Saturday College Basketball Preview: Kansas at Kansas State
by Robert Ferringo - 1/29/2010
Kansas State has done it once. Can they do it again?
On Jan. 18 the Wildcats welcomed the No. 1 team in the country, Texas, into a raucous atmosphere in Manhattan. Kansas State overpowered the Longhorns to knock off the top team in the land. Now, on Saturday, they welcome the No. 1 team-in-wait, in-state rival Kansas, and are looking to take down another one of the best teams in the country.
Kansas (19-1) will square off with Kansas State (17-3) at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Manhattan. There is no line on this game as of yet but I assume that it will be a bucket either way. The total will likely be in the low 150s or high 140s.
Kansas is presently the No. 2 team in the country. But with Kentucky’s loss on Tuesday at South Carolina the assumption is that if the Jayhawks escape K-State with a win they will return to the No. 1 spot which they vacated after losing in Tennessee back on Jan. 10.
But before either team worries about who will be No. 1 in the country the main motivation in this game is which school will be No. 1 in the Sunflower State.
Kansas has dominated the series with its in-state brother. They have won seven of the last eight meetings straight up and they are 6-2 against the spread in those contests. That includes an 11-point win in Manhattan last year and a nine-point win there in 2007 sandwiched around a K-State upset at home in 2008.
The home court edge will obviously be a tremendous boost to the host Wildcats. The atmosphere in the “Octagon of Doom” is energetic and intimidating. But while a rather unseasoned Texas team couldn’t handle it I expect a veteran Kansas team to be able to hold up under the pressure. Besides the aforementioned loss at Tennessee the Jayhawks are 3-0 both SU and ATS in road games.
This game will feature three of the top guards in the country. Kansas’ triggerman is point guard Sherron Collins (15.5 points per game), a likely All-American and one of the most clutch players in the country. Three other guards – Xavier Henry, Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed – that are primarily catch-and-shoot marksmen surround Collins. For State, the duo of Jacob Pullen (19.2 ppg) and Denis Clemente (14.7 ppg) gives them the best backcourt in the league and a set of experienced, capable ball handlers.
In the frontcourt, Kansas gets a slim edge. With the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, book ending stud center Cole Aldrich the Jayhawks have a bit more skill on the interior. However, Kansas State will not shy away underneath. What they may lack in ball skills they make up for with brute force and raw numbers. The Wildcats have five players, Jamar Samuels, Curtis Kelly, Dominique Sutton, Luis Colon and Wally Judge, that play at least 12 minutes apiece and combine to chip in around 37 points and 24 rebounds.
Texas came to Manhattan with an elite frontcourt as well. But they were outmanned and outworked by the relentless Kansas State forwards. Kelly and Samuels combined for 37 points and 20 rebounds. The Wildcats won the battle on the boards and didn’t allow any of the Longhorn forwards to top 10 points.
I think that Kansas will hold up a bit better on the interior than Texas did. And with Collins the Jayhawks have a much more stabilizing force than anything the Longhorns brought to the table in their backcourt. Those two reasons right there should prevent a repeat of the Wildcats-Longhorns game, in which Kansas State went up double digits in the second half and simply choked the life out of the visitors.
I think that the key to this game rests in the hands of Morningstar and Henry. That duo went 5-for-12 for a quiet 16 points in Kansas’ loss at Tennessee and neither was worth a damn on the defensive end. I think that Collins and Pullen will cancel one another out. So the question is whether Henry and Morningstar can outperform Clemente. If they do, which would likely mean they combine for 22 or more points, then I think that Kansas will have too many perimeter options and that will loosen up things on the inside for K-State. If they don’t come to play
Kansas does have the statistical advantage in just about every major category. All but one that has nothing in it that will show up in a box score. Kansas State has played the tougher schedule to this point and has more experience, this year, against better competition. So while the stats say that Kansas is better at shooting, rebounding and defense the reality is that they have been able to pad their numbers against a softer schedule.
There will be nothing soft about Kansas State on Saturday. And this should be as intense of a game as we have seen all season in college basketball. Given the local, regional and national significance of these schools going after one another this will be one of the most impactful games of the season to date.
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