"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Kansas State Preview

Kansas State Wildcats
December 7, Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan, KS

Coach: Bruce Weber (150-89 at Kansas State, 463-244 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 44.7
3-Year kenpom Average: 30.7
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 40

Projected Starters: PG David Sloan (6'1" Jr), SG Mike McGuirl (6'2" Jr), SF Cartier Diarra (6'4" Jr), PF Xavier Sneed (6'5" Sr), C Makol Mawien (6'9" Sr)

Last year's Wildcats came in with high hopes. They were fresh off an Elite 8 bid and had 5 upperclassmen starters returning, including seniors Barry Brown, Dean Wade, and Kamau Stokes. After some lofty rankings to start the season, 4 losses by early January, including a road loss at Marquette, had K-State out of the top-25. From there, they rallied. The Wildcats won 12 of their last 14 conference games, earning the 1-seed in the Big 12 Tournament as they unseated Kansas from the top spot for the first time since 2004. From there, they were upset by Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament and fell to 13-seed UC-Irvine in the NCAA Tournament.

Their top-three scorers were Brown, Wade, and Stokes, all of whom are gone. Xavier Sneed tested the NBA Draft waters but decided to return for his senior season. The downside is that offensively, Sneed is the only returning player who averaged double-digit points and an offensive rating over 100. Sloan is a JUCO transfer that will likely get first crack at replacing Brown, but those are big shoes to fill. McGuirl and Diarra were decent bench players, but both are streaky shooters at best. This is an offensively challenged team that lost their three best scorers. Granted, their calling card was on defense, but those losses will be felt on that end as well as both Brown and Stokes were exceptional at guarding and creating turnovers without fouling.

The gameplan for the Wildcats starts with defense. The guards attack the ball-handler to force turnovers. They challenge every shot and limit offensive rebounds. They grind as much time out of possessions in order to shorten the game. And they generally do all of this without fouling. Offensively, they are challenged. They slow the game down on that end as well because Weber believes the best shot is not the closest but the most open. K-State will be patient and seems to operate on the philosophy that they don't have to be a good offensive team, they just have to be good enough to score some points while their defense suffocates you at the other end. At Fiserv Forum last year, we saw firsthand the ideal panacea to K-State's plan. Howard went straight at the Wildcats. He very deliberately fouled Dean Wade out midway through the second half, then went after Makol Mawien and did the same to him. Marquette sped up the game, drew the fouls K-State tries to avoid, and once there was no interior defenders left, scorched them inside the arc.

To me, K-State feels like a team that is about to fall sharply. Weber has struggled for consistency and his most notable achievement in Manhattan was largely due to benefiting from playing a 16-seed in the second round. They should still be a good defensive team, but I don't think they will be as good as they were last year. In the past six years, they have had a top-50 offensive efficiency just once, and losing three of their four most efficient offensive pieces means their #98 ranked offensive will likely be worse. Projections have them as a bubble team, but they look more like a NIT team that lacks the firepower to compete for a NCAA bid. The Octagon of Doom is always a tough place to play, so I don't expect an easy win, but Marquette definitely brings the best player and better team into this contest. I think this will be the first home-and-home high major sweep for Marquette of this century.

Marquette Connection: When Marquette enters the Octagon, they will be looking for their first win ever in Manhattan, having gone 0-5 in road games against KSU in the past. That started with a loss against the #1 ranked Wildcats in 1953. The closest Marquette game was a 56-55 loss on January 2, 1986. That game was the second of three consecutive 1-point losses to the Wildcats in consecutive seasons. Tom Copa led the way with 15 points while David Boone added 17 rebounds for the Warriors. On the upside, Marquette has never lost at the Octagon. It opened in 1988, 9 months after the last time Marquette played in Manhattan.

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