OK, so, for each of the conference games, I intend to do a preview. For some games, depending on time and other events occurring, I might do some other preview-type elements, but this should be the staple for all sixteen conference games. Basically, all I'm going to use is the new-and-improved-and-even-awesomer KenPom pages. Here is Kansas State's. We'll break it down into a couple of sections, or segments if you'd rather, and then conclude with some final thoughts on the game...
Ah. The Kansas State Wildcats. I don't want to start spewing any hate, as there's been plenty of little jabs from both sides. You've got the sometimes-funny, oftentimes-reaching course list over at BOTC and then Denver's patriotic, Kansas-loving defending comments on said thread, as well as his little jabs throughout his own Kansas-KSU preview. Nothing like the stuff over at BOTC, but it is still clear we're in hate week. Or Hate Week. Capitilization or not, this game is pretty much a must-win. While I have yet to really freak out about our potential postseason possibilities, or lack thereof as it were, we likely need to go undefeated at home agains the North, at the very least, to stay safe. Pending some major upset, like beating the Longhorns in Allen or the Boomer Sooners in Norman, we can't afford to lose games like Tuesday night's and still squeak into the NCAA's. And so, this is, in a weird way, a must-win game. Not only for those NCAA reasons, but also for confidence's sake. We got demolished on Saturday, and despite a generally positive second half, the completely negative first half is likely still fresh in our minds.
Kansas State is not an NCAA Tournament team this year. They are a good team, a decent team, a team with some talented players. There is no Michael Beasley or Bill Walker on this year's squad, but they have a nice handful of players that are solid. Of course, they've yet to beat anyone of note. Seriously. Their best win, without question, is against Cleveland State. Now, the game was in Cleveland, and this is the same Vikings team that defeated Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Still, though, Cleveland State is no resume-defining win. They have played a grand total of four other games against Top 100 teams according to KenPom's ratings (vs. Kentucky, vs. Iowa and vs. Oklahoma); they lost three of the four. The first two were played in Las Vegas, and were close, two-point affairs. The Kentucky loss is slightly excusable, but there is no excuse for losing to the Iowa Hawkeyes. And then, last Saturday, they had a chance to pick up a huge win, a win that could catapult them into some NCAA competition. They have also lost to Oregon, who has sucked thus far in the Pac 10, but it was in Eugene and it was by only 5. Oh, and the other Top 100 win; against Southern Mississippi (Larry Eustachy-coached Golden Eagles, by the way) in Kansas City. So, here's what we've got. We've got a bunch of wins against patsies (9 wins against sub-100 teams; 8 of them above 200), a pair of decent victories (@ Cleveland State and vs. Southern Mississippi) and a four losses; one of them entirely defendable (vs. Oklahoma), two of them somewhat acceptable (@ Oregon and vs. Kentucky) and one that doesn't quite compute (vs. Iowa). It's got NIT written all over it, as long as they can win the easy, conference games at home.
They are actually a pretty efficient offensive team. Not tremendous, but they are ranked 57th in adjusted efficiency. Breaking it down into more specific categories, they are mostly middle-of-the-road. An average three-point shooting team (35.7%; 107th), a not-much-better two-point shooting team (49.4%; 111th) and average at Effective FG% (50.8; 106th). They are, however, incredibly proficient in one area: offensive rebounding. Which, given are persistent trouble in that area, is particularly worrisome. If we lose, it will almost assuredly be because an exhorbiant amount of second chance opportunities by the Powercats. They are the second rated team in all of college basketball in Offensive Rebounding % (43.8%, meaning that of all shots they miss on the offensive end, they end up picking up nearly 44% of them). This is, quite obviously, the key to their offense, as they aren't a great shooting team. As I mentioned. Of course, this incredibly high offensive rebounding percentage is exaggerated because of two stellar performances; against Wagner and Florida A&M. While Wagner isn't terrible on the defensive boards (132nd in NCAA), the Rattlers are flat-out terrible, ranking 329th. Out of 344. So, while sure, they're a really good offensive rebounding team, they might not be quite as stellar as the numbers make it out to be. They're also really good at not getting their shots blocked (18th in the country), whatever that's worth.
