The Kansas State Wildcats (7-2, #76 kenpom ranking) return to action after a week away for fall semester finals, taking on the Colorado State Rams. The game is being played at Wichita's Intrust Bank Arena; the first of a "home-and-home" series with the Rams. Next season's "home" game for Colorado State will be played at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The Cats are coming off a 10-point road loss to Texas A&M, where we saw a stifled Justin Edwards, an under-the-weather Dean Wade, some solid effort from Wesley Iwundu late, and a lot of turnovers.
Know Your Opponent
Colorado State (6-4, #170 kenpom ranking) is a team that seems to be still putting puzzle pieces back together after a 27-7 season last year. The top 3 players from that squad are all gone now, and head coach Larry Eustachy has had his work cut out for him to find a way to replace more than 50% of the teams scoring, rebounding, assists, block, steals, and minutes played. The season started promising with a road win over Northern Iowa - the same Northern Iowa that took down North Carolina - but has fizzled, dropping 4 of their last 5, including in-state losses to rival Colorado and, inexplicably, to bottom-dweller Northern Colorado [cue bad memories of 2014].
The last time these two schools met, CSU escaped with a narrow 1-point home win in Fort Collins in 2006. These teams have met 12 times, with K-State holding a 7-5 advantage.
CSU is a team that is solid on offense, but barely alive on the other end of the floor. They're coming into this game averaging 86.5ppg, good for top-15 in the country. They're above average across the board when they've got the ball - the Rams do a decent job of being aggressive and getting to the line, chasing down their own misses, and shoot the three pretty well. Four players average nearly 12 points or better, and have five guys on the roster that are legitimately shooting over 35% from beyond the arc.
But, they're giving up 83.1ppg, which is in the bottom-20 in the country. They don't appear to pressure the ball. At all. They're giving up a well-below-average 51.8 eFG% (which is, amazingly, higher than their 51.3 eFG%), and are in the bottom-5 in the nation in creating turnovers and coming up with steals.
Expect the Rams to try to get the ball up and down the floor on offense, but since they're not very good at forcing their will on their opponents on defense, K-State will likely try to slow this one down a bit on both ends, getting out and running only in fast-break opportunities.
Keep a close watch on:
Senior guard Gian Clavell is a pretty solid player, and is the focal point of this CSU offense. He's averaging 20.8ppg, shooting 42% from three, and adds almost 7 rebounds and 4 assists per game. The senior is one of the most utilized players in the country, averaging nearly 37 minutes a contest.
John Gillon is the fourth-best free throw shooter in the land, connecting on 53 of 55 on the season, for 96.4%. The junior guard is the second leading scorer on the team with 15.3ppg, and adds 4.5 assists per game.
Coming off the bench, senior guard Antwan Scott averages 15.1ppg, and shoots an astonishing 48.1% from downtown.
The Rams have used all sorts of defenses this year. CSU is running primarily a four-guard lineup, which makes them small but quick. I would thoroughly expect Eustachy to have them lined up in a 2-3 zone, encouraging K-State to take the outside shot and keep it packed in to protect the paint. I would also expect bits of matchup zone or possibly even look at a halfcourt trap every now and then. Straight man-to-man could be problematic for the Rams unless it's in the context of a full-court pressure. K-State needs to combat this with some high-post sets, using the Big Fella or DJ up at the free throw line to anchor that zone a little higher, and use Justin/Wes and Dean at the low wings to attack gaps or get a one-on-one isolation on the block. They'll be giving us early looks at three, so we've got to be disciplined and strive to work the ball into the center of the zone.
On offense, the Rams should be running a motion offense focusing on finding the open outside shot or attacking the basket in out-of-position isolation. They're not going to be looking at pounding the ball inside - 60% of their points come from beyond the arc or at the charity stripe. K-State needs to bring a man-to-man or matchup zone, concentrating on closing out and running their players off the arc, actually invite them closer to the bucket where we've got help waiting, and be very active on the weakside to cut off passes. Oddly, though CSU runs a small-ball team, they're still holding a +6.1rpg edge on the season, and are a top-100 team in offensive rebounding percentage.
F Wesley Iwundu, 6-7 210 Jr
F Dean Wade, 6-10 225 Fr
F Stephen Hurt, 6-11 265 Sr
G Justin Edwards, 6-4 200 Sr
G Kamau Stokes, 6-0 170 Fr
Colorado State Rams:
F Emmanuel Omogbo, 6-8 210 Jr
F Tiel Daniels, 6-7 234 Sr
G Joe De Ciman, 6-6 201 Sr
G John Gillon, 6-0 168 Jr
G Gian Clavell, 6-4 185 Sr
3 Keys To The Game
1. Control The Arc
K-State's perimeter defense is going to be key in this game, as Colorado State is averaging nearly 11 three-point makes per game. Our ability to stick to, or find off help/screens, the shooters will make or break CSU's ability to score the ball. If the Cats can hold CSU to under 40% from outside, we'll be in good shape.
2. Ball Security
Coming off of last game (16 turnovers, 11 steals), I sure hope this was a focus in practice this week. The Rams are not great at pressuring the ball and creating turnovers, so it will be important for K-State to take care of the ball and not give CSU an unexpected leg up.
3. Size Advantage
We're going to outsize these guys. We need to play like it on the offensive end. Outside shots will be available, but they need to come off an inside-out scheme. Go crash the offensive boards. Really stretch the defense side to side. Finally, work on pounding it inside early, to get some easy buckets and draw a few fouls.
All stats by http://www.kenpom.com, or by the respective university's sports information.