I have now substantially underrated the Kansas State Wildcats for two years running. A season ago, I just got too cute and clever. Teams loaded with upperclassmen are generally strong, but I wondered how a roster of Frank Martin's players was going to mesh with Bruce Weber's style of play. (The answer to that question was, "just fine.")
But this season, I underrated the Wildcats for a different reason; I paid attention to their early season games. The Kansas State team that dropped its home opener to Northern Colorado, didn't impress against Oral Roberts, lost to Charlotte, and then was absolutely manhandled by a Georgetown team that seems likely to miss the NCAA tournament -- that Kansas State team wasn't very good.
But something that wasn't obvious at that point was that Kansas State was among the best defensive teams in the country. The Wildcats were, and remain, offensively challenged as hell -- their 52-38 victory over Dan Monson's Long Beach State 49ers couldn't have been poetry in motion, although those who watched have already burned away their vision by suppressing the blink reflex and starring into a class IIIa laser pointer, so no one can really say one way or the other.
Since losing to Georgetown, Bruce Weber's team has won 12 of its last 13 games. That run of success includes a 4-1 conference record.
Now, the analytical part of me still thinks it is going to all come crashing down for the Wildcats at some point. This is still a team that attributes a substantial amount of its defensive success to holding opponents to less than 27 percent from three point range (that isn't sustainable) and enjoys the 16th lowest opponent free throw percentage in the nation. And it is a defense that lacks a shot altering rim protector.
But the K-State defense does do a few things that it can expect to keep up over the long haul. Weber's squad forces turnovers and limits opponent attempts at the rim. This is a pretty good combination for a team that is clearly on the small size.
Kansas State makes for an intriguing match up with Texas. The Longhorns are best when they can attack the rim, so it will pit strength against strength. Can Rick Barnes' team get enough shots from in close against a stingy defense?
Texas should have the edge inside. After seeing what Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes were able to do at the basket against the smallish front line of Iowa State (Texas converted 71 percent of its layups and dunks), it is easy to imagine Shane Southwell, and Wesley Iwundu having similar struggles. At 6-7 and 265 lbs, no one will call Kansas State big man Thomas Gipson small, but a strong gust of wind will just about knock the 195 lb Iwundu over. Ridley and Holmes are a bit more forceful than a gust of wind.
K-State freshman guard Marcus Foster is a pretty good player, though. I think he is still a year away from being really good (he needs to finish better at the hoop), but the talent is there. He could go crazy, and give Texas some trouble.
This is your game thread.