The Wildcats real strength is on the defensive side of the ball, though. Their defensive efficiency is off the charts; 11th in the country. They are particularly stellar at two aspects (two of the Four Factors, or four most important elements, too); effective FG% and turnover %. They force a shitload of turnovers, a little more than one every four possessions, which is good enough for 12th in the country. Of course, that turnover percentage is quite exaggerated by a couple of games against creampuffs. They forced a turnover on 40% of Kentucky's possessions in their matchup, and one on 36% of the possessions against Gardner-Webb. That is ridiculous. And they don't let their opponents shoot well; at all. Which is quite important to being a good defense. However, their defense is absolutely terrible at one thing. This is mostly explainable, given the incredble propensity they force turnovers with, but still quite noteworthy nonetheless. They foul. A lot, a lot, a lot. They foul so much, opponents such nearly one free throw for every field goal attempted. Now, this statistic is also inflated because of the high amount of turnovers; as the more turnovers, the less field goals attempted. Still, it is also heavily impact by the amount of fouls by the Powercats. And that, right there, is the Powercats' defensive strategy. To foul and slap and cut lanes and do plenty of stuff attempting to force turnovers, never particularly worried about fouling in the process.
In KenPom's new team pages, which are so amazing it isn't even funny, he has included a new listing of the players. As opposed to merely listing the players in two general sections (starting lineup and bench), he has now divided the players into several separate categories; Major Contributors, Significant Contributors, Role Players, Limited Roles and Nearly Invisbile. Naturally, we're not going to spend too much time on the Nearly Invisible, and not too much on those with LImited Roles, either. Instead, we'll focus on the first three categories, which presents us with eight players to discuss. Here are those seven players, in order of contribution, roughly:
- Jacob Pullen - #0 Soph. G -- Pullen is the Wildcats' best player. Simple as that. He was overshadowed by the two big stars last season, but now that he is the main show in town, he is performing. He easily plays the most minutes on the team, controls the ball more and shoots the most. He is their primary three-point shooter, having put up 100 treys so far in D-1 games, although he isn't terribly efficient (shooting 35%).
- Darren Kent - #42 Sr. F/C -- This is surprising to me. Now, I understand Kent is a better player than he was last year, but he never really impressed me a year ago. And now, he is their primary inside threat, one of the keys to their team. He's the best offensive rebounder on the team, which makes sense given the fact he's 6'10", and one of the best in the country (OR% of 15.4; 25th). He's a pretty good defensive rebounder, as well. He draws plenty of fouls, as well, so hopefully Cole sticks to his disciplined shot-blocking techniques and he doesn't commit any stupid fouls.
- Denis Clemente - #21 Jr. G -- Denis Clemente is fast. Really fast. In fact, the fine folks over at BOTC took issue with some newspaper that called Sherron Collins was the Big 12's fastest player, vehemently claiming that Clemente should get the honor. Honestly, I'll have to wait until Tuesday night to really make a decision for myself, but he is fast. For sure. He is a decent shooter from the perimeter (36.7% in 60 shots), and a good assist man. Given his speed, I'd imagine he is a drive-and-kick guy, but the stats don't necessarily give credence to that. Still, Pullen's high amount of threes taken means he has to get them somewhere; I'd guess that Clemente's drives have led to plenty of those. I'm not too worried about him, though, as I think we have him under control. Besides Kalin Lucas on Saturday, we really haven't hade a guard go off on us all year. Well, besides that and Tuesday night against Siena. So, yeah, I suppose we're in a cold streak. This is a huge game for Tyshawn Taylor, who will likely be guarding Jacob Pullen. So, we'll get a matchup of the Sunflower State's two fastest basketball players; I don't think there is anyone arguing that.
