K-State faces Creighton Friday evening at 5:50 p.m. CDT in an NCAA Tournament 8/9 matchup. TNT will broadcast the game with Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson on the call.
The Wildcats are 22-11 and 10-8 in Big 12 conference play, while the Bluejays are 21-11 and 10-8 in the Big East. The teams have only one common opponent, the Baylor Bears. K-State swept the Bears in Big 12 play, while Creighton lost, 65-59, in the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City.
Projected starting lineups for the two teams are as follows:
Cartier Diarra, 6’4”, 190 lbs., R.Fr., Florence, S.C.
Barry Brown, 6’3”, 195 lbs., Jr., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Xavier Sneed, 6’5”, 212 lbs., So., St. Louis, Mo.
Dean Wade*, 6’10”, 228 lbs., Jr., St. John, Kan.
Makol Mawien, 6’9”, 225 lbs., So., West Valley City, Utah
Davion Mintz, 6’3”, 180 lbs., So., Charlotte, N.C.
Marcus Foster, 6’3”, 205 lbs., Sr., Wichita Falls, Tex.
Khyri Thomas, 6’3”, 210 lbs., Jr., Omaha, Neb.
Mitch Ballock, 6’5”, 205 lbs., Fr., Eudora, Kan.
Toby Hegner, 6’10”, 240 lbs., Sr., Berlin, Wis.
*Dean Wade is expected to play, but missed K-State’s last game, a loss in the Big 12 semifinals to KU.
Size-wise, Creighton has matchup issues if they actually do deploy this starting lineup. Hegner is, prepare yourselves for this, a big white dude from rural Wisconsin who’s good at basketball. Never would’ve guessed. He’s relatively mobile for a big guy, shoots 39 percent from three-point range, and would probably be Greg McDermott’s choice to guard Wade in an ideal world. But Creighton lost Martin Krampelj to a knee injury, and its other two posts have seen a grand total of 331 minutes the entire season.
So Hegner likely ends up on Mawien while, I guess, freshman Mitch Ballock draws Wade. That’s a matchup that should give Wade the chance to both post up and shoot over the top, but we don’t know how limited Wade will be with his foot injury. Expect Ronnie Harrell, a 6’7” junior from Denver, to get some time against Wade off the bench.
Creighton isn’t overall an aggressive or particularly effective defensive team, but Thomas is a long, athletic defender who will probably draw the assignment on Brown. K-State will be in big trouble if Wade is limited by injury and Brown struggles against Thomas.
Diarra and Sneed will likely have a size advantage on their defenders. The Wildcats may need Diarra to create some offense driving to the hoop and either finishing or finding an open man. Sneed needs to get into the post if he ends up drawing Foster, rather than camping out on the three-point line.
Everyone will be focused on Foster, and likely Brown takes that defensive assignment. Brown has made a name for himself as a defender ever since starting Oklahoma’s downhill slide when he harassed Trae Young into 11 turnovers in Manhattan. K-State will need Brown to have some success early on against Foster and hope Foster presses and starts forcing bad shots. He’s good enough to carry the Jays to a win, but if the misses pile up he could also shoot them out of it.
All of Creighton’s regular players shoot at least 32 percent from three-point range, with Foster, Thomas and Hegner at or near the 40-percent mark. K-State will have to run the Jays off the line and be ready to rotate off penetration.
In K-State’s favor, Creighton is not a good offensive rebounding team, which should neutralize K-State’s biggest defensive weakness. The Wildcats have a chance if they can force turnovers and limit good three-point looks. It wouldn’t hurt if the Jays had a cold night in an unfamiliar arena, either.
Ultimately, this game really comes down to Dean Wade. K-State’s all-Big 12 player is the difference between having a good chance to advance and presumably face top-seeded Virginia, or being a longshot against the let-it-fly Jays. Until Thursday, I was fairly optimistic. Now, I’m hoping for a pleasant surprise.