The penultimate chapter in the 2015-2016 Kansas State Wildcats men's basketball season comes to a close today. K-State travels to Lubbock, Texas to take on one of the most improved teams in the country (in my opinion), the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Tipoff is scheduled for 2:00pm CST.
Know Your Opponent
Texas Tech (19-11, 8-9 Big12) is receiving votes in both polls, and has vaulted up to a #37 kenpom ranking and a #26 RPI rating, thanks in part to a five-game winning streak in February. During this stretch, Tech took down Iowa State at home, smacked Baylor down by 18 in Waco, picked up a 2-point win over Oklahoma at home, beat OSU on the road, then closed it out with a home win against TCU. Head Coach Tubby Smith should be front-runner for Big12 Coach of the Year; this season comes just after a last-place finish and 3-15 record in Big12 play a year ago.
Things look somewhat similar for K-State's (16-15, 5-12 Big12, #43 kenpom, #83 RPI) current trajectory. Texas Tech struggled to find wins with a very young team last year, but were competitive in nearly every game. Going to Lubbock was never an easy out, but compared to the Wildcats, Tech did get beat up pretty well on the road. One year later, with essentially the same team, that group has the experience to pull together a few more wins at home (5-3), sneak some wins on the road (3-6), and have themselves in place for an NCAA trip.
I interject: Texas Tech is 8-9 in Big 12, and didn't beat anyone noteworthy in non-con. And they're receiving votes in both polls. The Big 12 this year...
This year, K-State has remained competitive in nearly every game of the season, which bodes well for the overall talent level of this group. Take a moment and think about how we've done that, too. We've had five newcomers - three freshmen - play more than 13 minutes per game. We've had an undersized, non-scholarship transfer from a community college playing key minutes in big games in the paint. We relied, until a knee injury, on a freshman point guard who was playing nearly 27 minutes per game. We've taken a Kansas Mr. Basketball winner, who played for a high school so small it was combined with their district's junior high, and essentially said, "You have to be a star for us to win games." We had a player come back after more than a year and a half away because of an injury so complicated he might never play again, and watched him become the heart of this team.
Yet, they're better than we thought they would be, if we're all being honest with ourselves.
Anyways, back to the game. We pulled out an 83-70 win in Bramlage earlier this season, behind a 10-19 effort from behind the arc, and a 17-point, 6-board, 4-assist game from Wesley Iwundu.
Keep a close watch on:
I would still expect senior Devaugntah Williams to play a key component, distributing the ball and making sure this still-young-team stays focused and on point.
Former K-State commit Justin Gray tore us up in Manhattan. Not known for being an outside shooter, Gray went 5-7 from beyond the arc on his way to a 23 and 8 game.
Zach Smith will be the guy in the middle, but another big man - Norense Odiase - is coming off an injury and hasn't played since January 18. Expect him to try and make up for lost time.
Finally, senior guard Toddrick Gotcher can stroke the ball from outside, and is leading the team in scoring.
The Red Raiders don't play a lot of mid-range game. They're going to really work at getting to the line, where they're one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the land (74.9% as a squad). They'll also look to kick out for three from the paint, where they've got a couple of players that can knock down shots. They'll typically slow it down a bit on offense; their halfcourt sets will focus on isolation, forcing the defense to collapse, then finding the open player on a cut or a jumper.
Defensively, Texas Tech is also a traditionally man-to-man squad. But, given the shooting woes that K-State has shown this season, I would imagine we'll see a mix of zone and man, with both defensive sets geared toward allowing the perimeter shot versus getting into the paint. K-State needs to execute their offense, playing into the high post for an inside-out three or a dump to a cutting wing or high-low pass. Dribble-drives can also be effective, but players need to be aware of the shotblocking ability of the Tech bigs, and either draw fouls or be ready for the short post pass.
F Wesley Iwundu, 6-7 210 Jr
F Dean Wade, 6-10 225 Fr
F DJ Johnson, 6-9 250 Jr
G Justin Edwards, 6-4 200 Sr
G Barry Brown, 6-3 195 Fr
Texas Tech Red Raiders
F Zach Smith, 6-8 215 So
F Matthew Temple, 6-10 235 Jr
G Keenan Evans, 6-3 180 So
G Devaugntah Williams, 6-4 205 Sr
G Toddrick Gotcher, 6-4 205 Sr
3 Keys To The Game
1. Close Out Strong.
This final game will put an imprint on the team's mentality heading into the Big 12 tourney. A win is probably required to confirm an NIT spot at this point. Finally, I'd just like to see some execution and shot-making on the road from these guys.
2. Make some shots.
It's too simple to just say, "make some more shots," but that's the reality. How to do that? Run the offense. Work for those shots. Know that with a high level of execution and ball movement, open shots will become a reality. Open buckets usually go in; the problem is that we've been doing such a poor job of working to find those open shots. When you're not shooting well, find cheap buckets. Crash the boards hard and get some putbacks. Turn up the defensive pressure and come up with a steal and runout. Attack the rim and draw some fouls for trips to the charity stripe.
3. Keep Tech off the line.
Solid defense without fouling will be important. Only three players in the standard rotation shoot less than 70% from the line for the Raiders. Not giving up cheap points will help the need to overdrive the offensive efficiency.
All stats by http://www.kenpom.com, or by the respective university's sports information.