- Fred Brown - #1 So. G -- Fred Brown's best skill? His three-point shot, where he is shooting nearly 44%. Other than that, he is awfully generic. Nothing special, either on the good-or-bad side of the ledger. He will likely be Brady's assignment when they go small (Clemente, Pullen and Brown), and an assortment of the smaller guards when they go bigg(er) and bring in...
- Jamar Samuels - #32 Fresh. F -- Jamar Samuels, on the other hand, is good at plenty of things. He's especially adpet at not turning the ball over (although that stat might not be all that important, given he is a F that is 6'7") and drawing fouls. And given the fact that the Morris twins will be his primary defenders, that's no fun. If either of the Morris twins, Kieff or Cus, fouls out early, we could be in for a long game. He's also a really good rebounder. In short, I just became more scared of the Powercats because of Jamar Samuels. He is good at those things we struggle at, particularly the Morris twins. Yikes.
- Dominique Sutton - #23 Soph. G/F -- I've gotta be honest, I expected Sutton to rank much higher on this list. After Pullen, I likely would've guessed that he is the second best/most important player on the team. Instead, he is merely a role player, according to KenPom. Still, given his height and relative reputation, I'd imagine that Brady draws the assignment, as long as he isn't the 4 in there at the time (which, according to the bolded players on KenPom's page he is at the start of games). He is another really good rebounder, particularly on the offensive end, and has quick hands; he's 107th in the country in steal%. He is average on just about everything else, nothing terribly special.
- Ron Anderson - #40 Soph. F -- Ron Anderson is their dirty-work player. Honestly, the kind of player I think is Quintrell Thomas' floor in terms of production. While he could develop into a Darnell Jackson, I think that 'Trell, at the very least, will be our Ron Anderson by the beginning of next season. A solid player, who can play pretty good defense and is an absolutely fantastic rebounder (51st in the country if offense; 239th if defense). He is also good at drawing fouls.
- Get the ball in to Cole - Really, all K-State has in the way of comparable height to Cole is Jason Kent, and he is quite then. Sure, he is a damn good rebounder, but he isn't incredible, and he likely can't handle Cole one-on-one for an entire game. Look for lots of doubles, which is fine with me considering Cole's passing skills. In any case, no matter what happens after the fact, get the ball in to Cole and see how the defense reacts. If no one comes over to help out, I'd be fine with Cole taking Kent to the bakset every single time. If someone doubles, do that ball movement thing we are so good at, and find someone open.
Don't Foul! - I'm specifically looking at the Morris twins and Mario Little, if he plays at least. They are all expected to guard players that have a high propensity to draw fouls (Jamar Samuels and Ron Anderson), and we can't afford foul trouble. It's OK to challenge shots and play good, hard, physical defense. That, I can live with. But please, please, stop the stupid fouls. Please.
Make the Free Throws - Given Kansas State's immense fouling tendencies, it is likely inevitable we are going to get fouled. I mean, it could reach Eddie Hightower status without Eddie actually even showing up to Allen. And so, when we get our trips to the free throw line, we've got to knock them down. If we give away enough free points, we could lose this game.
This is one of those games. Y'know, those games that you really have to win, and you know you should win, but you just don't feel all that comfortable going in. It's weird. And, this preview did not make me feel better; particularly the bit about Jamar Samuels. Now, I'm mostly frightened of him. Hopefully the Morris twins can step it up. But, seriously, we've got to win. And although it certainly isn't a sure thing, it is at home. And that's big for such a young team. We've played like a much different team at the Field House all year, and hopefully that confident, playmaking team is the one that shows up Tuesday night. If not, we could be in for a shock; a shock that would send our once so-promising postseason thoughts going down, down, down. We can probably survive one loss like this in conference play. Either a home game against average competition, or an away game against bad competition. I don't want to use it up in the first game of conference play.
Oh, yeah, and it's K-State. They should never, ever beat us in Allen. Ever. So there's that, too.
Check back here an hour before the game (hopefully) for the Open Game Thread.