Wildcats’ consistency faces tough test in Tigers

25 Feb

K-State is currently on a three-game win streak, the longest the team has had since the non-conference season. After a mind-blowing 16-point victory over the newly No. 1 Jayhawks in Bramlage Coliseum, the Wildcats parlayed that momentum into a home win over Oklahoma and a gritty road victory at Nebraska.

With only three games remaining in the regular season, K-State (19-9, 7-6 Big 12) faces two top-25 teams. At 11 a.m. Saturday, the team plays Missouri. In the last meeting, back on Jan. 17, the Tigers (22-6, 8-5 Big 12) forced the Wildcats into 24 turnovers, a number that makes any coach want to head to the nearest trash can and either pick it up and throw it or throw up into it.

Missouri has only lost six games this season, and four of those losses came against teams ranked No. 15 or higher in the country. The Tigers have won five of their last six games, with the only loss in that bunch coming against Kansas.

In that last contest, which ended 75-59 in favor of Missouri, the Tigers had five players score in double figures. The Wildcats, on the other hand, had only two – guard Jacob Pullen and forward Jordan Henriquez-Roberts.

Apparently, five Tigers scoring in double digits was not an anomaly. Marcus Denmon, Ricardo Ratliffe, Laurence Bowers, Kim English and Michael Dixon all average at least 10 points per game, and Denmon usually scores around 16.

The last time these teams played, Missouri amassed 15 assists to K-State’s 7. Now, though, the Wildcats have a new offense to take advantage of the smaller, more athletic lineup they’ve been using recently. As assistant coach Brad Underwood explains it, the team is still trying to attack the rim, but they’re doing it from further away. Instead of doing it with brute strength, the players are doing it with ball movement and cuts to the basket.

Keys to the Game:

Ball security 24 turnovers by the Wildcats the last time these teams played, and the Tigers had 12 steals. This is the obvious area of improvement, one that can be achieved by making responsible passes, dribbling less and being strong with the ball in the paint. Never in a million years would I expect the turnover count to be anywhere near as high as it was last time, but you never know.

Running that offense This is likely going to be a run-and-gun type of game, played at breakneck speed, but the Wildcats will have to be patient too. K-State has a size advantage here, especially with Henriquez-Roberts, who stands 7 feet tall. The most methodical way to exploit that is to work the ball around the perimeter, send guys cutting, and get to the rim.

Free throw shooting The Wildcats managed to come through when it mattered in Nebraska on Wednesday, but missing 9 free throw attempts is not going to cut it against the No. 21 team in the country.

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