The #23 Horns (16-5, 6-1) look to remain at the top of the Big 12 standings as they go for their fourth straight victory on Saturday afternoon. Kansas State (16-6, 5-2), the hottest team in the Big 12, has won five straight conference games and six straight overall. The game will be televised regionally at 2:30 PM on Saturday afternoon by ABC. The Horns are 6-2 against Kansas State under Barnes, including a one-point win last season in Manhattan.
Although the Horns are coming into Saturday afternoon's game on a roll, I don't expect this one to be easy. Kansas State is a physical, experienced, and confident team with two legitimate scorers and a solid coach.
Kansas State's Schedule
According to Ken Pomeroy, Kansas State is ranked as the 47th best team (four places behind Texas) by the RPI. They have played the 91st toughest schedule so far and are 0-3 against top 50 teams. By Pomeroy's own ratings, which he argues are better indicators of performance (as opposed to achievement) than the RPI, Kansas State is the 49th best team, 16 spots behind Texas.
The Wildcats started the season 6-3 before Bill Walker joined the team in December. Walker is a talented freshman who graduated early from high school after the state of Ohio ruled he had exhausted his high school eligibility. With Walker on the team, the Wildcats reeled off four straight to improve to 10-3.
Kansas State then began to struggle as they faced better competition. They lost to Xavier on the road and to A&M in College Station to begin Big 12 play. Walker was also probably lost for the season against the Aggies after suffering a severe knee injury. Kansas State returned home and promptly dropped their third straight game overall and second straight conference game to Texas Tech. Since then, the Wildcats have played much better and have won six straight. While only two of those six have come on the road and none of them have come over teams in the top 75 in the RPI, winning six straight is still impressive and builds confidence.
Kansas State's Roster
One of the most interesting things about Kansas State is that one of their two best players and leader in minutes comes off the bench. Senior forward Cartier Martin (6'8" 220) is averaging 13 ppg and 6 rpg in Big 12 play, while shooting a league leading 94% from the free throw line. Martin is capable of scoring in a multitude of ways: from the post, from three, and certainly from the line. He has scored more than 20 points in two of the last three games.
The other scorer the Horns should be concerned about is junior forward David Hoskins (6'5" 225). Hoskins is averaging 17.6 ppg and 6.4 rpg in Big 12 play. He is comfortable with his back to the basket and active near the rim. Hoskins is another solid free throw shooter (79%) who gets to the stripe with regularity. Damion James will likely be asked to defend Hoskins.
The other starters present matchup problems because of their size. Lance Harris (6'5" 190) and Akeem Wright (6'6" 190) will likely start at the guard spots. Wright is averaging 7.9 rpg in Big 12 play, good for ninth best in the conference. DJ Augustin and AJ Abrams will be severely undersized no matter who they guard. Other Wildcats likely to see playing time are junior guard Clent Stewart (6'4" 195), junior guard Blake Young (6'2" 180), and freshman center Luis Colon (6'10" 260). First year coach, Bob Huggins, has nine active players averaging over ten minutes a game.
Kansas State By the Numbers
The Wildcats are one of the better defensive clubs in the Big 12. They are third in scoring defense (64 ppg), third in field goal percentage defense (41%), and first in three point percentage defense (27%) in league games. KSU is actually second in the entire country at defending the three pointer. Kansas State is a solid rebounding team as well with a +5.4 rebounding margin.
They aren't nearly as efficient on the offensive end. They average just 68.7 ppg and prefer to play at a much slower pace than Texas does. Because of their size advantage and solid defense, the Wildcats will have the advantage in a half court game. The faster the pace, the more likely Texas wins. Kansas State can upset the Horns if they slow down the game, protect the basketball, defend the three, and control the glass.
Prediction / Horns' Objectives
Compete on the Glass. Texas is ranked as the top rebounding team in Big 12 games but that is due in large part to their dominance on the glass in their first two conference games. The Horns must work hard to limit the Wildcats' second chance points while scoring a few of their own on second and third looks. Due to KSU's tremendous size advantage, Coach Barnes may use Connor Atchley like he did in Lubbock, or even Dexter Pittman if the pace is slow enough. It will be hard for the Horns to win this game if they are outrebounded.
Knock down the three. The Horns lead the conference with nearly 11 made threes per game. If Kansas State is able to take away our scoring from behind the arc, they could easily win their seventh straight.
Play fast. DJ Augustin's quick first step appeared to be back in Lubbock. What Augustin lacks in size, he more than makes up for in quickness. Texas must attack and score in transition. While Durant made our half court offense look great on Wednesday night, I like our chances much better the faster we play. DJ beating his man off the dribble is still our second best play (The best is giving the ball to KD and getting out of the way).
Get the crowd involved. I expect another great Saturday afternoon crowd (some standing and some sitting). But seriously, the home court advantage can be so huge in college basketball when the fans get involved. If the Horns come out sharp and the crowd gets into this one early, Texas wins.
I see this one as a trap game. The Horns are coming off a huge road win on Wednesday night and could easily be looking forward to Monday's matchup with the Aggies. Kansas State also possesses some scary characteristics: experience, physical guards, an interior presence, and solid half court defense.
The one ingredient the Wildcats are missing is enough offense to pull off the upset. Look for Barnes to play big again, like he did on Wednesday night, and use Atchley for extended minutes, especially when the Horns play zone. The Horns will need Atchley and Pittman to have any chance of outrebounding Kansas State. Barnes gets great games from Augustin and Durant, solid efforts from Justin Mason and Damion James, a few threes from Abrams, and just enough help off the bench. Texas outlasts the Wildcats down the stretch, 74-70.