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Kansas State Preview

UC Irvine v Kansas State
This is an abomination before all that is holy
Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images

Of course, as Kansas drives west to play at K-State (and maybe, if they're lucky, stop at Olive Garden for dinner), they don't get to play the Wildcats team that lost their first four Big 12 games to drop to 8-7 for the year. The team that dropped a home game to TCU. No, they get a rejuvenated KSU squad that somehow went straight from those four losses to handing Texas Tech their first conference L, and then went on the road to knock off Texas in Austin.

Those last two games have propelled K-State up 16 spots in KenPom's rankings, where they now sit at 55th, the first time they've appeared in the top 60 this year. Statistically, this very much has the profile of a Bruce Weber team. They play stingy defense (though their numbers are helped out quite a bit by opponents shooting 26.5% from three, a number that can't be sustained), while struggling at times on offense.

They hit the boards hard on the defensive end, but they're almost exactly as bad at grabbing their own misses as they are good at preventing opponents from doing the same. They force a decent amount of turnovers (20% of possessions), and take care of the ball on the other side of the court. This is a team that isn't exactly great at anything, especially offensively, but they're decent enough in most areas that I can see how their top performances are good enough to trip up a better team having a rough game.

Players to Watch

Nigel Pack, sophomore guard

Pack looked solid as a freshman, and has been even better this year. The Wildcats' leading scorer has hit 39% of his 109 attempts from deep, while making half his twos. I haven't watched much KSU this year, but per Hoop Math, only 15% of his shots have come at the rim, and that plays out in the numbers, as he's put up 78 twos officially, but shot just 28 free throws (making 25). He's been a surprisingly efficient scorer for a jump shooter.

Markquis Norwell, junior point guard

This Little Rock transfer is only 5'8, meaning even Martin, Harris, and Pettiford will stand well above him. Despite his size, Norwell has been very effective in his point guard duties, ranking 5th in all of D1 with an assist rate better than 41%, and scoring 12 points per game as well. He's turning it over 20+% of the time, but he also has easily the highest usage rate on the team.

Mark Smith, senior wing/forward

Taking volume into account, Pack is probably the best three point shooter on the team, but by percentage, it's Smith. He's hit 40% of his 50 three point attempts, and though he's only 6'4, he's also been one of the conference's top rebounders, especially on the defensive end. While Kansas has the size and athleticism to limit Smith's productivity, he may be the type of player who makes that much harder to do than it looks.

Prediction

Kansas is just a six point favorite in this one, which is right about in line with where KenPom and Torvik think the margin will land. I didn't see either of KSU's upsets, but looking at the box scores, they look like Bruce Weber upsets. He uses what he's got to pester teams until they're frustrated, and squeaks by without a lot of scoring. Also, it doesn't hurt when your much more talented opponent misses a s*!tload of threes. Tech and Texas combined to hit 8-34 (23.5%) from deep in the back-to-back upsets.

I think Kansas will shoot better, and that may make all the difference.

Kansas 77, Kansas State 69

Record ATS: 10-7