The first thing to know about Sunday’s game is North Dakota is a very, very bad basketball team. Maybe they normally shoot better than they did in Manhattan, but yikes.
They’re possibly the worst team Kansas State will face this season, although the Omaha group the Wildcats routed earlier this month might have something to say about that and McNeese State isn’t great either. The Fighting Hawks arrived at Bramlage Coliseum 2-4, ranked 326th out of 351 Division I programs according to KenPom.
So keep all that in mind as we discuss all the good things the Wildcats did in an 84-42 rout, snapping a two-game losing streak. Full credit to K-State for taking care of business and scoring 80 points for the first time since January 18, 2020, but is there reason to believe this is a big step in the right direction? Maybe. We’ll see.
Anyway, a troubling slow start finally ended after about the 11:30 mark when North Dakota scored its last points for nearly seven and a half minutes despite getting some wide open looks during that period (See? Really bad). K-State managed to score 16 points during that stretch to slowly pull away and open up a comfortable 18-point lead, putting away any worries of a disastrous loss.
While North Dakota threw up a bunch of bricks, Kansas State hit six of its first 11 3-pointers. A very positive development. Markquis Nowell put a couple of unathletic defenders on skates before burying stepbacks, Mike McGuirl knocked down a pair of open looks, and Nijel Pack honestly took far too long before scoring his first three points almost 13 minutes into the game.
Mark Smith went to the rim with authority for some early buckets and Kaosi Ezeagu made his first four shots to score nine of his career-high 13 points in the first half. Oh, and Nowell had a really cool reverse layup to finish a nice baseline drive. He mostly avoided stupid decisions, too, so that was something kind of new.
Overall, Kansas State shot 52% from the field in the first 20 minutes, which is great, especially when you ignore the two missed dunks. Seven first-half turnovers against a defense not exactly applying a ton of pressure was mildly upsetting, but at least not many of them turned into points as K-State mostly kept UND away from the rim.
An 18-2 to start the second half took nine minutes for the Wildcats as Pack hit a couple more threes, Ezeagu kept scoring inside, and North Dakota’s shooting remained unfathomably terrible. They ended up making just 29% of their field goals, and that included several missed layups.
At some point with the outcome clearly decided, both teams appeared to relax quite a bit so it’s really not worth anyone’s time for me to recap the rest of this game. Telling you how things got sloppy and Logan Landers started finishing some open looks inside isn’t going to be particularly useful or interesting.
Some notable highlights include the fact that McGuirl never missed on six shot attempts while scoring 15 points, although he was just 1 for 2 from the line. Also, Smith got his first double-double as a Wildcat with 11 points and 10 rebounds, so he continues to do many of the things we were promised he would do when he arrived from Missouri.
Pack, of course, ended up getting his points, scoring 16. Nowell eventually figured out he could find layups more or less whenever he wanted one, so he wound up with a team-high 18 points.
Overall, it wasn’t very pretty basketball to watch, but Kansas State did make things look quite easy and not stressful for any of us. Things should get much more interesting next Sunday against Wichita State, following what will ideally be another blowout at home against 1-5 Albany on Wednesday.
Three in the Key
- Missing pieces. It’s worth noting the Cats played without starting guard Selton Miguel, as well as backup forward Davion Bradford. Admittedly, Bradford has been fairly useless so far aside from some brief moments of brilliance, but Miguel has been one of K-State’s most valuable players so far this season thanks to his excellent defense and ability to get to the basket. Both were reportedly sidelined by minor injuries, so hopefully they’ll be back soon as the schedule gets somewhat tougher in December. On the bright side, seven-footer Carlton Linguard came in late to get his first minutes of the season. He didn’t really do enough to offer any sort of evaluation, although he did hit an open 18-footer.
- Ezeagu confidence boost. To this point in the season Ezeagu’s largely been good for wide open dunks and not much else, so it was encouraging to see him assert himself a little more to get some tougher points. That said, he did it on a night when he had a very clear size, strength and athleticism advantage, so it will be interesting to see if he can carry some of that forward against more capable defenders.
- 3-point dominance. Kansas State looked really bad shooting the 3 against quality defenses in Kansas City, but in Bramlage against inferior opponents the Wildcats have been terrific. That’s hardly been a given in previous years, so it really is a notable improvement regardless of how poorly guarded those shots have been. Kansas State hit 9 of 19 on Sunday, while North Dakota made just 3 of 31. Sure, only some of that can be credited to the way K-State closed out on shooters, because it was hardly perfect, but those numbers were clearly the biggest reason for the wide margin of victory.