The second weekend of the 2018 NCAA Tournament starts tonight and the headlining match up features your Kentucky Wildcats taking on the Wildcats from Kansas State. Kansas State has knocked off Creighton and Cinderella story 16-seed UMBC on their way to the Sweet 16. This will be the second time in the Coach Cal era that Kentucky takes on Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament, as the 2013-14 Final Four run began with a tough first round win over the Wildcats.
Kansas State is riding a 24-11 overall record on the year, including a 10-8 record in Big 12 conference play. Bruce Weber will have his version of the Wildcats ready to play, as he’s still bitter about losing out on the Anthony Davis recruitment that effectively ended his tenure as the Head Coach at Illinois. The Wildcats have one of the best perimeter defenses in the country, ranking in the top 20 in the country in team steals.
Kansas State’s best player, Dean Wade, has been nursing an injury through the beginning of postseason play, but is expected to take the floor tonight. Let’s take a look at the potential starting lineup for the Wildcats tonight, working under the assumption that Dean Wade will play. Even if he doesn’t start, he still has the ability to be a major contributor off the bench.
#32 Dean Wade, Junior Forward, 6’10”
Dean Wade is the most important player for this Kansas State. The lone Kansas native in the starting lineup, Wade went to high school in St. John, which is about two and a half hours from the Kansas State campus. He was named to this year’s All-Big 12 First Team by the coaches in the conference. If his injury allows him to play even at 80%, he is a real threat on both ends of the floor.
The junior is the leading scorer at 16.5 points per game and rebounder at 6.3 per game for the Wildcats. On top of those numbers, Wade is giving 2.8 assists, 1.6 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game. He was the ability to hit from all over the court, making 44% of his threes on the season, along with 74.8% of his free throws.
Wade is the biggest starter for the Wildcats, standing at 6’10 and 228 pounds. He’s the exact kind of match up that Kentucky seems to struggle with, as he has the ability to score with his back to the basket, as well as moving around on the perimeter. Kentucky will use Nick Richards to defend him to start the game; however, expect a mix of Sacha Killeya-Jones, PJ Washington, and Wenyen Gabriel to defend him at times.
#5 Barry Brown, Jr, Junior Guard, 6’3″
Barry Brown, Jr. is right up there with Dean Wade as one of the best players on this Wildcat squad. If Wade is option 1, then Brown is option 1a. The native of St. Petersburg, Florida was a member of both the All-Big 12 Second Team and Big 12 All-Defensive Team this season. He had 18 points in the win over Creighton in round one, as well as scoring 18 against UMBC in round two.
Just shy of the team lead, Brown is scoring 16.1 points per contest, to go along with 3.1 rebounds, and leading the team in assists at 3.3 and steals at 1.8 per game. Brown has the ability to step behind the arc to hit 33.1% of his threes on the year, and shoots 77.3% from the foul stripe. The Cats may be able to capitalize on Brown when he has the ball in his hands, averaging nearly 3 turnovers per game.
The Kansas State game plan rotates in a lot of guards to stay fresh and active on the defensive end. Brown will start at the point for the Wildcats, matching up with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. When Kamau Stokes checks into the game, they play a two point guard lineup, similar to Kentucky’s lineup that includes both Gilgeous-Alexander and Quade Green. The offensive efforts from Kentucky’s guards will be key tonight.
#20 Xavier Sneed, Sophomore Forward, 6’5″
Xavier Sneed is one of two sophomore starters and is one of three players to start every game this season for the Wildcats. Sneed was a three-star prospect out of Hazelwood Central High School in St. Louis, Missouri. He has combined for 17 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 steals in two games of the NCAA Tournament so far.
The third of three starters scoring in double figures this season, Sneed is giving the Coach Weber 10.7 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding, grabbing 4.9 per game, to go along with 1.8 assists and 1.6 steals per contest. More than half of the shots Sneed has attempted this season have been from beyond the arc, hitting 32% on the year. From the charity stripe, he’s made 76.5% on the season.
Sneed is the starter at the small forward position for Kansas State this season. At 6’5″ and 212 pounds, he gives up 4 inches and a few pounds to his Kentucky counterpart in Kevin Knox. This is a match up that Kentucky should be able to take advantage of, despite Sneed’s ability as a good on-ball defender. Knox’s floater has been strong lately, and shooting it over someone much shorter than him makes it that much easier.
#14 Makol Mawien, Sophomore Forward, 6’9″
Makol Mawien is the second sophomore starter for Bruce Weber, but is only in his first season at Kansas State. He spent his first year of eligibility at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs, New Mexico before transferring to Kansas State. He has combined for 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks in the first two NCAA Tournament rounds.
The native of Cairo, Egypt is actually playing the least of all the starters at an even 20 minutes per game, but his numbers in that time are solid. Mawien is currently averaging 7.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, and a team-leading 1.1 blocks per game. He has the ability to step away from the basket and hit jumpers, even making 3 of 10 attempts from beyond the arc this season. He has hit 77.8% of his free throws this year.
The starter a the power forward position, Mawien will match up with PJ Washington for Kentucky. The two are pretty evenly matched as far as size goes, but Washington has the overall talent and athleticism advantage over Mawien. If PJ can continue to be a strong presence in the paint for Kentucky and not pick up cheap fouls, today could be a big game for him.
#2 Cartier Diarra, Freshman Guard, 6’4″
Carier Diarra is in his first season actually getting playing time for Kansas State, as he missed all of last season on a medical redshirt following a summer knee surgery. Originally from Manhattan, New York, Diarra attended West Florence High School in South Carolina and was a top-25 player in the state coming out of high school.
The redshirt freshman has started 20 games this season before tonight. He is contributing 7.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game. He’s one of the better shooters on the team, making 40.5% on his deep balls this year. He hits 72.6% of his free throws, as well. So far in the tourney, he has combined for 12 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 steals.
Starting at the two-guard position, Diarra draws the match up with Hamidou Diallo. Diallo is coming off the best game of his UK career against Buffalo, which hopefully spills over to the rest of the tournament for Kentucky. Diallo was able to use his supreme athleticism to get rebounds, block shots, and of course score around the rim. The more Diallo realizes that he is more athletic than every player on the floor, the better he will be at doing the little things.
Go Cats. Beat Wildcats.