coaster, Spradling still has a vital place in the K-State lineup and a very bright future ahead of him. He fits well into the Frank system and continues to be a guy you can count on to give great effort every night.
For some thoughts on Will's new role and a short Missouri preview, click the jump.
Theoretically, moving Will over to the shooting guard should have been good for a guy generally regarded as one of the team's best pure shooters, but 29% from the field and 27% from beyond the arc in conference play would indicate otherwise. It doesn't seem like Will is a guy that would be affected mentally by losing his spot at the point, but this has been going on too long to just be a regular slump, so maybe he is suffering from no longer getting those pull-up looks when defenses failed to find him pushing it down the floor.
It does seem that his cutting ability could use a lot of work -- and not just because of his lack of quickness -- so maybe that's part of the problem as well. If there's anyone on the team that could adjust to having to learn a new position, you'd think it would be Spradling, but apparently it's going to take some time.
On the plus side, he remains a more consistent alternative at the point when Angel needs a rest or just a quick trip to the bench to clear his head. The more we can keep Martavious Irving away from playing the 1, the better.
Defensively, Spradling is much less of a liability than he was when he arrived in Manhattan. Unfortunately, against teams loaded with quick and athletic guards (see: Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri) his lack of lateral foot speed becomes quite evident.
It's one of my many concerns for tonight's game at Columbia, where preventing easy baskets inside from the relentless Tiger guards will be crucial. To his credit, Will did a great job in a team-high 31 minutes against Mizzou in Manhattan, but I find it kind of hard to imagine that Michael Dixon and the Presseys aren't licking their chops a little when they see some of the game film of Spradling's defense.
I'm sure we all fondly remember the game in Bramlage, where Kansas State absolutely dominated the first half and cruised to victory by attacking Missouri on both ends of the floor. It was a thorough stomping that made a lot of people stupidly question all of the Tigers' success to that point, as well as the limitations of a four-guard offense in the Big 12 conference.
I'd also like to take this opportunity that I not only predicted the upset, but also wrote "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." Kansas State won the rebounding battle 39-25 and committed just 14 turnovers in the blowout.
Sadly, much of what happened in Manhattan is extremely unlikely to be repeatable in Columbia. There are several reasons the average annual difference in the margin of the two games has been an astounding 28 points during the Frank Era, with the home team winning every game.
To me, the biggest thing that always shows up in the series between these two teams is shooting, specifically behind the 3-point line. Ron Paul is going to be our nation's president before Mizzou shoots 22.7% from the field in the first half on its homecourt, where the Tigers don't have the horribly ugly dark wood inside the Bramlage 3-point lines to distract them.
The same goes for Kansas State's 58.6% shooting in the first half, though a large part of that can be credited to great shot selection from getting the ball inside and completely overwhelming the smaller and weaker Tigers.
While Missouri has about the same overall percentage at home (49.7%) in Big 12 play as on the road (48.1%), the difference from 3-point range is much more pronounced. The Tigers are shooting 42.4% in 7 conference home games, compared to 30.7% in other Big 12 buildings.
I still say the best option to stop the three-ball is to pay especially close attention to Marcus Denmon and Kim English and hope the other guys don't get hot, though Michael Dixon has been Missouri's best scorer for stretches at times this season. This team has enough offensive weapons that it can easily make up for an off-night from any one of its outstanding top six players.
I don't really want to dwell on it too much, and our friends at Rock M Nation (Update: RMN's preview is up, and to their credit, it doesn't really mention the officials) will surely have a more in-depth explanation, but it's impossible to ignore the effects of the officials in a game between two teams that play with such high-energy. This doesn't mean K-State shouldn't attack the basket again as much as possible, because Mizzou still doesn't have any shot blockers.
One obvious impact is that I would almost guarantee Ricardo Ratliffe will not be rendered essentially nonexistent with four fouls that limited him to 14 minutes, as he was in Manhattan.The good news is Ratliffe looked just plain awful for large parts of Mizzou's game Saturday against A&M, scoring four points in a game where he was benched not for fouling, but for ineptitude.
However, I do want to note Mizzou shot 25 free throws to Kansas State's 21 in the first meeting, so it would be incredibly difficult for Tiger fans to convince me that the referees played any part in KSU's dominance.
The basic gameplan shouldn't really change much from the first game, but Frank may have to do more in terms of game management to keep the crowd from getting into it and maybe slowing the game down to give Missouri fewer possessions. The Tigers are going to make more shots this time, so Kansas State must be ready with answers.
At the end of the day, I don't feel great about K-State's chances here. But I will say I think the Wildcats have more hope of winning this one than Missouri has of winning in Lawrence on Saturday. I'd love to be wrong on both counts.