The Kansas State Wildcats (4-1) finally played a real opponent in their Thanksgiving Day tilt - the Arizona State Sun Devils (5-0) - as part of the ‘opening round’ of the Las Vegas Invitational. ASU came into the game averaging over 90 points per contest, and had five on the roster averaging double-digits. A massive step up in challenger from the Northern Arizonas and Americans on the schedule to this point.
As for a basketball game, it didn’t disappoint. If you were a fan of basketball, it was an entertaining game. K-State and the Sun Devils certainly had a yin/yang going on, with both teams exploiting the weaknesses of the others’ defensive strategy.
Ultimately, it came down to a 12-2 ASU run midway through the second half, K-State being whistled for 84* fouls in the second twenty minutes, and several missed rebounding opportunities sprinkled in for flavor. A flurry of threes by Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes as time ticked away kept the Wildcats with a puncher’s chance, but Arizona State’s Kodi Justice was unconscious down the stretch. Coming down to one last chance to send the game to OT, Brown went coast to coast in the final 5.6 seconds, and the over-amped layup attempt was strong off the glass and fell no good for the final 92-90 spread.
*Estimated total. The Cats somehow found a way to foul thin air on more than one occasion.
Player of the Game: Barry Brown / Kamau Stokes
Microwave finished the game up with 27 points on 10-19 shooting (4-9 3PFG), 4 rebounds, and a steal in a team-high 38 minutes. His name was also shrieked by head coach Bruce Weber approximately 38 times.
Kam did his best matching him shot for shot, with 23 points on 7-10 shooting (all 3PFG attempts), 2-2 from the stripe, and added 5 assists, a rebound and a steal.
Together, Barry and Kamau accounted for more than half of K-State’s scoring, and came up with big makes when the team needed them the most.
Player Notable Notes:
Xavier Sneed played well when the zebras let him. X fouled out in 22 minutes, but played solid when he was in there, picking up 14 points (5-10, 2-5, 2-2 FT), 2 rebounds, two assists, and 2 steals.
Dean Wade was a non-factor offensively, finishing with only 5 points, but he also snagged 5 rebounds and dished 7 assists, as well as 2 blocks and a steal.
Makol Mawien also fouled out (in 14 minutes!), but scored on all 4 of his FG attempts for 8 points and added 2 boards.
The aforementioned Justice finished with 28 points on 9-10 shooting (4-4 3PFG), 6-8 FT, with 2 rebounds and 3 assists. The head-on three he hit from 35 feet was Stephen Curry-esque, in all its ridiculousness. If that dude is actually consistently that good, he’ll be a role player in the NBA.
Four others from ASU finished in double-figures, keyed by Romello White’s 19 points, and De’Quon Lake’s 11/10 double-double.
Three In The Key:
- The defensive side of the floor soiled itself for a notable stretch in the second half. This is a pretty solid defensive team, all in all. However, when the perimeter defenders can’t control the drive, the bigs get out of position and we end up with a foul-fest, or we end up with kickouts for open threes, which is exactly what our offense is designed to do. Which leads me to...
- Our offensive scheme works. Whether you agree with the scheme or not can be a topic of debate. But the scheme as it is works. It isn’t geared to look for an explicit shot or type of shot - it’s set up to poke and prod at the defensive foundation from multiple angles. ASU was sound at protecting against the dribble-drive, but not so much on perimeter rotations. Hence the 32 looks from downtown tonight...but that’s OK. These guys have improved their shooting during the offseason, and they’re knocking down open looks at a decent clip (47% tonight, 39% on the year). Some might complain about the number of threes taken, but it’s the reason we were able to still have a chance at the end of the game.
- Close Game. Anyway you slice it, this was a close game, despite the officiating. ASU outrebounded the Cats 29-27, had a 13/12 A/TO ratio to K-States 16/16, and K-State actually out-shot ASU from the floor. The Wildcats, believe it or not, lead points in the paint 32-28. This one was as close as the 2 point spread at the end would allude to.
Before We Go:
The officiating was patently ridiculous in the second half. No, K-State was not aggressive enough to get as many fouls called as ASU. However, K-State was not committing as many fouls as the refs were calling. There were blatant examples, such as a no-call with Dean Wade going up for a layup and the exact (and I mean exact) play on the other end resulting in a Dean Wade foul. Multiple times K-State called for fouls on “holding” while blocking out that were absolutely phantom, and handchecking/hip-riding galore while the Wildcat guards had Sun Devils inside their jersey. The cherry on top was Kodi Justice going to the floor while dribbling the ball with under a minute on the clock, sliding four feet, and the ref giving ASU a timeout (the correct call would have been a travel, since Justice already had possession of the ball before he went to the ground). All the whistles led to a 31-5 discrepancy in FTA, with ASU going 18-31 and the Wildcats perfect from the stripe, and a 22-9 foul spread (it was 21-5 at one point). Yes. The Wildcats where charged with 21 fouls before they even made it to the bonus themselves in the second half.
I was receiving text messages from people that didn’t have a dog in the fight lamenting how “deliberate” the lopsided officiating was. This is absolutely an epidemic in college basketball, but until there is an organization that holds officials accountable for being downright terrible at their job, it won’t ever get better. The players are amateurs. The refs are not. If most of us were that bad at our jobs, we’d be fired.
K-State takes on the George Washington Colonials tomorrow in the third-place round of the Las Vegas Invitational at 700p CST.