This is tough Conference Tournament to get my head around. I’ve watched this team all season, and I still have no idea what to expect tonight, or any other night moving forward. Beyond the on court issues, there is plenty of off court intrigue. There is ample smoke coming from Bruce Weber’s seat, and it’s possible this tournament could be the end of Brucketball at Kansas State. Despite the inconsistent on court performance and the tenuous situation off the court, this remains a talented team capable of winning games. This could be a Big 12 Tournament worth watching.
Opponent: West Virginia
Location: Kansas City, Missouri, T-Mobile Center
Time: 6:00 pm CST
What Chanel? ESPN U
Vs West Virginia
The Mountaineers are in the midst of a no good, bad, horrible season. A promising non-conference and start of the Big 12 slate saw them sitting at 13-2 on January 11th. They are currently sitting at 15-16 on March, 9th. That’s a tough two months of basketball. Things did improve somewhat at the end of February and start of March. They played Iowa State within three on the road, and lost to Texas by one point at home. Oklahoma wiped them out on the road, but then they bounced back and knocked off TCU at home in the season finale. They are playing the best basketball they’ve played in a while right now. We all know what to expect from a Bob Huggins team. They’re going to pressure you with their defense and try to out athlete you when they have the ball. It’s not pretty, but it’s often times effective.
They’re led in scoring by Taz Sherman at 18.3 points a game. The only other player averaging in double figures is Sean McNeil at 12.2 per game. This is a bit of an issue for West Virginia. If Sherman or McNeil are misfiring, it’s hard for them to scrape together enough points to win. In order to supplement their sometimes sluggish offense, they turn the pressure up on defense and try to force turnovers. They force turnovers 22.4% of the time (21st in the nation) according to KenPom. Like most West Virginia teams they also block shots (13%, 29th in the nation). They’re not a good team, but they’re not necessarily as bad as their record indicates. They’ve got some talent.
Their most recent matchup against the Wildcats went down on February 14th at Bramlage, with the Wildcats prevailing 78-73. The Kansas State offense was humming with Markquis Nowell going for a team high 21 points, while Mark Smith (17), Nijel Pack (13), and Ish Massoud (13) joined him in double digits. West Virginia countered with 23 from Taz Sherman, 15 from Kedrian Johnson, and 13 from Isaiah Cottrell, but it wasn’t enough against the balanced Wildcat attack.
The key for K-State (besides scoring more points than West Virginia) in their February matchup was hot perimeter shooting and limiting turnovers. The Wildcats shot 37.5% from deep as a team. Nowell, in particular went off from deep, hitting 4 of his 6 attempts. Despite West Virginia’s pressure on defense, K-State only turned the ball over 10 times, while forcing 13 turnovers of their own on defense. Any time you win the turnover battle against West Virginia, you’ve got a great shot to win the game.
I like this matchup because it allows the Wildcats to play their preferred small lineup. In the second matchup in Manhattan, Bradford was the only big that cracked double digits in minutes, at 10. I would expect more of the same tonight. On defense, Bruce dared West Virginia’s 6’10” freshman Isaiah Cottrell to beat him shooting over Mark Smith and Ish Massoud. Cottrell ended up scoring 13 points, but it took him 14 shots to get there, one less than Taz Sherman, who went for 23. When Cottrell is shooting, it means that Sherman isn’t, and that’s a good thing. Mark Smith, as always, well be the key to this lineup. In the K-State win, he pulled down 10 boards, and the Wildcats, as a team, only lost the rebounding battle by 4. That’s acceptable when you’re not playing a power forward or center most of the game.
On offense, the Wildcats were able to have four guards on the court most of the time, and were able to nullify West Virginia’s pressure. They were able to spread the court, find the open man, and hit open shots. Ish Massoud and Mark Smith both worked inside, drawing 21 combined fouls and going a combined 18-21 from the line. Nowell was a one man press break, and was able to consistently get to the rim. When the Mountaineers adjusted, he stepped back and beat them from deep. The only thing that kept this game close was an off night from Nijel. He ended the game shooting 4-15, including 1-6 from deep. If he hits his normal percentages, this game would have been a blowout.
I’ve got Kansas State in this game. I think their ability to spread things out and handle the basketball will be tough for West Virginia to defend. Pack has risen to the occasion when the spotlight has been the brightest, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him go off in this one. The Mountaineers are prone to giving up open shots in a broken court, and I expect Nijel to cash in tonight.
Kansas State 70 - West Virginia 69 (47% confidence)
Kansas State 78 - West Virginia 71 (0% confidence)
If K-State wins, I’ll be back tomorrow with a preview of the Kansas game. If they lose, we’ll have other things to talk about.
I hope they win.