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Kansas State vs Georgia: Open Game Thread Big 12/SEC Challenge

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It’s time for the last non-conference game of the regular season, the poorly-placed Big 12/SEC Challenge!

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a few weeks makes.

Three weeks ago the Kansas State Wildcats looked to be headed downhill fast. Kamau Stokes had been injured, and the Cats lost in a blowout on the road to Texas Tech. Things looked pretty bleak in Manhattan.

Two weeks ago at this time, the Cats were heading home from yet another close loss in Allen Fieldhouse. They were 12-5 on the season, and had just fallen back under .500 in league play at 2-3. But something felt different, besides the poor end-of-game decision, the Cats had beaten Oklahoma State handily the Wednesday before, and Barry Brown and Dean Wade had a spark that hadn’t really been seen before.

Now, heading into this afternoon’s Big 12/SEC Challenge game against the Georgia Bulldogs, the Wildcats have the fans believing again. K-State is in a tie for second place in the Big 12, and they have momentum rolling through a three-game win streak (their first conference streak since early 2015). There’s even a glimmer of something greater just in the distance — a win on Monday against the visiting Jayhawks would put K-State in a tie for 1st in the conference.

But today is Saturday, and the Cats need to not be fans and not look past Georgia. The Bulldogs may not be a powerhouse, but Mark Fox, a former K-State assistant during the Asbury years, has his Dawgs 12-7, 3-5 so far this season. They will also look somewhat familiar to K-State, as this Georgia squad looks and plays very similar to the Baylor Bears squad the Wildcats just dispatched in Waco 90-83.

And speaking of momentum, these two teams are currently on different tracks. While the Wildcats started conference play sluggish, they’ve won four of their last five, and haven’t dropped two-in-a-row all season. The Bulldogs started the season 11-3, and beat some decent teams in the non-con including Marquette and Georgia Tech, but have lost four of their last five including both of their last two games.

Even so, the Wildcats will need a similar effort to the Baylor game to pull this one out. While Brown and Wade may be getting all the headlines, Cartier Diarra and Makol Mawein have really stepped up of late to help boost the team. Diarra may not have the assist-to-turnover ratio of Kamau Stokes, but he’s a much greater scoring threat. And Mawein is being more aggressive near the basket, and while that hasn’t generated a lot more rebounds, he has made himself a viable offensive threat. And of course, Xavier Sneed just keeps doing his thing, scoring all over and keeping some pressure off the other guys. This team may not be a rebounding threat, but they are currently playing like one of the most complete scoring and defending teams that K-State has seen in quite some time.

Today’s game, scheduled for a 1:00 p.m. CST tip-off, will be on ESPNU/ESPN3 with Mark Neely (play-by-play) and Bryndon Manzer (analyst), who should actually be on-site for the call. Be sure and check out Jon Morse’s full How To Watch post for more details.

The game can be heard over-the-air on the K-State Sports Network with Wyatt Thompson (play-by-play) and Stan Weber (analyst) on the call (you can also listen online for free at TuneIn.com or at KStateSports.com). Satellite radio is available on Sirius 132, XM 199, and “Internet” 953.

This is also the Stripe Out/Coaches vs. Cancer game. K-State is asking fans to help stripe out Bramlage Coliseum for Saturday’s game to help benefit Coaches vs. Cancer and the American Cancer Society. The first 3,000 students receive the official T-shirt, while fans can purchase the T-shirt for $15 (with $5 going to the American Cancer Society) at K-State Super Store locations, on the concourse and online at kstatesuperstore.com.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP

Kansas State (15-5, 5-3 Big 12)
G: #2 Cartier Diarra
G: #5 Barry Brown Jr.
G: #20 Xavier Sneed
F: #32 Dean Wade
F: #14 Makol Mawien

Georgia (12-7, 3-5 SEC)
G: #0 William Jackson II
G: #3 Juwan Parker
F: #20 Rayshaun Hammonds
F: #1 Yante Maten
F: #34 Derek Ogbeide