After picking up an important road victory over the weekend in Norman, the Texas Longhorns are looking for another one. Standing in the way are the Kansas State Wildcats (19-8; 8-6), a team trying to put the finishing touches on a strong Big 12 season.
A quick look at the Wildcats
I guess people are surprised by the performance of Bruce Weber’s team this season, but I am really not sure why. The Wildcats aren’t the deepest squad — Weber gives the majority of minutes to just six guys — but the guys they have can really play.
I have long been a fan of K-State big man Dean Wade’s diverse game, and he is putting together an outstanding junior season. Should he return for his senior year next season, I am going to get his Big 12 Player of the Year campaign cranked up early. But, alternatively, if he decides to get a jump on his professional basketball career then I will understand; there are Internet basketball weirdos like me who think who think he has a reasonable shot at making an NBA roster some day. Anyone who is 6-10 who can shoot, handle the ball, post up, and pass as well as Wade has a chance at basketball’s highest level.
He is paired on the frontline with sophomore Makol Mawien, who played very well when the Wildcats came to Austin, and may once again make me regret writing so little about him.
The Wildcats have more than Wade. Barry Brown is the team’s best perimeter scorer; while Brown had cooled off a little from from his impressive January, he is coming off of back-to-back 20-point games. Brown is joined on the perimeter by point guards Cartier Diarra and Kamau Stokes and by wing Xavier Sneed — a player who occasionally does double duty as a small-ball four man.
If you want to read more on Kansas State, follow this link to the preview from their previous contest with Texas.
What happened the last time these two teams met?
Two weeks ago, the Wildcats came to Austin and stole a 67-64 road victory behind a balanced attack that saw five Wildcats hit double figures in points. K-State spread Texas out and ball screened the Longhorns to death, pulling Mohamed Bamba away from the basket and turning the game into a layup line.
On the other end of the floor, the Longhorns had trouble generating solid offensive possessions. Bamba gave the Longhorns 18 points, creating some of his own chances by going hard to the offensive glass, but Texas couldn’t get much else to work.
What has Kansas State been up to since last facing Texas?
It has only been two weeks since these two teams last played, so only so much has happened since then. The Wildcats were run off their own floor by Texas Tech, but then followed up that loss with convincing victories at Oklahoma State and at home over Iowa State, two teams at the bottom of the league standings.
On the health front, point guard Kamau Stokes has gradually seen his minutes increased as his once-broken foot heals. Diarra remains the starting point guard for the Wildcats.
What does this game mean?
The Longhorns still have an uphill road to make the NCAA tournament, but a win Saturday over the Sooners at least helps them start that journey. It is my view that the 19-win mark remains the minimum Shaka Smart’s team will need to get into the bubble conversation, and even that may not be enough; this season’s bubble is shaping up to be the strongest one in recent memory. The Longhorns currently have 16 wins, four remaining scheduled games, and a single-elimination conference tournament.
A win in Manhattan — and to be clear this won’t be something easily obtained — would create some breathing room for a Longhorn squad that currently has very little. A world where Texas only needs 2-3 additional wins out of three regular season games — with two coming at home — and a conference tournament looks a lot more attractive then the alternative.
The upcoming schedule for Texas is difficult. The Longhorns host Oklahoma State over the weekend before finishing their season with a trip to Kansas and a home game against West Virginia.
Winning tonight would help immensely.
The game tips off at 8 p.m. CST, and airs on ESPNU.