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Game Preview - Kansas State at Tennessee Volunteers

The Big 12 is 6-2 in this year's SEC/Big 12 Challenge; look for K-State to solve some road consistency issues as they travel to Knoxville to extend the conference's record to 7 wins.

The defensive intensity needs a big boost, in a hurry.
The defensive intensity needs a big boost, in a hurry.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State University (4-3) travels to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Wildcats are coming off a 84-66 home victory against the Omaha Mavericks this past week. Some scrappy play by UNO combined with sloppy ballhandling and questionable defense by the Cats keep the game close in the first half. K-State came out in the second half and started playing like the 16.5-point favorite that we were, and pulled away for the 18 point win.

Huge questions surround this year's team regarding road play and our effort and consistency. We've only undertaken one true road game so far this season, a 69-60 loss to Long Beach State marred by poor shooting and a general (perceived) lack of effort. However, the trip to Maui yielded mixed results: a solid game in a 88-79 victory over Purdue, a valiant effort in a 72-68 loss to #2 Arizona, and a surprisingly poor, almost disinterested outing in the 70-47 loss to Pitt. Today being our second true road game, with no big games or events immediately on the horizon, should give us a good quality control check for playing away from Bramlage this year.

#EMAW comes into the game as one of the better offensive teams in the country across the board, but a surprisingly poor defensive team in many categories. What is causing such a major shift from previous seasons? I have my thoughts, but I'm all ears...

Know Your Opponent

Road games against other power conference foes are tough, period.  The Vols (2-3) have taken on some decent competition this year, but have nothing to really show for it. They've dropped a true road contest to a ranked VCU team, and lost to both a #11 ranked KU squad as well as Marquette in the Orlando Classic. Tennessee's only home game this year came in a 12-point win over Texas Southern. All things considered, this isn't a game we should lose, but as mentioned - road games are tough, period.

Tennessee is a team that isn't doing anything particularly well right now, outside of offensive rebounding and shotblocking. Their 43.4% offensive rebounding percentage is ranked 3rd in the country, and they're Top 100 in both blocking shots on percentage, as well as not allowing their shots to be blocked. Beyond those particular metrics, the Vols are remarkably pedestrian to below average across the board.

Keep a close watch on:

Guard Josh Richardson and forward Armani Moore. Richardson - a senior and All-SEC Defensive Team selection - is a big, rebounding-type guard averaging 15.8ppg and 4.8rpg, with a track record of consistent scoring. Armani Moore is a bit of an undersized forward - similar to our Nino Williams - but finds his way inside to average 12.0ppg and 7.0rpg. Moore's games have been more hit and miss than consistent across the board.

Offense/Defense Strategy:

Tennessee will bring a combination of primarily zone defense, mixed with a little man-to-man to change pace. From what I've personally seen of Tennessee this year, their zone defense has had a propensity to fall asleep on the back, especially on the weak side of the floor. Look for us to find some outside shots early to stretch the defense, then begin to take advantage of that weakness on the backside with lobs to the rim for players like Wesley Iwundu, or mid-range baseline jumpers from Nino Williams.

We'll throw our man-to-man defense at the Vols, and expect to see a little more sagging off players on the perimeter and focusing on making Tennessee take jump shots. Outside of Richardson, no one on the team is especially turnover-prone. The Vols are shooting a dismal 26.8% from behind the arc on the season, with Richardson and freshman Detrick Mostella the only players shooting better than 25%.

Probable Starters

Kansas State:

Nino Williams, 6-5 220 Sr
Thomas Gipson, 6-7 265 Sr
Wesley Iwundu, 6-7 195 So
Jevon Thomas, 6-0 185 So
Marcus Foster, 6-3 210 So

Tennessee Volunteers:

F Armani Moore, 6-5 215 Jr
F Willie Carmichael III, 6-8 210 Fr
G Robert Hubbs III, 6-6 195 So
G Josh Richardson, 6-6 200 Sr
G Kevin Punter, 6-4 180 Jr

3 Keys To The Game

1. Extend from the last game.

The last 5 minutes of the first half and the entire second half against UNO this past week exhibited a K-State basketball team that showed they could execute. Showed they could play. Showed they wanted to play, they wanted to win. We need to harness that mentality and that focus, and take it on the road today. With home contests against Bradley University and Savannah State coming up on the slate, there's absolutely no reason to overlook this game. We need to come out with the same frame of mind we ended the game with on Tuesday, and go get this road win.

2. Defensive Improvement.

It's been mentioned by me, it's been noted by many of you. This team is not up to par with recent K-State teams defensively. The statistics bear that proof - we're actually a below average to poor team defensively in many important factors. Most notably, though is our defense is giving up an opponent's effective field-goal percentage of 55.2%, good enough for 317th out of 352 Division I basketball teams. That's not bad...that's terrible, given the athleticism and talent on this team. The national average is 48.5%, and while we're having one of the best offensive seasons in recent memory, we're offensively only at 53.8%. Going back five years, we have had the following defensive eFG%:

  • 2014: 45.3% (26th nationally)
  • 2013: 47.5% (127th nationally)
  • 2012: 46.0% (46th nationally)
  • 2011: 47.3% (85th nationally)
  • 2010: 46.8% (80th nationally)

(Effective Field Goal Percentage, or eFG%, is calculated (FGM + 0.5*3PFGM) / FGA, in order to give additional value to the additional points due to three-pointers)

Of additional note defensively, we put our opponents on the charity stripe way above average. Our Free Throw Rate for opposing teams (FTA / FGA) is 47.7%, 301st in the country (average is 37.8%).

3. Attitude Adjustments.

As I commented in the recap, we've got a couple sour attitudes creeping into the locker room. Gip needs to come out and be a leader, and not let himself get into foul trouble. He tends to mentally check out of games when he picks up a couple of quick, early whistles. Tennessee isn't huge by any stretch, but they will be able to put bodies on Gip that will make him work. He needs to go to work, and not get cheap or petty with throwing his weight around or getting into shoving matches.

I'm also very interested in seeing if JT can still keep that fire and that harassment going on defense without going over the line. He's toed right up against it in previous contests, and went over that line against Omaha. Can he get up on the ball handler, be an absolute pest and jaw at the other player, but let it stop after the whistle blows?

Finally, I'd like to see a tweak to Foster's attitude. Yeah, the dude's good, he's near the top of the list for offensive stats through this point of his career, and he was just named to the 50-player Naismith Award watch list. He's a scorer, and he's shooting at a pretty high level this year. BUT...I have noticed that he also likes talking smack at not quite the right times. Maybe a shot early, or maybe a play too soon. I don't have a problem with some jabbering on the court, but make sure the game talks first.

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