Well, Jevon Thomas will officially be part of the team Saturday. Sadly, he will not play. More on him in a post later this week.
Let's start with talking a little bit about how upsets happen. Because this would definitely be an upset, even if Kansas State gets the nice homecourt boost one would hope they will enjoy in Wichita.
It seems to me the two most common formulas for upsets are 1) make a lot of jump shots, particularly 3-pointers and/or 2) shorten the game by slowing it down (less possessions) and playing tenacious defense, preventing the favorite from getting in an offensive rhythm. Of course, that's simplifying things quite a bit and there are a variety of other factors, but those are two surefire methods.
The worst 3-point shooting team in the Big 12 by a WIDE margin (330th out of 351 teams nationally) isn't likely to suddenly start hitting jump shots, so let's go ahead and rule that one out. The sad part is KSU ranks 5th in the Big 12 in 3-point shots attempted because guys like Shane Southwell and Will Spradling (yes, he's been better lately) still remember when they could hit 3-pointers.
Anyway, that leaves us with playing hard and ugly, which conveniently seems to be the only way Bruce Weber knows. In last year's Gonzaga preview, I said Kansas State was playing "eerily similar to Big Ten basketball" and this season, even I have to reluctantly admit the words "eerily similar to" are no longer needed.
To win games against superior talent (a situation K-State will likely be in often this season) the 'Cats must buy in fully to the Bruce Weber philosophy. /shudders
That means playing so hard on defense that you sometimes don't even have the legs to shoot a good jump shot on the other end. It means getting up in opponents' faces, jumping in the passing lanes, and just doing whatever possible to frustrate and disrupt their offensive flow.
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Help defense becomes critical, and maybe my biggest concern is this kind of play doesn't exactly fit with the new stricter foul rules. If the opponent gets some free throws and maybe even a layup off a backcut or two, so be it, as long as you're forcing some turnovers yourself.
At least K-State does have a couple guys in Nigel Johnson and Marcus Foster that could turn steals into points, though they haven't looked particularly adept at or inclined to doing it most of the time. Maybe the addition of Thomas will help here.
In the meantime, K-State cannot afford to stand around on offense trying to catch its breath for the first 15-20 seconds of the shot clock. This happens too often and just because Marcus Foster can create his shot well doesn't mean he should, as evidenced by his less-than-stellar 38 percent shooting from the field.
So that's the general formula for Kansas State to get an upset this year (and yes, it makes me cringe), but what about some specifics vs. the Zags?
Well, Gonzaga scored 80 points in each of its first 10 games before a 68-59 win against South Alabama in Seattle last Saturday. Since Kansas State is not ever going to win if Gonzaga scores 80, the coaches would do well to figure out what happened in that game after the Bulldogs took a 22-3 lead about 10 minutes in.
This team lost a ton of talent from the one that beat Kansas State 68-52 last season, especially on the interior (Kelly Olynyk and Elias both made it to the NBA, though only Olynyk stuck) where they destroyed the Wildcats last year. They're still extremely tall, with Przernek Karnowski at 7-1 and Sam Dower at 6-9.
But the guy that makes this team go is 6-2 guard Kevin Pangos, who is kind of sneaky quick, shoots 47.4% from 3, 91% from the line, and passes the ball fairly well. That's a deadly combination, and it's no surprise he's their scoring leader at 18.7 points per game with only 1.2 turnovers per game.
Gary Bell, Jr., isn't bad, either, and he's shooting a ridiculous 50.9% from 3. In other words. whoever is guarding these guys (probably Marcus Foster and Shane Southwell) won't be able to help out a whole lot, especially since Gonzaga has a point guard named David Stockton (yep, that Stockton family) averaging 4.9 assists per game.
I suspect that will be Will Spradling's matchup, and it would be nice to see Will make him a little uncomfortable on the dribble then back off a little when Stockton doesn't have the ball, since he's not much of a threat to shoot. I have faith Spradling will do what he can, but not as much faith that that will be enough.
In terms of tempo, Gonzaga doesn't play super fast (174th in KenPom's Adjusted Tempo ratings) but K-State (289th) will still probably want to slow them down. Offensive rebounds would help a lot in that regard, and maybe even lead to some easy baskets.
Gonzaga has made so much of a habit of getting out to an early lead that even in their lone loss to to Dayton in Maui, they led by 15 in the first half. That can't happen for Kansas State, who isn't built to come from behind and must not lose the energy from the Intrust Arena Crowd.
If you want some good news, the only time the Zags didn't pull away early and in fact barely won, 80-76, was their lone game in a hostile environment at West Virginia. The Mountaineers are not an especially good team, so here's hoping this veteran Gonzaga team didn't learn from that experience.