With yet another thrilling football National Signing Day behind them, Texas Longhorns fans can stop electronically stalking teenagers and turn their attention to the basketball court, as the Big 12 season enters its stretch run. At stake for Shaka Smart’s team is a still-in-doubt NCAA tournament bid, which can be earned over the coming month.
The next opponent up for Texas is Kansas State (16-7; 5-5), a team coming off of a horrific beatdown at the hands of West Virginia. Bruce Weber’s squad will be looking to bounce back, while the Longhorns will be looking to limit the Wildcats bouncing options in Austin.
Coach Weber’s team is an experienced group that has been scoring points like crazy, but has been underwhelming on defense. The core of the Wildcat roster is a strong trio of juniors — Dean Wade, Barry Brown, and Kamau Stokes.
Wade is a versatile and efficient 6’10 post player with a sweet shooting stroke (he has converted on 46 percent of his threes this season) who someday will get a shot to make a team in an NBA camp. He will be a difficult match up for the Longhorns, just as he is for everyone else. He can pull a defender away from the basket, or take them down into the post, and has a knack for putting fouls on defenders. Wade has long been a player who has shown tremendous potential, but this season he has become more assertive offensively and is really coming into his own.
Brown was in the midst of a breakout season as recently as two weeks ago, putting up major scoring numbers through the first half of conference play. But since dropping 34 on Baylor, Brown has been held in check; he had a nightmare of a game in Morgantown over the weekend with a one-point, six-turnover performance.
Meanwhile, Stokes is working his way back into the lineup (he logged 10 minutes at West Virginia) after missing a month with a broken foot. When at full strength, Stokes is a playmaking guard who can knock down shots from the perimeter. In his absence Brown has been doing more of the distributing, and 6’4 sophomore Cartier Diarra has taken on more minutes and played some excellent basketball.
6’5 sophomore Xavier Sneed has been rock solid all season for the Cats. He is a knockdown shooter and a decent athlete. When Bruce Weber throws out a small lineup (something he has been doing some this season) Sneed will be asked to defend a frontcourt player. Such lineups, with Sneed and Wade on the interior, are going to challenge the Longhorn big men to guard away from the basket, but very well may give everything back on the defensive end. 6’5 sophomore Brian Patrick may also get a few minutes in a similar role.
6’9 sophomore Makol Mawien has started every game of the season for Kansas State. He gives Weber his best interior defensive presence. Freshman Levi Stockard is the primary backup big man.
While the Wildcats haven’t been great on the defensive end of the floor this year, one thing they can do is turn teams over. They will be up in passing lanes and will be trying to disrupt Texas’ offensive sets. It could be a big game for Kerwin Roach and Matt Coleman taking the ball to the basket, or driving and throwing lobs along the backline to Mohamed Bamba.
The game tips at 7 p.m. CT, and airs on the Longhorn Network.