The Kansas State Wildcats (8-7, 1-1 Big 12) pop into the Lloyd Noble Center for a key matchup with the Oklahoma Sooners at 6:00pm CT. K-State is coming into the game off a rough, gritty 58-53 win at home over an improved TCU squad who appears to be better, but still not to a point of truly competing in the Big 12. The Sooners last contest was an absolute pasting of the Texas Longhorns (70-49) in Austin on ESPN's Big Monday slate.
Want to know how the TCU game turned out in greater detail? Check out the game recap here. Long story short - #EMAW came up with a win. It was better than bad, but not quite good.
Know Your Opponent
The Oklahoma Sooners (11-3, 2-0 Big 12) come into this game as an elite basketball team in the NCAA right now, ranked #7 by Kenpom.com, #16 in the RPI, and tied atop the Big 12 conference standings. K-State greats Lon Kruger and Steve Henson have this team working well offensively, but operating as a well-oiled machine on the defensive end. We haven't played against a defense this stout all season.
Unlike TCU, who also sported a pretty impressive statistical resume defensively, Boomer has played a decently challenging schedule, with their only eyebrow-raising issue being an 18-point collapse on the road to Creighton, way back before Thanksgiving. There's nothing to be ashamed of in losing to Wisconsin on a neutral floor, and even the neutral-floor loss to Washington doesn't look particularly questionable.
The only glaring negative statistics in Oklahoma's portfolio is their lack of offensive rebounding (29.5%, 228 of 351), and getting to the free throw line (30.3 FTA/FGA, 314 of 351). Both those can play into our hands a bit, since we're really not strong in opposition to either.
In general: man, these guys are good. Watch out. There's true NBA talent on this team.
Keep a close watch on:
Junior guard Buddy Hield is a legitimate contender for not only Big 12 Player-of-the-Year accolades, but national POY awards. You will find very few players that are as pivotal to success as Hield, especially when talking about great teams like Oklahoma. Hield's stats have actually decreased ever so slightly from last year, but he's still averaging 15.8ppg, 5.5rpg, and 2.0apg in a shade under 30 minutes per game. Anchoring the inside for Oklahoma is senior TaShawn Thomas and junior Ryan Spangler. Thomas is a transfer from Houston, and has been able to provide instant inside scoring credibility, putting up 11.8ppg and 5.8rpg, and posting 1.5 blocks per game. Spangler is a Gonzaga transfer, and is very crafty at grabbing rebounds and scoring off of those second opportunities. He leads the team with 8.1rpg, and scores 9.4ppg on almost 60% FG. One last player to mention - Isaiah Cousins. The larger of their three starting guards, Cousins is a legit three-point shooter at 45.2% on the year, and goes for 13.4ppg, 6.4rpg, and almost 2 assists per game.
But you know, great teams don't have notable weak spots.
Oklahoma throws a good mix of man and zone defense at their opponents. They don't force turnovers at an exceptional rate, but they defend the shot very well without fouling (#8 Defensive eFG% in the country, #20 in FTA/FGA on defense). Expect to see the Sooners switch every screen; a good offensive scheme will realize this and use it to leverage mismatches. I'd love to say K-State could get this wrinkle in their offense, but I'm not convinced we really understand our base offense, let alone any tweaks that could be inserted in less than three days.
K-State, of course, will be in its man defense. Oklahoma does a good job of getting into the paint with dribble penetration, then finding the dump-off pass to a big, or kick out to a shot behind the arc. Most threes for their offense come from this concept, as opposed to off the dribble or perimeter screens. When Oklahoma shooters are open, they make the shots.
Kansas State Wildcats:
F Nino Williams, 6-5 220 Sr
F Thomas Gipson, 6-7 265 Sr
F Wesley Iwundu, 6-7 205 So
G Marcus Foster, 6-3 210 So
G Jevon Thomas, 6-0 185 So
F Ryan Spangler, 6-8 235 Jr
F TaShawn Thomas, 6-8 242 Sr
G Jordan Woodard, 6-0 189 So
G Buddy Hield, 6-4 212 Jr
G Isaiah Cousins, 6-4 192 Jr
3 Keys To The Game
1. Don't Let It Get Out Of Hand
K-State needs to come out with energy on both ends of the floor, and keep it a game through the first 30 minutes to give themselves a chance. If turnovers start getting linked together on our offensive end, and Oklahoma can capitalize on the other, this game can get out of hand quickly. We don't have the consistent firepower to come back from a 10+ point deficit to the Sooners.
2. Offensive Efficiency
Oklahoma excels at keeping opposing offenses from being efficient. But, aside from turnovers, we score pretty effectively (or, at least we have been across the season as a whole). We need to be patient but explicit with the ball on offense, and find good shots without forcing them up. Turnovers will be absolute doom tonight. Foster and Gip both need to have good nights, supplemented with another double-digit scorer in Nino, Wes, or Nigel. K-State can come out with a win if we get into the 60s. If it stays in the 50s, I don't think we are scoring efficiently enough to be on top. If the game gets quicker - 70s or 80s - we're probably getting blown out, given how our offense has been operating lately. I'd love to be wrong here, but we have the slimmest margin of error on offense of any game this season.
3. Protect the Paint
Good things happen for any team when they can get the ball into the paint under control. The Sooners thrive off of this. K-State has to strive to keep the Oklahoma guards out of the lane at all costs, and if the ball is passed into the bigs from the perimeter, weakside doubles with rotation to the opening will be critical to keep from the pass-in/kick-out three. Best case scenario is we force their guards to take guarded mid-range jump shots off the dribble, and when the ball does make it to the interior, they get one tough shot or a turnover, and we clean the glass.
All stats by http://www.kenpom.com, or by the respective university's sports information.