A win in Manhattan would be no cakewalk. In Bruce Weber's one-and-a-half year tenure as head coach of the Kansas St. Wildcats, his team has lost at home just twice: once last year to Kansas, and a fluke opening season loss this year to Northern Colorado. Kansas State is just 5-4 in conference play, but has exhibited strong home-away splits. All four home games have been wins (including one against Oklahoma State), while the Cats are just 1-4 on the road.
The Texas Longhorns head to Bramlage Coliseum on a seven game winning streak, including a four game stretch of wins against ranked opponents. Somewhat predictably, the Horns looked sluggish in their latest win at TCU. Sparkplug scorer Javan Felix missed that game with a concussion, but is expected back against Kansas State. The Longhorns will need his scoring, as the Wildcats are one of the tougher defensive teams in the Big 12.
What I wrote for Texas' home victory against Kansas State still applies (see below). Despite the lackadaisical box score line, I thought Jevon Thomas at point was a steadying influence for the Wildcats. He's been hit or miss this year but promises to be an interesting guard with development time. Freshman Wes Iwundu has put together a few good games since Texas, and fellow frosh Marcus Foster put in two 20-pointers as well. Should be an interesting game.
Shane Southwell: The 6' 7" senior swingman is Kansas State's de facto leader/best player. He played sparingly his first two years, but moved into the starting lineup early last year and stuck there as K-State's glue forward. With Rodney McGruder (graduation) and Angel Rodriguez (transfer to Miami) gone, Southwell has moved into a lead role. Already a great defender, Southwell has also evolved into a solid all-around player and can beat you in multiple ways.
Will Spradling: The 6' 2" senior guard has always reminded me of a homeless man's Aaron Craft, and the disparity has gotten wider with age. Like Craft, Spradling isn't a great outside shooter, though he has bumped his 3-pt% from a terrible 30.4% to a merely mediocre 34.4%. Unlike Craft, Spradling doesn't really score at all. His possession usage is the lowest on the team, meaning he starts strictly for defensive purposes. On that aspect, he's still pesky.
Marcus Foster: A 6' 2" freshman, Foster was a low-ranked 3* guard from Wichita Falls Hirschi who has outperformed his star ranking. Foster leads the team with 13.9 PPG, and has scored in double-figures in each of K-State's four conference wins. His 17 point, 8 rebound outburst against Oklahoma State was a key reason for the Wildcats' win. Foster can handle the ball along with Spradling and Southwell, making the Wildcats versatile on the perimeter.
Wesley Iwundu: Like Foster, the 6' 7" Iwundu was a lightly recruited Texan (Iwundu played at Houston Westfield). He starts as a freshman as well, giving Bruce Weber a couple core youngsters to build around going forward. A quick glance at the stats shows Iwundu doesn't do anything particularly well, but he doesn't do anything particularly poorly, either.
Thomas Gipson: The 6' 7" interior bruiser will be one of Cam Ridley's biggest challenges to-date. Unlike prior foes, the 265 pound junior won't be pushed around. Gipson started the season slowly due to a concussion, but is more or less good for his 12/6 averages on a given night. Law of averages! At his height, Gipson isn't much of a shot-blocker, but he can rebound and score.
Nigel Johnson, Jevon Thomas: Kansas State has a couple of freshman guards that can handle the ball. Thomas was ineligible until after the fall semester, but has given the Wildcats a shot in the arm as a backup ballhandler and "sixth starter." His shooting percentages classify as atrocious, but Thomas has a sky-high assist rate of 29.4%. As a result of Thomas' success, Johnson's minutes played have decreased going into conference play.
Omari Lawrence: Kansas State's sixth guard, the 6' 3" senior has seen spotty minutes all season. He had 6 total points through 6 conference games, but has scored 11 in his last 3.
Nino Williams: The 6' 5" junior started the season as K-State's 6th man, a role now owned by Thomas. Williams buys about 14 minutes a game and can be counted on for high-efficiency scoring and some rebounding. If he's lucky and/or good, he'll find himself on the Southwell/McGruder track to upperclassman success.
D.J. Johnson: The 6' 9" sophomore has a big frame and filled in ably for Gipson at the beginning of the season. Like Lawrence, Johnson's minutes have dwindled in conference play, though he did log 25 minutes against Texas Tech.
Keys to Victory:
1. Don't give up easy buckets: Just about the only thing Kansas State is good at on offense is rebounding. The Wildcats are a miserable jump shooting team and just happy to be mediocre from distance. If Texas can limit easy at the basket shots and open 3's, the Wildcats will find it hard pressed to score.
2. Utilize size advantage at the 4: While Ridley and Prince Ibeh may have tough sledding inside against Gipson and Johnson, Jonathan Holmes and Connor Lammert possess a size and experience advantage against Wes Iwundu. Texas needs to maximize point and board production from the 4.
3. Make free throws: Kansas State likes to foul. Even with the home court advantage, the Wildcats can and will send Texas to the line. The Longhorns will need to do better than their 66% season average.
4. Don't cough up the rock: The Wildcats already play enough smothering defense to make it tough sledding for Texas to hit shots. Giving up the ball via routine turnovers prevents Texas from opportune rebounds and easy putbacks.
The game is at 12:45 p.m. on Big 12 Network local affiliates.