Most analysts are viewing tonight’s game against Kansas State as the biggest mismatch of the Sweet 16 (also Duke-Syracuse) and certainly on paper that is confirmed. Kansas State is simply here thanks to the UMBC upset and the Wildcats were barely able to get by the 16-seed to make it here. But the fact K-State even made the tournament means they have to do some things pretty well. I dug through all of the stats the NCAA provides on their website to find all of the things that Kansas State ranks in the Top 50 in the country in, or better said, what are they elite at. Amazingly, there are only 3 things they are Top 50 in:
Scoring Defense: 66.9 ppg (45th nationally)
Kentucky’s response: A lot of the strength of Kansas State’s scoring defense is due to pace of play. The are one of the 50 slowest paced teams in the country while UK is right on the fringe of the Top 100 fastest teams in the country. If K-State can grind the game down to a slow pace, something UK has been vulnerable to at points this season, the game could be closer than the talent would suggest. If UK can speed up the pace some, it certainly plays in their favor.
Steals: 7.9 pg (20th nationally)
Turnover Margin: +2.7 (34th nationally)
Kentucky’s response: The Cats are just decent in this area. UK averages 12.9 turnovers per game, which ranks 176th nationally. This simply means if the Cats can limit their turnovers against the stingy K-State defense that it will take a large portion of what they do away. But that hasn’t necessarily been a strength for UK at all times. The ability of Shai and Quade to control the ball, limit the turnovers, and keep the pace up will largely determine how easy a game this could be. If those guys are turning it over, which also allows K-State to control the pace even more, I think the Cats could be in some trouble.
I don’t think this game is very difficult to break down. Kentucky has superior talent and is more superior in more areas than Kansas State. If the Cats play their “normal” game, it really should be a fairly comfortable game. But that doesn’t mean you can’t envision a scenario where the Cats could blow this. I think PACE OF PLAY and TURNOVER MARGIN are going to be the 2 keys. If this is a slow game, it plays into Kansas State’s hands big time. I think the Cats should be pushing the pace of play, maybe even trying out a press to speed the other Wildcats up. And then can UK limit their turnovers and if they don’t, can they also turn Kansas State over.
I like the way UK is playing right now. They basically exerted their will on Buffalo and Davidson (1st half). I think if they continue shaping the game to their liking, this should be a double digit game. The stars on the team are playing like stars. We’re even getting some nice help from the role players. Everything is falling into place right now and if UK can just accomplish a couple keys the game, they shouldn’t fall off the cliff just yet.