The Kansas State Wildcats (15-15, 8-9 Big 12) are finishing their regular season off with a road trip to Austin, to take on the an enigmatic Texas Longhorns team that is fighting for a bubble-spot in the NCAA tournament. Texas recently snapped a four-game losing streak by taking down Baylor in a 61-59 overtime home victory.
K-State, on the other hand, has been continuing their up-and-down season, but very much on the "up" end recently, taking down top-15 ranked Kansas and Iowa State teams in Manhattan before having the week off this last week. Those two victories have sparked a lot of NCAA bubble talk about the Wildcats, that from a 30,000-foot view, is intriguing if not on the fringe of insane. But diving into the details reveals a K-State team that is only competitive in the Octagon of Doom, and that's not good enough to make the tournament, regardless of the quantity of diamond-quality wins it comes with.
As for Big 12 standings, we're currently sitting tied for 6th with Okie Lite, but would be seeded 7th for a first round game against Texas Tech based on tiebreakers. OSU travels to Morgantown today to take on West Virginia. A loss by OSU and a loss to UT makes a three-way tie for sixth, but would drop us to 8th on tiebreakers. An OSU loss and a K-State win bumps us up to sole sixth, and a bye for the first round, presumably taking on Oklahoma. If OSU pulls off the win at Huggieville today, we'll either be alone in seventh, or in a tie for seventh with UT, taking the eighth seed in the tournament.
Know Your Opponent
The Texas Longhorns (18-12, 7-10 Big 12) is one of the few teams this season to come into Bramlage Coliseum and hand the Wildcats a loss, a 61-57 contest where both teams played without key players - Texas was missing Jonathan Holmes and Javan Felix due to injuries, and K-State played without Marcus Foster and Malek Harris due to their "violation of team rules" suspension. Isaiah Taylor and Conner Lammert keyed the win for the Longhorns, with Taylor putting up a 23-point, 4-assist effort, and Lammert coming in off the bench to knock down three shots from behind the arc en route to 12 points and 9 boards.
As a quick refresher, UT is a team that has a ginormous frontcourt, and let's their opponents know it. They lead the country in Block% at 19.9% (yes, 20% of their opponents possessions, they block a shot). With that comes a tremendously good 2PFG defense percentage - again, nation leading at 37.5%.
Texas will have Holmes and Felix for this game, while K-State will still be missing key players (see below). Holmes is arguably the best all-around player on the team from the forward position, and can effectively put the ball in the bucket from inside and out, grab rebounds, and defends very well. Felix will likely come off the bench, but is a quick, little point guard that can make the outside shot at nearly a 40% clip.
Keep a close watch on:
Sophomore guard Isaiah Taylor, and the entire front line of the Longhorns. Isaiah Taylor leads the team in scoring and assists, and is one of the best in the country at drawing fouls and creating assists. Their offensive metrics show that the ball goes through him when attacking the basket.
The UT bigs are just a problem altogether. The combination of Cameron Ridley (6-9), Prince Ibeh (6-10), Myles Turner (6-11), Jonathan Holmes (6-8), and Connor Lammert (6-9) give opposing offenses fits by blocking shots on one-fifth of possessions, and snare nearly 40 rebounds per game. To top it off, Ridley's a big dude that takes up space on the inside, Turner is a gifted athlete that can score very easily, and Holmes and Lammert create matchup issues with the ability to step out and reliably hit the three.
Rick Barnes's crew plays mostly man-to-man, and plays straight up to let their frontcourt erase shots at the rim. They don't overplay much, so their steal numbers are very low, but it's more than made up for their defensive prowess inside the arc on defending shots. K-State will need to be very explicit on how they run their motion offense, and expect an inside-out game to get guards out of position for mid-range and outside jumpers. If the Cats decide to attack the shot blockers of Texas, they need to go right at them and try and draw fouls to get to the line. Playing finesse or avoiding contact on drives will only result in the shot in the front row of the stands.
K-State, of course, will be in its man defense for most of the game. Keeping Isaiah Taylor out of the lane will be important, as will having a good defensive rotation strategy for when Holmes and Lammert step out to the three-point line. Expect to see a lot of Stephen Hurt and Malek Harris this game, to get some height matched up on the Longhorn bigs.
Kansas State Wildcats:
F Stephen Hurt, 6-11 265 Jr
F Thomas Gipson, 6-7 265 Sr
F Wesley Iwundu, 6-7 205 So
G Marcus Foster, 6-3 210 So
G Nigel Johnson, 6-1 185 So
F Jonathan Holmes, 6-8 240 Sr
F Connor Lammert, 6-9 240 Jr
C Cameron Ridley, 6-9 285 Jr
G Kendal Yancy, 6-3 200 So
G Isaiah Taylor, 6-1 170 So
3 Keys To The Game
So, word came out yesterday that Jevon Thomas (Coaches' Decision) and Nino Williams (personal reason) did not make the trip to Austin. In the case of Jevon Thomas, that could potentially be a good thing, and a glimpse into next season. Who knows. But the bigger loss here is Nino Williams, by far. The senior, while not a huge guy, plays bigger than he is, and understands how to defend larger opposition; not to mention his ability to stretch the floor a bit with the mid-range jumper and pull bigs away from the basket. With Nino out, the list of frontcourt Wildcats is now limited to: Thomas Gipson, Wesley Iwundu, Stephen Hurt, Malek Harris. That's it. How the team deals with such a limited bench in the paint will absolutely be the outcome for this game.
2. Prove You Can Play Away From Home
Aside from the OT win at Oklahoma, we've had a big ol' pile of nuthin on road games this year. I'd like to see the Cats make the leap to show they can play on the road, but this particular game, given the shorthanded circumstances, might be a bit much to ask for.
3. Maintain Some Sort of Momentum
Winning home games against hated arch-rival KU and another ranked team in Iowa State certainly have built a buzz, a feeling of momentum around Manhattan. Let's carry that into the Frank Erwin Center, play like we mean it - like we can - and try to keep that forward momentum rolling into Kansas City.
All stats by http://www.kenpom.com, or by the respective university's sports information.