How NCAA Tournament South Region No. 5 seed Kentucky (26-10) and No. 9 seed Kansas State (24-11) match up at each position for their round-of-16 contest Thursday at the Philips Arena in Atlanta — with a game prediction:
▪ Kentucky’s Kevin Knox (15.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) led UK with 25 points on 8-of-16 field-goal shooting in the Wildcats’ 78-73 win over Davidson in the round of 64. Battling foul trouble, however, the 6-foot-9, 215-pound freshman from Tampa had only eight points (4-of-10 shooting) in UK’s 95-75 victory over Buffalo in the round of 32.
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▪ Kansas State’s Xavier Sneed (10.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 40.8 percent FGs) had two late dunks that helped K-State gain late separation in its 50-43 win over the giant killers from Maryland-Baltimore County in the round of 32. The 6-5, 212-pound sophomore is averaging 8.5 ppg and 6.0 rpg in the NCAA tourney.
▪ Kentucky’s PJ Washington (10.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 51.4 FGs) made nine of 15 field goals in his first two Big Dance games and is averaging 12.5 ppg and 5.0 rpg in the tournament. A 62.8 percent foul shooter on the season, the 6-7 freshman from Dallas made four of six under NCAA Tournament pressure last week.
▪ Kansas State’s Makol Mawien (7.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 63 percent FGs) is a fast-developing 6-9, 225-pound sophomore. The West Valley City, Utah, product had 16 points in K-State’s overtime victory over TCU in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals, then had a career-high 29 in a loss to archrival Kansas in the semis. With points at a premium against UMBC in the NCAA round of 32, Mawien had 11 points.
▪ Kentucky’s Nick Richards (5.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 61.6 percent FGs) logged eight minutes against Buffalo (with two points and two rebounds) and five minutes vs. Davidson (two points, two rebounds). The 6-11, 240-pound freshman from Kingston, Jamaica, has now played 10 minutes or less in nine of Kentucky’s past 10 games.
▪ Kansas State’s Dean Wade (16.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.8 assists, 55 percent FGs, 44.4 percent three-pointers) is the Wildcats’ best player. The 6-10, 228-pound junior from St. John, Kan., missed K-State’s past three games with a foot injury. After Kansas State beat UMBC, Wade told reporters he was “98 percent sure” he would play against Kentucky.
Advantage: Kansas State
▪ After a slog through the second half of Kentucky’s season, Hamidou Diallo (10.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg) has found his game. In the Wildcats’ win over Buffalo, the 6-5, 198-pound redshirt freshman made nine of 12 shots and scored 22 points with eight rebounds and two blocked shots. The Queens, N.Y., product also played well (eight points, three blocks) against Davidson.
▪ Barry Brown (16.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.3 apg) has averaged 18 points in K-State’s two NCAA tourney wins — and has been even more valuable defensively. In the victory over Creighton, Brown held Bluejays star Marcus Foster to five points on 2-of-11 shooting. Against UMBC, Brown limited Retrievers star Jairus Lyles — who tormented Virginia with 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting — to 12 points on 4-of-15. Expect the 6-3, 195-pound junior from St. Petersburg, Fla., to draw the defensive assignment on UK’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Advantage: Kansas State
▪ Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (14.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.7 steals) has been one of the breakout players of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. The 6-6, 180-pound freshman from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, had 19 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals in the win over Davidson. He came back with 27 points, six boards, six assists and two steals against Buffalo.
▪ Kansas State’s Cartier Diarra (7.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 40.5 percent three-point shooting) inherited the starting point guard spot after Kamau Stokes broke his left foot three games into the Big 12 season. A 6-4, 190-pound redshirt freshman from Florence, S.C., Diarra is averaging 6.0 ppg and 5.5 rpg in the NCAA tourney.
▪ With Kentucky’s front line battling foul trouble against Buffalo, 6-9, 205-pound sophomore Wenyen Gabriel (6.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 40.4 percent three-point shooting) produced a double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds). Sacha Killeya-Jones (3.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 59 percent FGs) gave the Cats a big boost against Davidson, as the 6-10, 221-pound sophomore had eight points and six rebounds. Freshman guard Quade Green (9.4 ppg, 37.1 percent three-point shooting) made only four of 12 shots in Boise, but hit a big jumper late against Davidson. If electric freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt (5.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg) can return from the ankle injury that has so far kept him out of the postseason, the 6-9, 214-pound freshman could become UK’s X-factor.
▪ Kansas State’s Kamau Stokes (9 ppg, 3.4 apg) was averaging 13.4 ppg and 4.6 apg as the Wildcats’ starting point guard before he broke his left foot early in the Big 12 season. He has not been the same player since returning. Freshman guard Mike McGuirl (3.2 ppg in 10 contests) spent most of this season planning to redshirt but was “activated” late in the season. The 6-2, 190-pound product of Ellington, Conn., was the hero of K-State’s win over Creighton, scoring 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
▪ After winning two games with minuscule fan support in far-away Boise, Kentucky will travel to “Catlanta” where UK backers have traditionally dominated in the stands. Given that the top four seeds in the South Region have all been eliminated, John Calipari’s Wildcats must guard against playing “tight” since they are now favored to advance to the Final Four.
▪ Kansas State is the third school Wildcats Coach Bruce Weber has led to the round of 16. He also coached Southern Illinois to the 2002 region semifinals and Illinois to the 2005 NCAA title game. All-time, K-State is 0-9 against Kentucky, 0-2 in the NCAA tourney. In 2014, Kansas State lost a 56-49 grinder to UK in the round of 64. In the 1951 NCAA title game, UK beat K-State 68-58.
Kentucky 67, Kansas State 57
Kentucky-Kansas State history
UK leads series 9-0
March 21, 2014, at St. Louis: 56-49 (NCAA Tournament round of 64)
Nov. 28, 2008, at Las Vegas: 74-72 (Las Vegas Invitational)
March 16, 1976, at New York: 81-78 (NIT quarterfinals)
Dec. 6, 1971, at Kansas State: 71-64
Dec. 23, 1966, at Lexington: 83-79 (UK Invitation Tournament)
Dec. 23, 1961, at Lexington: 80-67 (UK Invitation Tournament)
March 27, 1951, at Minneapolis: 68-58 (NCAA championship game)
Dec. 20, 1940, at Kansas State: 28-25
Jan. 1, 1940, at Lexington: 53-26