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Men's Hoops Preview - K-State at (1/2) Oklahoma Sooners

The Wildcats stop over in Norman, searching for a first Big 12 win.

The Cats need to be aggressive in putting the ball in the bucket today.
The Cats need to be aggressive in putting the ball in the bucket today.
Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

I am not quite sure whether to be excited for the game today, or start cringing now. The Kansas State Wildcats (10-4, 0-2 Big12, #51 kenpom ranking) wraps up a two-game road trip today, taking on the Oklahoma Sooners and K-State notable alum Lon Kruger at the Lloyd Noble Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 330pm CST in Norman.

Know Your Opponent

Oklahoma (12-1, 1-1 Big12, #3 kenpom) has a national championship caliber team, and that's all that really needs to be said. Coming off their 3OT loss in Allen Fieldhouse on Monday (which was an amazing game, by the way), the Sooners will be looking to right the ship and re-establish their dominating performance. But, for analysis sake, we'll take a more in-depth look at our opponent.

You all know some of the big names. Buddy Hield, who eschewed the NBA for another shot at standing at the top of the NCAA podium. Ryan Spangler, who falls into the "wait, hasn't he been playing there for eight years now?" category. Isaiah Cousins, the steady-eddie four-year guard who can penetrate and dish, hit the outside shot, and play harassing defense. Well, they've added a couple of other pieces to supplement and shore up soft spots, and now really have no weaknesses.

Oklahoma's national rankings: #4 adjusted defense, #9 adjusted offense. #3 3PFG%. #4 eFG% defense. #7 in sending opponents to the line. If there's one thing Oklahoma doesn't excel at, it's creating turnovers on defense - surprisingly, they're #333 (of 351) in turning their opponents over, at only 14.9% of possessions.

Keep a close watch on:

The easy answer is Buddy Hield. You'll hear his name...a lot...and deservedly so. The senior guard is currently, in many opinions (including my own), the frontrunner for every Player of the Year accolade available. Kenpom has him ranked as the best player in the country by a wide margin. He's coming into the game 24.7ppg, 5.3rpg, and is on target for the gold-standard 50%/40%/90% season, averaging 49.5% from the floor, 49.4% from outside the arc, and 90.5% from the stripe. If he's got one negative mark, it's in turnovers - he's currently averaging just over 2.2 turnovers per game (still not terrible for how often the ball is in his hands), and has an assist to turnover ratio below 1.

Spangler (averaging a double-double), Cousins (13.3ppg, 5.0apg) and Jordan Woodard (13.9ppg, 53% 3PFG) are going to be mentioned frequently as well, but another player to keep an eye out for is Khadeem Lattin. The sophomore post is a perfect complement to Ryan Spangler. While Spangler is more of the scoring/rebounding post, Lattin provides rim protection with 19 blocked shots on the season, and serves as a true disruptor in the paint on the defensive end of the floor.

Offense/Defense Strategy:

The Sooners run a solid motion offense, and consistently have three players on the floor that can legitimately hit the three. Additionally, most guards can create their own shot off the dribble, and Spangler can work the post to get shots off against more athletic players. They're comfortable getting out on the floor (#57 in tempo) as well as getting set up in the half-court. In other words, they're insanely difficult to stop. Defensively, it's going to take a team effort, and rotations are going to have to come early and help has to occur two- or three-rotations deep to slow Oklahoma down.

Defensively, they're not looking to force turnovers, opting more for forcing difficult shots and securing rebounds. They're top-100 in allowing offensive boards, nearly top-50 in blocked shot percentage, and top-50 in 3PFG% and 2PFG% defense. I would expect a mix of zone and man defenses from the Sooners throughout the game. For K-State, open shots are going to be difficult to come by, and are going to require a lot of ball movement and players ready to launch as soon as they get the ball.

Probable Starters

Kansas State:

Wesley Iwundu, 6-7 210 Jr
F Dean Wade, 6-10 225 Fr
Stephen Hurt, 6-11 265 Sr
Justin Edwards, 6-4 200 Sr
Kamau Stokes, 6-0 170 Fr

Oklahoma Sooners:

F Ryan Spangler, 6-8 234 Sr
F Khadeem Lattin, 6-9 208 So
G Jordan Woodard, 6-0 187 Jr
G Isaiah Cousins, 6-4 200 Sr
G Buddy Hield, 6-4 214 Sr

3 Keys To The Game

1. Ugly it up.

It's a common theme throughout college basketball - an underdog can effectively shrink a talent gap by making the game essentially unwatchable. Get physical. Slow it down. If we can do this and stay out of foul trouble, it really mitigates the need for a couple players to get hot simultaneously. Statistically, this shouldn't be a game, and various outlets agree - kenpom gives us a 9% chance to win (predicting a 77-63 result), and Vegas has us ranging from a 12.5- to 15.5-point dog, concurring with the 78-63 score. While I actually think we can get into a running contest with these guys, taking their fluidity out of the game gives us a more plausible shot.

2. Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. Seriously, rebounding.

Both ends. These guys are good enough shooting the first time - the last thing we need is to be giving up offensive boards. On the other end, the more second chances we can get, the better things will look for the Cats. Getting point-blank second shots can lead to easy points and fouls on Oklahoma. I like our chances of having a chance at the upset if we win the glass on both ends.

3. Guard the three.

Oklahoma is one of the best perimeter shooting teams in the country, but we're statistically the best three-point defenders in that same country (I think its the US, last time I checked). Let's go out and prove it, because these Sooners could run us out of the gym in a hurry if they get hot from the outside.

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