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K-State to host Texas in Big 12 opener Friday

The Wildcats and Longhorns enter Friday’s matchup following differing paths

NCAA Basketball: Barclays Center Classic-Boston College vs Kansas State Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

In a word, Kansas State and Texas’ non-conference schedules have been different.

K-State enters the Friday meeting in Manhattan at 11-1, while the Longhorns enter the matchup at just 6-6.

But that’s where things begin to grow deceiving.

The teams will clash 7 p.m. Friday after seeing vastly different competition, as K-State’s only quality competition thus far has been Maryland — a 69-68 loss — and Colorado State, a “neutral-court” K-State win in Denver.

The rest of the Wildcats’ non-conference schedule? Well, KenPom ranks it 344th of 351 Division-I teams, and aside from Maryland and Colorado State, K-State’s best win, statistically, was over Nebraska-Omaha in November.

That leaves this K-State club with something to prove.

“We always have something to prove,” senior Wesley Iwundu said. “We’ve always been doubted no matter what it is, so we’ve got to come out and play with that chip on our shoulder.”

The Longhorns’ path to Friday, however, is a different story. They stumbled in losses to lowly UT-Arlington and Kent State (at home), but they’ve also paid a visit to Michigan, and they’ve gone up against conference leaders Arkansas, Colorado and Northwestern.

Texas lost all three of those games — but playing quality competition can help explain its shaky 6-6 record.

But by the same token, the Longhorns have seen struggles in losses: they drilled 12 threes in a win over UAB, but missed 16 of the 18 triples they jacked up in their home loss to Kent State.

It makes for a streaky Texas team, but K-State head coach Bruce Weber isn’t overlooking anything.

“These guys are a little like us last year, trying to figure things out,” he said. “They seem to compete with everybody. Their defense numbers are pretty good.... They’re long; they’re athletic.”

At the same time, however, Weber knows this Texas team isn’t the same one that beat his K-State squad twice last year. The Longhorns are the only Big 12 team without any returning starters.

“They get a little out of rhythm at times,” Weber said.

But Texas makes up for in talent what it lacks in experience. Sophomore Tevin Mack paces his team with nearly 15 points per game, and freshman forward Jarrett Allen is averaging close to 11 points and seven rebounds a game. Freshman guard Andrew Jones averages 9.6 points per game, with a pair of 17-point showings and one 16-point performance under his belt.

Iwundu, too, knows better than take a conference-opener for granted — no matter the opponent. This the Big 12, after all.

“They’ve got a lot of big guys, so it’ll be tough for us to stay out of foul trouble with our big guys,” Iwundu said. “To match up with them, (we need to) keep D.J. (Johnson) and Dean (Wade) out of foul trouble. They’re pretty big, so we need to find ways to match up with them.

“They’re a pretty young team, but at the same time, they’re still pretty good. We can’t come out and take them light just because they’re young. They’ve got a lot of good players over there.”

As does K-State. Five Wildcats are averaging double-figures in points: starters Barry Brown, D.J. Johnson, Iwundu, Kamau Stokes, as well as sixth-man Xavier Sneed. Brown leads everyone with 12.5 points per game, and Johnson is following closely with 12 a game. Iwundu is at 11.6, in addition to solid numbers in rebounds and assists.

Sneed and Stokes both average 10.3 points per game, making for a versatile K-State team.

But it’s one that has yet to perform on the big, Big 12 stage — especially the freshman Sneed, fresh out of high school.

The test begins Friday.

“If we come out not doing what we’re supposed to do, they could easily sneak up on us, and it could be a good ballgame,” Iwundu said. “This is a good team, and we’ve got to go in prepared, like any other team.”