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Men's Hoops Preview - Kansas State at Oklahoma State Cowboys

Clearly misfiring on multiple cylinders, K-State comes sputtering into the Big 12 slate in the condition of an '86 Volkswagen Jetta hopping into a NASCAR race.

Nigel Johnson is gettin' the go for Saturday.
Nigel Johnson is gettin' the go for Saturday.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Here goes nuthin', right? I mean, its the start of the Big 12 conference schedule! This is what we've been prepping for the entire season so far! This will be fun, right? RIGHT!? I mean, there's no way this could go badly. I'm sure of it! [begins sobbing uncontrollably]

The Kansas State Wildcats (7-6) begin the 2015 Big 12 march toward, well, something, by traveling to Historic Gallagher-Iba Arena to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys at 11:00am CT. #EMAW is coming into the game on a two-game skid, dropping their last within the confines of the Octagon against a solid Georgia squad. Oklahoma State recently picked up an overtime victory against Mizzou, 74-72, in the Sprint Center in Kansas CIty.

In an effort of brevity (I'm currently in Texas for the Alamo Bowl game), here's the link to the Georgia Game Recap, if you're so inclined. You know, for history's sake.

Know Your Opponent

Oklahoma State (10-2) has a somewhat unproven record this year. They haven't played a murderer's row of a schedule by any means, and the two teams that could be considered "good" at this point - South Carolina and Maryland - beat the Cowboys handily.

Stats bear out that OK-State is above-average to good in nearly every measurable category that matters. They're a top-50 squad in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, opponents eFG%, defensive Turnover %, opponents 2PFG%, defensive Block %, and defensive Steal %.

In other words, K-State should be very concerned about another low-scoring output again today, as their strengths play right into our weaknesses, with their ability to get opponents to turn the ball over and protect the rim.

They also have a good inside-out game; comparatively, they score a lot from behind the arc (though not at a great rate), and are one of the best in the country at getting to the free throw line. The tempo of the game should be a little quicker than we've seen the past several.

If Oklahoma State were to have a weakness, it would be that they don't rebound offensively very well, so it will be important to maximize on that and limit the Cowboys to one shot as much as possible.

Keep a close watch on:

The Cowboys are led by forward LeBryan Nash and guard Phil Forte III. Combined, they comprise one of the best scoring duo's in the country, averaging 35.0 ppg (17.9 and 17.1ppg, respectively).  A preseason All-Big 12 Honorable Mention, Nash also leads the team in rebounding (6.7 rpg), and is currently the #1 player in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Forte is a solid outside shooter at 38.3% behind the arc, and is top-25 in the country in both Steal % and fouls committed per 40 minutes. Another player to pay attention to is forward Michael Cobbins, who has one of the highest FG% in the country at 77.1%, and protects the rim with 2.1bpg.

Offense/Defense Strategy:

Oklahoma State plays primarily man-to-man, but HC Travis Ford will throw a zone out there from time to time to shake things up.  These guys play solid defense, and really force the issue with ball and passing lane pressure. Get by their first line, and they've got long arms waiting to swat shots away.

Offensively, turnovers will be a death knell. We have to take care of the ball to levels unseen this season, and be very disciplined in moving the ball and attacking the basket at the right time to be successful. In other words, do exactly what we did in the second half against Georgia.

K-State, of course, will be in its man defense. The Cowboys are good at drawing fouls and have a good inside-out game, but they're not exceptional at moving the ball for assists, perhaps relying a bit much on one-on-one play. That makes them ripe for drawing charges, but not much else, given our propensity for poor on-ball defense.

Probable Starters

Kansas State:

Nino Williams, 6-5 220 Sr
F Thomas Gipson, 6-7 265 Sr
F Wesley Iwundu, 6-7 205 So
G Nigel Johnson, 6-1 185 So
Marcus Foster, 6-3 210 So

Oklahoma State Cowboys:

F LeBryan Nash, 6-7 235 Sr
F Michael Cobbins, 6-8 230 Sr
G Jeff Newberry, 6-2 190 Jr
G Phil Forte III, 5-11 185 Jr
G Anthony Hickey Jr, 5-11 185 Sr

3 Keys To The Game

1. Value The Basketball

Oklahoma State is very good at turning the ball over, especially with steals for those live-ball runouts I've been preaching about lately. They're absolutely killing us, and need to stop immediately. If we can't take care of the ball on the offensive end, we're in trouble.

2. Around The Rim

Rebounding will be a key stat for the victor. Oklahoma State isn't impressive at crashing the glass offensively, so we need to focus on fundamentals and not let them beat us with something they're not good at. Offensively, we need as many opportunities as possible. K-State should set up to release either our PG or SG down the floor for fast-break defense, but crash the boards with the other four players on the floor.

Additionally, K-State needs to make the bunnies. Collectively, it hasn't been as bad this year as in the past, but the last couple of games have seen a lot of shots at the rim bounce out. Layups and shots at the rim have to fall; open possessions where we have a point-blank look are almost as bad as a turnover.

3. Shake Things Up

What Bruce Weber did to shake some things up against Georgia actually worked to a certain extent. I'd like to see more of it. Foster needs to have a much shorter leash this game, and Jevon Thomas better not start or so help me... I'd be completely OK with bringing Gip off the bench in favor of Stephen Hurt, and even start Wesley Iwundu for Nino. (**note: K-State SID shows probable starters eschewing Jevon and Edwards for Wes and Nigel; Gip still in the starting five) Regardless, keep trying something new, because status quo won't get it done.

All stats by, or by the respective university's sports information.