Kicking off the final stretch of the non-conference schedule, Kansas State University (6-4) takes on the Texas A&M Aggies in a semi-neutral-court tilt in the Sprint Center in Kansas City (tipoff 6:00pm CT). The Wildcats are coming off a 73-53 victory over the Savannah State Tigers a week ago; a game that was neither convincing in any fashion for our progress, nor useful in relation to our season resume. K-State comes in 5-1 all-time in The Wildcat Classic games in the Sprint Center.
In the previous contest, Nino Williams continued his run of outstanding basketball, finishing with 20 points and 7 rebounds - good enough to earn him Big 12 Player of the Week accolades. Though it was a relatively low-production night scoring for Marcus Foster (13 points), he did end the game with 7 assists.
Usually, games like the past one are used to work on some things, to get better, and to get the subs some useful playing time. K-State just needed a win, and a convincing one at that. We needed a confidence booster...and I'm not sure we got it. The Cats jumped out to a seven-point lead in the first 10 minutes, then proceeded to play dead even with one of the worst teams in Division I college basketball - #317 of 351 - from the 10:00 point in the first half to the 10:00 point in the second half. AT HOME. The final 10 minutes of the game finally saw some true separation, with K-State pulling away to win by twenty.
There were good things to be found, such as 70% FG in the second half, and 19 assists on 24 made buckets. But when Brian Rohleder and Brandon Bolden find career-highs in minutes in the first half because of effort and consistency issues? Ugh.
It's no wonder we dropped from #75 to 77 to 80 over the past two weeks.
Know Your Opponent
Texas A&M (7-2) comes into the game ranked #54 in Pomeroy's rankings. Schedule-wise, the Aggies have played some decent competition, coming away with wins against New Mexico and Arizona State, but their two losses are a home game to Dayton, and a road loss to Baylor. Comparatively, our schedule has been against pretty decent teams or very poor teams, where A&M has played more consistent competition across the board.
Collectively, the stats bear out that A&M is an above average offensive team, and a solid defensive team. Texas A&M is coming into the game with a top-50 offensive eFG% of 54.6%, and defensive TO% of 23.4%. They also share the ball well, with a 62.2% A/FG ratio. Their only true weak spot is at the line, where the Aggies shoot a 62.2% rate.
A&M also substitutes 10 deep, with their bench seeing nearly 43% of the available minutes in a game. Their starting guard spots are BIG, going 6-5, 6-5, and 6-7 on the perimeter.
Keep a close watch on:
Junior forward Jalen Jones and junior guard Alex Caruso. The SMU-transfer Jones is a top-500 player in many statistical categories and is coming off a 27 point, 8 rebound night against Youngstown State, where he went 11-15 FG (4-4 3PFG). He's averaging 13.4ppg and 6.1rpg, leading the team in both. Caruso is one of the best in the country in assist rate (percentage of plays he is involved in where he makes an assist) at 43%, and steal rate at 4.2%. He's also capable of big scoring nights, picking up 17 against Dayton and 23 against Arizona State. The ball goes through Caruso on the offensive end; he's averaging nearly 6 apg, but also 2.7 turnovers a contest.
Texas A&M doesn't rely on one strategy on the defensive end of the floor, utilizing a mix of both zone and man to guard. Regardless, they get the opponent to turn the ball over at a much-above-average rate. Offensively, we just need to be sharp and execute our offense well when they're in man-to-man. When they throw a zone at us,
we should give up we need to value possession of the basketball, and get some dribble penetration in the gaps to either create lanes for passing or collapse the defense and find the open man. Movement of the ball is a must...something we've struggled with against zone.
HC Bruce Weber likes man-to-man defense, so that's what we'll play all day. Early help-side rotation, and second-man rotation is going to be extremely important in this game. A&M brings a high assist rate and a very good eFG% to the game, leading me to believe they're not necessarily scoring off the first attack, but are very good at finding the second or third man after defensive rotations begin to break down. Getting out and covering the three point line off defensive rotations is my biggest area of concern.
F Nino Williams, 6-5 220 Sr
F Thomas Gipson, 6-7 265 Sr
G Justin Edwards, 6-4 195 Jr
G Jevon Thomas, 6-0 185 So
G Marcus Foster, 6-3 210 So
Texas A&M Aggies:
F Jalen Jones, 6-7 220 Jr
F Kourtney Roberson, 6-9 245 Sr
G Alex Caruso, 6-5 185 Jr
G Danuel House, 6-7 195 Jr
G Jordan Green, 6-5 190 Sr
3 Keys To The Game
1. Defensive Rotation
A&M's high assist rate and effective FG% is worrisome to me, given how poor our defense has been in the aspects of rotating on help, and getting back to the perimeter shooter after the ball has come into the paint. Teams seem to have their best three-point shooting performances against us for that reason, and the Aggies already come into this game shooting well above average from behind the arc.
2. Value the Basketball
K-State comes into the game at #294 in offensive turnover rate, at 22.5%. Think about that for a second. 22.5% of our possessions this year have ended in a turnover. But wait - it gets worse. Our offensive steal rate is 12.3%; that is in the bottom 10% of all D-I programs. So not only do we turn the ball over way too much, but more than half those turnovers are live-ball turnovers. Steals lead to easy buckets on the other end. Chuck the ball out of bounds, and your defense has a chance to set up and get numbers balanced. Put the ball directly in the hands of the other team, though? Run outs and layups. Texas A&M is good at creating turnovers, and their perimeter defenders are going to be huge in size compared to us. In order to have any semblance of a good chance to win, we need to keep under 12 turnovers for the game (we've been averaging 15 per contest this season).
Given this past week was finals week, but the guys have to come out with some energy and passion. Hopefully a little rest did them some good, and they got some practice in (Practice? We talkin' 'bout practice...). It's been blatantly obvious the Cats have been playing, playing, playing...and not getting much practice. If K-State comes out fired up and ready to go, and competes from the opening tip, we'll be in the game right to the end. If we see more of the same that has been on display since the Arizona loss, though, this one will be over pretty quickly.
All stats by http://www.kenpom.com, or by the respective university's sports information.