Five things to know about Kentucky’s next opponent, the Kansas State Wildcats:
1. Kansas State has had a tough time against top teams
The Wildcats are 24-11 after going 10-8 in the Big 12, the same record that UK posted in the SEC. They defeated No. 8 seed Creighton 69-59 and No. 16 seed UMBC 50-43 in Charlotte in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament’s South Region.
There are two SEC teams (Kentucky and Texas A&M) among the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. There are four Big 12 teams (Kansas, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Kansas State) among the Sweet 16.
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Kansas State did not beat any of their three conference mates, however, going 0-3 versus Kansas, 0-2 versus West Virginia and 0-2 versus Texas Tech.
In fact, the Wildcats are 3-9 against the RPI Top 50. They are 0-7 against Jeff Sagarin’s Top 25 and 10-9 versus the Sagarin Top 50. Their best kenpom wins were both over TCU, ranked 24th. They beat the Horned Frogs 73-68 in Manhattan and 66-64 in overtime in the Big 12 Tournament.
Going into the NCAA Tournament, Kansas State was just 53rd in the RPI. Their strength of schedule was ranked 89th. Meanwhile, Sagarin ranked the K-State schedule 29th in degree of difficulty.
2. K-State may get its top scorer back on Thursday
Dean Wade, a 6-foot-10 junior from St. John, Kan., was a first-team All-Big 12 selection after averaging 16.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He has yet to play in the NCAA Tournament, however.
Wade suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in Kansas State’s overtime win over TCU in the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Tournament. He missed K-State’s loss to Kansas — its third loss to the Jayhawks this season — in the Big 12 semifinals and the first two NCAA games, wins over Creighton and UMBC.
Wade has been going through warm-ups and was apparently available for an “emergency” situation against UMBC. After the game, he said he was 98 percent sure he would play against Kentucky.
Before his injury, Wade had scored in double figures in 20 consecutive games. He had 20 points and six rebounds and 22 points and eight rebounds in his two games against Kansas.
After averaging 9.9 points as a freshman and 9.3 points as a sophomore, Wade is shooting 55 percent from the floor and 44 percent from three-point range, where he is 40-of-91 on the season. He’s a 74.8 percent foul shooter.
3. Kansas State has been dealing with injuries all year
Wade isn’t alone when it comes to K-State injuries. Starting guard Kamu Stokes missed seven games from Jan. 10 through Jan. 29, including both Kansas games, with a foot fracture. And Barry Brown missed all but two minutes of the loss to Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament semifinal.
Brown took an inadvertent finger in the eye from Kansas guard Devonte Graham, left the game and did not return. Kansas rolled to an 83-67 win before beating West Virginia in the conference tournament title game.
Brown, a 6-3 junior from St. Petersburg, Fla., was a second team All-Big 12 selection. He’s averaging 16.1 points per game and has been the Wildcats’ best player in the NCAA Tournament.
Brown scored 18 points in the opening-round win over Creighton. He also scored 18 points in Sunday’s win over UMBC. Maybe more importantly, he was the primary defender on UMBC’s Jairus Lyles, who had scored 28 points in the Retrievers’ historic upset of No. 1 seed Virginia. Against Brown and Kansas State, however, Lyles hit just four of 15 shots.
One silver lining to Brown’s injury in the Big 12 Tournament was the emergence of freshman guard Mike McGuirl. The Connecticut native had played in all of seven games, scoring nine points, before being put on the floor in the Big 12 Tournament after Brown’s injury.
McGuirl scored four points in 21 minutes in that game. Against Creighton, however, McGuirl scored 17 points in 22 minutes, hitting three of five three-point shots. He scored just two points in 14 minutes but had three rebounds and two steals against UMBC.
Xavier Sneed, a 6-5 sophomore, had four steals, seven rebounds and eight points in the win over UMBC. He made several key plays in the second half, including a monster follow dunk with 3:04 left that gave Kansas State a 44-38 lead and a jumper from the left baseline just before the shot clock buzzer with 1:18 remaining for a 46-41 lead.
4. This is Bruce Weber’s best NCAA showing at K-State
The 61-year-old coach was 0-3 in NCAA Tournament games at Kansas State before wins in the first two rounds this year. Weber’s overall Big Dance record is 14-11 with one trip to the Final Four, in 2005 when Illinois lost to North Carolina in the NCAA title game.
A graduate of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Weber served as a graduate assistant under Gene Keady in 1979-80, then followed Keady to Purdue where he served as an assistant coach until being named head coach at Southern Illinois in 1998.
Weber went 103-54 at SIU, taking the Salukis to the Sweet 16 as the No. 11 seed in 2002 where they lost to Connecticut 71-59. (Kentucky lost to Maryland 78-68 in the other East Region semifinal that year.) After taking SIU back to the NCAA Tournament in 2003, Weber became head coach at Illinois.
Weber replaced the popular Bill Self, who had departed to be the head coach at Kansas. Tired of the comparisons to Self, Weber held a mock funeral for the former head coach, saying that fans and media needed to realize Self wasn’t coming back.
Two years later, led by many of Self’s recruits, Illinois started 29-0 and ended up 37-2 after the loss to North Carolina in the 2005 title game. Over the next seven years, Weber would win just two NCAA Tournament games and was fired after going 17-15 overall and 6-12 in the Big Ten in 2011-12. He finished with a 210-101 overall record at Illinois.
Weber wasn’t unemployed long. He was hired as the head coach at Kansas State, replacing Frank Martin who left Manhattan for South Carolina. Again, Weber got off to a fast start, tying Kansas for the Big 12 regular-season title at 14-4 in 2012-13. The Wildcats lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2013 and 2014 — losing 63-61 to LaSalle as the No. 4 seed in 2013; losing 56-49 to Kentucky as the No. 9 seed in St. Louis in 2014.
After missing the tournament in 2015 and 2016, Kansas State rebounded to go 21-14 last season, but was again bounced in the first round. Overall, Weber is 124-79 at Kansas State with a 55-53 conference record.
5. Kansas State is better on defense than offense
The Wildcats are 39th overall in the latest Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. K-State is just 74th in adjusted offensive efficiency, but 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency.
The Wildcats play at a very slow pace, just 303rd in Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo out of 351 Division I teams. K-State is shooting 47 percent from the field, but just 34.3 percent from three-point range, which ranks 209th nationally. It did make nine of 19 three-pointers against Creighton. The Wildcats are 36th nationally in two-point shots at 54.3 percent.
On defense, Weber’s team is allowing just 0.955 adjusted points per possession. The Wildcats are 24th in forcing turnovers on 21.5 percent of possessions. They are fourth in steals at 11.8 percent of possessions.
Creighton came into Friday’s first-round game against Kansas State 10th nationally in scoring at 84.3 points per game. The Blue Jays tied a season-low 59 points. They shot just 33.8 percent from the floor, making only nine of 34 three-pointers.
Sunday, UMBC shot just 29.8 percent from the floor against Kansas State. The Retrievers went just 6-of-22 from three-point range on the way to scoring just 43 points. UMBC scored 54 points in the second half in its win over Virginia.
Kansas State basketball 2017-18
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