In their third of four appearances on ESPN’s Big Monday, KU ventures down the road to take on their little brother to the west. The Kansas State Wildcats are coming off the biggest win of their season, dismantling a Texas team that handled KU in Austin. That same Texas team barely beat KSU earlier in the year on a buzzer beater. What is interesting is that K-State beat Texas at their own game. That is, pushing them around in the lane and defending the rim. They did this despite their vertically challenged roster. The looked like the hungrier and more physical team all afternoon. Now, that being said, this is also the worst 3-pt shooting squad in the league and they hit 10 of their 20 attempts.
Their star freshman, Marcus Foster, also went off for 34 points on 81% from the floor. The way they played, nobody was going to beat them that day. I don’t think KU will see that KSU team Monday night. But I do think they probably got some of their mojo back and will be as fired up to play KU as they ever are. Maybe even more so because, unlike more recent seasons, they are on the bubble in the Big 12. The league will likely get 6 (maybe 7) teams into the NCAA tournament and they are currently tied with as the 5th or 6th team in. Lose to many more home games, and they may be on the outside looking in come tournament time. Needless to say, KU will need to be ready. Here are some things to watch for Monday in Manhattan:
1. Does KSU score more than 60 points? Despite their game against Texas, K-State still has one of the weakest offenses in the league. The currently rank 9th in points per game and 8th in FG%. In their first meeting with KU, they shot over 44% from the floor which is slightly higher than their season average and still resulted in a 60 point performance and 26 point blowout that was never in question. That was 8 conference games ago and since then KU is giving up only 39% from the floor and steadily improving. K-State also relies on 2 point shooting as they are the worst 3-point shooting team in the Big 12. Unfortunately, they don’t have the size inside to score easily on the frontcourt KU will throw at them. If they have found the three-point shooting groove, they may have a chance, but I don’t see them winning at their usual game and I don’t see them scoring more points than they did last time.
2. Can Foster redeem himself? Kansas State’s best player was a non-factor in his first trip to Allen Fieldhouse. The freshman went for only 7 points in 23 minutes on 25% from the field. Statistically he hurt his team more with his time on the floor than anybody else. Now he is getting another shot at the Jayhawks coming off a career performance vs Texas. He is sure to play like he has something to prove. The question now is who guards him and can they stop him? My money is on a mix of Tharpe, Selden and Mason, but if he gets going I would like to see Wiggins on him. Especially if he starts hitting threes.
3. Can KU get the calls? Historically, KU has a hard time getting to the line in Manhattan. That is a big part of how efficient this team is, and it will be important to see what kind of game is going to be called early. Sometimes officials tend to get caught up in a hostile environment and let the game get ugly and physical early. KU shoots free-throws on 10% more of their possessions than does K-State. If you look at some point in the second half and KSU has been to the line way more than KU, it will mean that one of KU’s biggest advantages against this Wildcat team has been negated. Last year, KU was able to get to the line at a decent clip and it was the difference in the game.