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Men's Hoops Preview - Kansas State vs. Texas Southern Tigers

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The Cats return from the week of family, food and fun of Christmas Break to make final preparations for Big 12 play at home against Texas Southern University.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Two to go in the non-conference slate...crazy how quickly this season is moving along. The Kansas State Wildcats (7-4) return to action Sunday to host the Texas Southern Tigers at 2:00pm CT in Bramlage Coliseum. K-State is coming off a decent-but-not-exceptional 71-64 win over Texas A&M at the Sprint Center in Kansas City last week, where earlier that day, Texas Southern went into East Lansing and took down Michigan State in overtime.

Against the Aggies, Nino Williams continued to lead the way scoring with 17 points, and Wesley Iwundu finally made an appearance with a couple of great plays, punctuated by the highlight-reel coast-to-coast dunk in the second half that quickly made its way to the networks and ESPN for the whole world to see. But it was Thomas Gipson that earned game ball that night, tallying 14 points, 6 rebounds, and going 6-6 from the stripe. He found a way to anchor the interior of the K-State offense and defense against a decent A&M squad, and managed to stay out of foul trouble for the first game in a while.

Say what you will about the coasting at the end of the game, but we did see the Cats finally address some concerns on some level. Turnovers were kept to a manageable count (12, compared to our season average of 14 per game), first half energy was good (K-State led the entire game, and worked the ball around to find open shots, connecting on a ridiculous 82% FG in the first half), and defense was stepped up a notch (notedly better on-ball defense and early rotations in help situations).

Know Your Opponent

Texas Southern (2-9) comes into the game off a one-point December 23 loss at Auburn, but their crown jewel in an otherwise unimpressive season is an overtime victory over Michigan State last Saturday. Watching most of the second half, the Tigers played inspired and matched Sparty shot-for-shot in the second half. Combined with some shaky shooting by Michigan State down the stretch, the stars aligned, and Texas Southern was able to capitalize in the extra five minutes for their only road win of the season.

Good win aside, Mike Davis' crew is not a very good basketball team. They are sub-250 in just about every meaningful stat, except defensive steal percentage, where they actually are nearly a top-50 team; the Tigers manage to net a steal 11.3% of the time (national average of 9.6%). They do come in with four players averaging double-digits scoring.

Why does it seem like every team we have played is good at stealing the ball?

Keep a close watch on:

The team revolves around junior forward Chris Thomas. The Marshall-transfer leads the team in scoring (15.3ppg), rebounding (4.7rpg), and is second in assists (2.0apg). He turns it up on the defensive end with 1.8 steals per contest, and is a top-150 player in the country when it comes to percentage of minutes played, percentage of possessions used, and percentage of team shots. Interesting factoid: Ken Pomeroy's website offers other similar players for comparison - and he's currently compared to our very own Justin Edwards during his time at Maine. If you're looking for someone beyond Thomas on their roster to pay attention to, look for senior forward Jason Carter. Carter is an Alabama transfer, and has only played in the Tigers' last three games. A bit of an unknown quantity so far this year, he is averaging 11.0ppg in relatively limited minutes.

Offense/Defense Strategy:

Texas Southern uses a mixture of set zone and matchup zone, and will throw some true man-to-man at us as well to mix things up. Aside from creating steals, they're not that great at defending the bucket. The Tigers are below-average in creating turnovers, and are near the bottom of the barrel in eFG% allowed. Similar to past games, just executing our gameplan on offense will be important with moving the ball side-to-side, find inside-out opportunities, and probe the backside of the zone for easy scoring chances. While it is a byproduct of playing a zone defense, Texas Southern is giving up more assists per made field goal than average.

K-State, of course, will be in its signature man defense. They're decent at drawing fouls, but are really a poor shooting team, as a whole and especially behind the arc. I'd like to see us sag off a little more than usual, daring them to shoot the three while protecting the basket and decreasing the opportunities to draw fouls against our bigs in rotation.

Probable Starters

Kansas State:

Nino Williams, 6-5 220 Sr
Thomas Gipson, 6-7 265 Sr
Justin Edwards, 6-4 195 Jr
Jevon Thomas, 6-0 185 So
Marcus Foster, 6-3 210 So

Texas Southern Tigers:

F Chris Thomas, 6-5 190 Jr
F Jason Carter, 6-9 240 Sr
F Nick Shepard, 6-9 220 Sr
G Deverell Biggs, 6-1 185 Sr
G Madarious Gibbs, 6-1 190 Sr

*Note: Texas Southern has adjusted their starting lineup quite a bit this season as players have become available or matchups have dictated. The Thomas/Shepard/Biggs/Gibbs spots are very likely, but that fifth spot...who knows.

3 Keys To The Game

1. Playing Against The Zone

Its a subset of "Valuing the Basketball", but we saw some sloppy, lazy passes against Texas A&M's zone that easily got picked off. Live-ball turnovers turn into points on the other end. Need to tighten things up on the offensive end of the floor.

2. Continue Defensive Improvement

This is not a good offensive team in Texas Southern. K-State needs to come out of the gate on the defensive end especially, and lead this one wire-to-wire. The Tigers know they can play with good teams...if those good teams let them stay in the game. We saw quicker on-ball defense and better/earlier rotations in the last game, but it still needs to get better to contend in the top half of the Big 12.

3. Don't Just Chalk It Up

Looking past this Tigers squad to the New Year's Eve tilt against Georgia probably won't entirely cause a loss at home, but would certainly make things uneasy for the team, and frustrating for all of us. The Cats need to focus, lace 'em up, and come out ready to play.

All stats by http://www.kenpom.com, or by the respective university's sports information.