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2014 Maui Invitational: Kansas State vs. Pittsburgh Panthers - Game Preview

The island tournament wraps up competition today with a full slate of games; K-State takes on Pitt for 3rd place.

There's swagger...then there's #FosterSwagger
There's swagger...then there's #FosterSwagger
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The 2014 EA SPORTS Maui Invitational comes to a close today, with final round games all day at the Lahaina Civic Center. K-State will enter into the ring with the Pittsburgh Panthers at 2:30pm local time (6:30pm in Manhattan), scrapping it out for a 3rd place finish in the tournament.

To get here, K-State upended Purdue 88-79 in the opening game, dropped yesterday's heartbreaker 72-68 to Arizona. Pitt defeated Chaminade in the opening round 81-68, and lost to San Diego State 74-57. Rest and bench depth will be more important than usual in this game for both teams, with this game the third in as many days.

Head Coach Bruce Weber opined after the Arizona loss yesterday:

"Well, you come to these tournaments to play against good competition if on a neutral floor and learn about your team. I think we've made a lot of progress since last Friday. I've asked them to have an urgency, and I think we've done that. We've competed. We've played hard. Now we've got to do some little things, some execution and get better on that part."

I agree wholeheartedly with Bruce. We've seen a lot more fight, a lot more "want to" out of the squad since Friday's loss to Long Beach. It was the little things that kept us from victory yesterday against Arizona, and it will be the little things that hinder us against any good team.

On a related note, I just ran into Weber in the hotel this morning.  Some small talk, but he offered:

"It's so loud in that gym.  The guys couldn't even hear me yesterday.  And the scenery outside of the game isn't bad, either."

Know Your Opponent

Pittsburgh (3-2) comes in picked to finish 6th in the ever-expanding ACC this year. The Panthers have suffered a bit of the same fate as us, as they came over to Hawai'i early to play a non-conference road game - and were knocked off by Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors 74-70 in Wailuku.  Head Coach Steve Fisher of SDSU said in postgame yesterday:

"...we fought like crazy on the glass. They're (Pitt) a very good offensive rebounding team, and they showed it again tonight. You look at the total 17, and its hard to keep them off the glass."

HC Jamie Dixon has these guys playing hard, but they are certainly mistake prone against a ratcheted-up defense.  The Panthers went through a three-possession stretch where they didn't get a shot off in any trip down the floor, and committed 17 turnovers against SDSU last night.  Pitt will chuck the ball up from deep as much as anyone - in fact, K-State and Pitt have both attempted 82 three's on the season - and those that do shoot it from outside aren't bad shooters. Tempo-wise, they're a little bit slower team, so they could be pressured into more mistakes if we get the game sped up.

Keep a close watch on:

Sophomore forward Michael Young and junior guard James Robinson. Young is leading Pitt in both scoring (15.0 ppg) and rebounding (8.6 rpg).  Young crashes the offensive glass hard, averaging over 4 offensive rebounds per contest. Robinson carries both scoring and distribution responsibilities, averaging 12.4 ppg, 5.8 apg, and even chips in almost 4 rebounds per contest. Robinson paced all scorers in their loss to SDSU with 17.

Offense/Defense Strategy:

The Panthers threw both man-to-man and a 2-3 zone at SDSU to try and keep them from scoring.  According to Dixon, neither worked.  I won't disagree.  We need to be more efficient with our motion against the man. If Pitt does pull the zone out, we need to see much better side-to-side action with the ball, and get that back-end freed up for Foster/Edwards going to the lob, or Nino and Iwundu on baseline drives.

We did see a couple of 2-3 zone possessions from the Wildcat defense yesterday, but expect a steady diet of in-your-face man defense today.  Their performance against SDSU last night proved Pitt can't shoot the ball well - they can't even run their offense - if they're being harassed constantly.

Probable Starters

Kansas State:

Nino Williams, 6-5 220 Sr
Thomas Gipson, 6-7 265 Sr
Wesley Iwundu, 6-7 195 So
Jevon Thomas, 6-0 185 So
Marcus Foster, 6-3 210 So

University of Pittsburgh:

F Jamel Artis, 6-7 220 So
F Michael Young, 6-9 235 So
F Derrick Randall, 6-9 240 Sr
G James Robinson, 6-3 198 Jr
G Chris Jones, 6-6 213 So

3 Keys To The Game

#EMAW is a 5-point favorite.  I don't think it'll be that close if we play with the passion we had against Arizona.

1. Little Things.

Go re-read that quote by Bruce (above).  Sharper execution, timing on offense, earlier defensive rotation, and fundamental rebounding.  Take care of those things, and this game should go pretty smoothly.

2. Defensive Rebounding.

Right now, we're not a very good rebounding team, with 30.4 rpg.  That puts us at 311th in the country. The team we're playing today has 77 offensive rebounds on the season - nearly 16 a game.  Fundamentals in rebounding will be very important; find a guy, get inside position, keep them on your backside, and go get the ball. They're not a great offensive team, so giving Pitt more than one chance per possession will just allow them to remain in the game.

3. Don't Let Yesterday Beat You Today.

Said this after the loss at Long Beach, but for an entirely different reason. Yesterday's loss to Arizona was hard-fought. It was both physically and emotionally draining. And it leaves that gut-wrenching feeling in your soul of "what coulda been". We can't feel sorry for ourselves. We need to come out with focus, determination, enthusiasm, and go grab that victory today with both hands.