Kansas State has started the season 12-4, but has beaten just two top-100 teams. The Wildcats, in stark contrast to the usual Bruce Weber team, have built up a fairly strong offensive profile while struggling defensively.
Offensively, K-State is 26th nationally in 2-point shooting at 56 percent, although they have been a bit worse in their Big 12 games. They also turn it over on just 16 percent of their possessions. Taking 40 percent of their shots from three and shooting 36 percent from deep, this is a far cry from the old K State teams who would rely on rebounding their own misses to score.
Ironically, that works better for Kansas, as defensive rebounding is obviously their achilles heel against good teams. K-State ranks 257th nationally in shots at the rim as well, which has been another problem for the Jayhawks. Kansas should be able to turn this somewhat into a jump shooting game, which will be an advantage for both KU’s offense and defense.
Defensively, Kansas State has been struggling. In the Big 12, it currently ranks 10th in 2-point defense, 9th in defensive rebounding, and 9th in free throw rate allowed. One big bonus for them against the Jayhawks, however, is they have relatively shut down the 3-point line, ranking 1st in threes allowed, allowing just 31 percent of Big 12 opponents field goal attempts to come from three. However, that number is 41 percent for the full season, so it could be a legitimate switch in defensive philosophy/ability, or it could only be a function of sample size.
Players to Watch
Barry Brown, 6-3 junior guard
With Kamau Stokes out with an injury, Brown stepped up in a big way against Oklahoma State, pouring in 38 points on just 17 shots. For the season he’s shooting just 31 percent on threes, but 54 percent inside the arc and he’s turned into one of the better perimeter defenders in the league.
Dean Wade, 6-10 junior forward
Despite his size, Wade is one of the better stretch forwards in the league. He shoots 42 percent from three and 65 percent from two, and he’s also been a decent rebounder thus far in conference play. He missed a wide open three in the final seconds to win at Allen Fieldhouse last year, so no doubt he will be ready for a big game this weekend.
Keys to the Game
- Udoka Azubuike - As good as Dean Wade is offensively, he’s struggled on the other end of the floor, and doesn’t really have the strength to handle Azubuike at all. If Kansas goes into him enough, they should be able to get a lot of easy twos and make Wade get into foul trouble.
- Threes - Kansas State has limited attempts this year, and while Kansas doesn’t need to have a great game from deep, it will certainly help.
- Turnovers - The Wildcats have forced quite a few turnovers to help their defense. Kansas will commit some dumb ones, but hasn’t really turned it over much in total. If they can keep it to around 15 percent of their possessions, they should win.
I am sure K-State will be motivated by the Svi travel, even though Kansas likely would have won in overtime, but they probably should be more motivated by the fact they were an open three away from possibly winning the game last year. Couple that with the fact K-State always seems to get up for this game more than vice versa, and the fact that KU’s off-ball defense doesn’t seem to have improved much, and I think it will be a closer game than people think. However, because Kansas has such an advantage inside, and because Kamau Stokes is out, I like the Jayhawks to win a semi-close one at home, 78-71.