Tag Archives: Utah State

What to Expect: Kansas State vs. Utah State

17 Mar

Sadly, I am not in Tuscon today, due to the budget constraints of the Kansas State Collegian. While I would have love to just start spring break early and head down there on my own dime, my plane ticket to New York to cover the Wildcats’ participation in the Pinstripe Bowl of Dec. 30 kind of wiped out any extra money I could put toward that. So with that background info, I’ll give my somewhat educated guess of what K-State needs to do to get through its first game with the win.

Fortunately, the always-helpful sports information department of Kansas State sent some quotes from head coach Frank Martin my way, so in addition to what I see on paper, I’ll draw from his insight as well.

 

1) The Aggies are going to take care of the ball, so the Wildcats had better do likewise. According to statistics of ESPN.com, K-State averages 15 turnovers per game, while Utah State gives the ball away around 12 times each contest.

According to Martin, the Aggies are very disciplined on offense because they have a plethora of upperclassmen – six seniors and three juniors – who really have the experience and mentality to play well on a consistent basis. More than that, this is a team that is used to winning.In fact, multiple articles quote the Aggies as being confused and disappointed with the No. 12 seed.

“They’ve got a championship culture in their program,” Martin said. “They expect to win the games they play regardless of who the opponent is. It’s hard to overcome those things when you are playing against somebody that has those beliefs.”

 

2) K-State’s defense will need to be as effective as it has been all season, or more so. Throughout this year, defense has improved exponentially for the Wildcats, in my estimation. At the beginning of the season, Martin talked about how players were not rotating properly, and it was easy to see exactly what he was talking about. Watch them now, and it’s apparent that there has been serious progress. As part of the Aggies’ strategy is limiting its mistakes on offense, the Wildcats need to hassle them, frazzle them, and generally make them make mistakes.

I think it also helps K-State that its leading scorer is also its premiere defender. Not only does Jacob Pullen score upwards of 20 points nearly every game, he draws the assignment of containing the opponent’s best player. That’s got to be an inspiration to the other guys on the team: if Pullen is committed and tireless enough to go all out and take responsibility on both ends of the floor, surely that motivates his teammates to support him by doing likewise.

Martin said the struggle between these teams will come down to who wants the win more.

“That’s going be the battle of wills right there,” he said. “You know, our willingness to be disciplined and pressure without fouling, which we got better at as the year went on, to disrupt. And Utah State’s ability to deal with our pressure and still stay in their place and get the shots they want. You know, then once that ball goes on the rim, who is going to have the bigger desire to go get it; them on offense or us on defense and vice versa when the ball’s on the other side.”

 

3) While mentioning the necessity of making free throws is always good for a few rolling eyes, I just think it’s that important. Already, there have been some incredibly close games. The vast majority of these games will be decided by one or two shots, so even going 15-for-20 from the charity stripe could cost a team a win. The Wildcats have been streaky in this area throughout the season, but I’m hoping that the team has matured enough to forget all that and just put the ball in the basket.

 

4) In general, K-State has to make shots. This can’t be one of those 30-percent-from-the-floor nights. If that happens, there is a large possibly the Wildcats’ season will be over. The players will have to balance the gravity of “The season is over if we lose this game” with the more relaxed attitude of “We love basketball, and we need to win to get to continue playing.” If they just continue with the sort of ball movement that has been happening recently, good looks should come naturally, and if the players stay calm and play within their capabilities, they should be able to take advantage.

The ESPN bracket marked this game as a possible upset. I think that analysis is wrong, but you never know. In about five hours we will, though.

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Now comes the hard part

14 Mar

I can’t remember whether I first heard this saying from a player, coach, friend of a friend or character in a movie. Regardless, I feel like it’s true, especially the older I get, and especially for college basketball teams at this time of year.

“The only easy day was yesterday.”

The K-State men’s basketball team received a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament yesterday. Unlike college football’s bowl system, where teams can wait up to a month for their one-game postseason, March Madness calls for an immediate turnaround. Teams playing in the first round have only Sunday night and Monday to prepare for their first matchup. That’s part of what makes it all so much fun.

K-State has until Thursday evening to get ready for the No. 12 seed Utah State Aggies. I don’t know about you, but as one who has filled out a bracket for many years, I always liked the 5 vs. 12 matchups as upset picks. Then again, upsets are not so upsetting these days. As K-State head coach Frank Martin said, these games are difficult because every single team is aware that its basketball season is over if it doesn’t win. That makes people focus in more, and that extra desire gets applied to each possession, Martin explained. Simply put, there are no easy games.

Wildcat senior guard Jacob Pullen said that while there are good seeds and bad seeds, the outcome of a game really boils down to the matchup. His example was this: if a No. 1 seed gets paired with a No. 16 seed who has an incredible forward, and the No. 1 seed doesn’t have depth in the frontcourt, that is a difficult arrangement for the No. 1 seed.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean the No. 16 seed will win, but that kind of scenario could make it difficult for the favored team. Now apply that kind of logic to your 8 v. 9 matchup, your 5 v. 12 matchup, and all those other games where the teams have a more even talent level thanks to recruiting power, and things can get very interesting (read: entertaining) very quickly.

K-State’s recent encounters with Colorado are a perfect example of the power of matchups. As Martin and various Colorado players mentioned after the game, the Wildcats like to deny entry passes to the post on defense, but the Buffaloes have several players who can make plays off the dribble and get the ball to the rim that way. This year, Colorado had K-State’s number, and how the teams matched up was the reason why.

Looking at this first game, against Utah State, the first aspect I want to look at is strength of schedule. The Aggies have lost only 3 games this season, but they have only played two ranked teams: then-No. 14 Georgetown, at the beginning of the year, to whom they lost 68-51, and then-No. 23 Saint Mary’s,about a month ago, whom they beat 75-65.

The Wildcats, on the other hand, have played 10 games against ranked teams. You heard that correctly: a third of K-State’s opponents were ranked in the top 25. The Wildcats are 5-5 against ranked teams, but their losses came against Duke (a No. 1 seed in the NCAA  tournament), Florida (a No. 2 seed), Missouri (a No. 11 seed), Texas A&M (a No. 7 seed) and Kansas (a No. 1 seed) – and all of those were played away from Bramlage Coliseum.

Without going into a detailed scouting report (we’ll save that for another day, another blog), I would venture that – if nothing else – the Wildcats certainly have better preparation than Utah State heading into this postseason. It wouldn’t be a huge leap to assume that, despite 1o losses, that strength of schedule is why K-State got such a high seed in the first place.