Kansas State is an interesting matchup for Kansas in that in some ways the Wildcats are exactly the type of team Kansas would love to play all the time, but in a lot of ways they represent a difficult matchup for the Jayhawks.
We’ll start with the easier matchup to peg: the defense. Simply put, the Wildcats aren’t very good defensively. They rank 6th in the league, allowing 1.09 points per possession in conference play. Like Kansas (in some ways) their defensive number would be even worse except for some 3-point luck, with opponents shooting just 31.6 from deep against K-State.
The Wildcats also rank dead last in 2-point percentage allowed, 9th in defensive rebounding, and 8th in sending teams to the line. They do rank 2nd in the league at forcing turnovers, but don’t force them to the extent they can win a game just via turnovers.
Offensively, Kansas State has been excellent so far in Big 12 play. They score almost 1.14 points per trip, good for 2nd in the league, and lead the league in both 2 and 3 point shooting. They also lead the league in getting to the free throw line.
The good news for the Jayhawks is K-State ranks last in the Big 12 in offensive rebounding, so when they do miss the Jayhawks should be able to limit them to just 1 shot. K-State did decently well on the glass in the first meeting, and the Jayhawks have been awful on the defensive glass all year, but they’ve been better with Udoka Azubuike in, so if he can stay on the floor they should be able to limit second chance attempts.
Players to Watch
Dean Wade, 6-10 junior forward
Wade is having a first team All-Big 12 caliber season, shooting 61 percent on twos and 45 percent from three, while being a decent defensive rebounder. He’s not a great defender overall, but has made huge strides from his first two years. He’s taking over 40 percent of his field goal attempts from the mid range, which is crazy high, but he’s shooting over 50 percent on those shots, which is also crazy high.
Barry Brown, 6-3 junior guard
Brown is also putting in a first team All-Big 12 caliber season, shooting 53 percent from two and posting the 2nd highest steal rate in Big 12 play. He isn’t a very good outside shooter, but he’s been very good at attacking the rim so far this season.
Cartier Diarra, 6-4 sophomore guard
Diarra exploded in Lawrence, with a career high 18 points, and he leads the Big 12 in 3-point shooting at 60 percent (although on just 20 attempts). He’s 4 of his last 11 threes, but he’s been very good inside the arc since the first meeting. You can turn him over, as he has 10 turnovers in the 4 games since the first matchup.
Keys to the Game
- Midrange jumpers - K-State takes almost an equal amount of shots at the rim and from the mid range, which bodes well for the Jayhawks as long as Wade doesn’t take too many of them.
- Turnovers - K-State will need to force a ton of them to keep the Jayhawks from putting up points. As I often say, the Jayhawks commit some of the dumbest turnovers you’ll ever see, but they don’t commit a ton of them.
- Fouls - K-State excels at drawing fouls. Kansas is about middle of the pack in terms of both drawing them and committing them. However, they need to keep Azubuike on the floor. If they can, they’ll win.
This could go a lot of different ways. Kansas State could struggle from the mid range. Udoka Azubuike could get into early foul trouble. Svi could struggle defending Dean Wade. Devonte Graham could feel the effects of three straight 40-minute games. Cartier Diarra could go nuts again. Lagerald Vick could take advantage of the athletic advantage he will have over whoever is guarding him.
However you slice it, I think the game will come down to the final two minutes. When that’s the case, I default to picking Bill Self. I’ll take the Jayhawks 77-75.