Kansas State enters the Sweet 16 match-up with Kentucky as 5-point underdogs. Few are giving the nine-seed a chance, but if they do the following, they could prove to be the better Wildcats.
Keep it Low-Scoring
Kansas State scores just 71.6 points per game. Syracuse and Loyola are the only teams still alive in the NCAA Tournament that score fewer points per game. The Wildcats have not reached their season average in the last six games. Bruce Weber’s greatest fear entering tonight is his team’s ability to keep up with Kentucky.
“They’re really good defensively right now. That’s one of my biggest fears for our team, how we’re going to find a way to score,” he said yesterday.
If they can keep Kentucky under 70 points, they have a chance. It can be done. The chastity belt of the Big 12 is ranked 37th in the country, holding opponents to just 66.9 points per game.
Dean Wade Eats
Returning from an injury, Weber does not plan on playing his leading scorer the usual 34 minutes. Crafty in the paint, if Wade maximizes his minutes and gets UK’s interior in foul trouble, it could be a long night for Kentucky in the post.
This applies for every upset in the NCAA Tournament, but especially Kansas State. They only shoot 34 percent from behind the arc, but 37 percent of their shots come from long range.
In order to get a better feel for the Wildcats, I invited Rudy Salazar, a UK JOU school grad and current ESPN Radio Kansas City producer, onto my radio show to learn a formula for K-State to pull off the upset. Nobody’s watched more of the two teams than Rudy. The only way he sees a K-State win is if they find their rhythm from three.
“Xavier Snead, who is one of their starting guards, shoots five threes a game, but in his last like ten games he’s only shooting about 13 percent from three, yet he hasn’t stopped shooting threes. If all the sudden he starts knocking down his threes,” Rudy said, “UK could be in trouble.”
Don’t Lose Makol
One other piece to the equation Rudy pointed out is K-State’s starting center, Makol Mawien. The 6’9″ sophomore only averages 7.1 points per game, but he can make opponents pay if they focus too much attention on Wade.
“If he gets the ball in his hands, he’s not really looking to attack. His offensive game is just put-backs and people forgetting about him at times. They just forget he’s out there,” Rudy said.
Kansas forgot about him in the Big 12 tournament and Makol scored 29 points. TCU did the same and he scored 18 points.
Force UK to Shoot (and Miss) Threes
The Kansas State defense is great at defending the three-point line, but you can’t quite say the same about their two-point defense.
The Wildcats hold opponents to 32.7 percent from behind the three-point line. However, in conference play, Big 12 opponents made 52 percent of their two-point field goals. Kentucky has only made seven threes in two NCAA Tournament games. If the lengthy K-State defense can force UK to take contested threes, finding points could become a chore for Kentucky.
Even if all of the above happens, at the end of the day K-State needs Kentucky to throw in a clunker to have a chance to pull off the upset. Let’s all hope that does not happen. Fingers crossed.