Kansas visits Manhattan to take on the Wildcats in a game the Jayhawks probably need to stick in the conference race. After a rough start to the season, both nonconference and conference, the Wildcats sit in a tie for first in the Big 12 at 6-2.
Offensively, Kansas State has just been OK, scoring roughly 102 points per 100 possessions, good for 6th in the league. They have done it mostly via shot volume, ranking 4th in turnovers and 4th in offensive rebounding. Actually, shooting has been a problem for the Wildcats, as they are hitting 48 percent on twos and 35 percent on threes (they also rank 225th nationally at shooting twos and 263rd in threes).
So, I would expect Kansas to mostly play good first shot defense tonight with a few frustrating long possessions of the Wildcats grabbing rebound after rebound.
Defensively is where the Wildcats have mostly made their mark so far this year. They rank 5th nationally in defense via KenPom, and 2nd in the Big 12. I do think, however, the way they defend presents fewer problems than the way Texas Tech does. The Wildcats mostly live off turnovers and not allowing 2nd shot opportunities (again, shot volume).
While Kansas has had a bit of an issue turning it over in Big 12 play, the Jayhawks turned it over on fewer than 18 percent of possessions against Texas Tech, the best turnover forcing team in the Big 12. That may have been a one game blip caused by the home environment, but I do think there’s a case to be made for the Jayhawks to get better on the turnover front as the season progresses and the team continues to learn how to play with one another.
In other areas, K-State isn’t as formidable defensively. They allow the 9th most threes in the Big 12, and probably will sag off the Jayhawks and force them to shoot threes. This isn’t last year’s team, but Kansas is up to 36.5 percent from three in Big 12 play, which should be plenty good enough, especially if they get to take some 46 percent of their attempts from three tonight.
The Wildcats are pretty good at defending the two (they should be, given how much they pack it in), but they also don’t really have a natural defender for Dedric Lawson unless they want to risk getting Dean Wade in foul trouble. Makol Mawien seems to be the guy who will be on Lawson most of the night, but they will probably aggressively double him and force him to pass.
Players to Watch
Dean Wade, 6-10 senior forward
The preseason Big 12 Player of the Year hasn’t quite been as good as Lawson or Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, but he hasn’t been worse by much. He is shooting 55 percent on twos and 47 percent on threes for the season, and has also turned himself into an efficient passer and good team defender. He unfortunately doesn’t foul much, as Kansas would like him off the floor as much as possible. It’s too bad that KU’s 6-5 swiss army knife defender (aka Marcus Garrett) got hurt in practice.
Barry Brown, 6-3 senior guard
I don’t think Brown is as tall as the 6-3 he’s listed at, but he has been K-State’s version of Devonte Graham in Big 12 play this year, shooting 37 percent on threes while playing 91 percent of their minutes, most in the Big 12. He also leads the league in steal percentage. Brown vs Devon Dotson will probably be the matchup that decides this one.
Makol Mawien, 6-9 junior forward
Mawien doesn’t play as much (and probably isn’t as good) as a lot of other guys I could have picked, but he is K-State’s lone true post player. With some of the issues Kansas has had in terms of post defense this year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mawien with a 10 point, 8 rebound type night for the Wildcats.
I agree with commenter 2.1 seconds left that Marcus Garrett being out hurts the Jayhawks a lot, as he is a natural Dean Wade defender. I do, however, think Ochai Agbaji can sufficiently replicate that type of defensive effort. The issue for me is mostly on the other end. If Kansas makes shots like they did on Saturday against Texas Tech, I think they will come away with a road win.
But, they have had way too many issues on the road this season for me to be confident of that fact, or confident that they will not turn the ball over, leading to easy baskets on the other end. I will take Kansas State 69-62 in a game that will virtually eliminate Kansas from the Big 12 title race.