Kentucky is a five-point favorite over Kansas State in tonight’s Sweet 16 showdown. What must the blue Wildcats do to beat the purple Wildcats? I’ve got five keys to the game.
Let Shai eat
No one drives the basket better than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander; tonight, Kansas State’s Barry Brown will attempt to shut him down. Brown is K-State’s lockdown defender, notably holding Trae Young to only 2-1 from the outside and forcing him into 12 turnovers. Shai’s averaging 21.8 points, 6.6 assists, 5.8 rebounds, 2.4 steals and only 2.0 turnovers in the postseason, so this is my matchup to watch. If Shai continues to play like he has been, Kentucky will control the game.
Minimize Dean Wade
If he was 100% healthy, there’s a 100% chance Dean Wade would have an impact on this game; however, while Wade will play tonight, he will be limited. Even though he’s 6’10”, 230 lbs., Wade isn’t just a post guy; he can step out and hit it from the outside too, connecting on 44% from the three-point line. The uncertainty over whether or not he’ll play has turned him into the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki, but as long as Nick Richards, Sacha Killeya-Jones, or even PJ Washington bring it on the defensive end, I don’t see Wade being a game-changer.
Something — anything — from the outside
Kentucky’s 0-6 performance from the outside vs. Davidson was an anomaly. Wenyen Gabriel has stepped up as the three-point specialist Kentucky needs, hitting 60.7% from the outside over the last seven games. Meanwhile, Quade Green finally hit a three vs. Buffalo after going 0-7 in his last four games. Shai and Hamidou Diallo have also hit some big threes in the postseason, and Kentucky will need consistency from the outside to break down Kansas State’s vaunted defense.
Hami! Hami! Hami!
Hamidou Diallo broke through vs. Buffalo; if he can build on that performance tonight, Kentucky becomes even more dynamic going forward. Not many teams can stop this:
The Cats used an away game atmosphere to their advantage in Boise; let’s hope a loud and raucous BBN makes them feel at home in Catlanta.