The Texas Longhorns get the Big 12 season started tonight with a trip to Manhattan, Kansas. A non-conference season featuring some highs and lows is now over, and conference games will come and go quickly.
The Texas Longhorns aren’t the only Big 12 team that had an up and down start to the season. Bruce Weber’s Kansas State squad has also struggled at times, and is now facing the start of Big 12 play with its best player (Dean Wade) sidelined with a foot injury.
The story on the Wildcats without Wade is pretty simple. This is the same team, and the same players, you have gotten familiar with over the past few seasons. Thus far, Kansas State’s offense has struggled to a degree that is a little hard to grasp — scoring 46 points in a road loss at Tulsa was probably the low point — while the K-State defense has carried the team to a 10-2 record against a pretty weak slate of opponents.
Without Wade, coach Weber has to look to senior guard Barry Brown to carry the offense. Brown has had a solid career at K-State as a volume scoring guard. Brown has never been a highly accurate perimeter shooter, although he has had some games throughout his career where he has knocked down his threes. His game is more centered around getting to the basket.
Brown runs in the back court with undersized senior Kamau Stokes and sophomore Cartier Diarra. Stokes is a smart guard who has been through the league a few times, and can knock down shots.
Meanwhile Diarra has been in something of a funk so far this season, but last year he showed everyone in the Big 12 what he was capable of while filling in for Stokes during a January injury. Diarra is a lot like Baylor guard Jake Lindsey (who is sitting out this season due to injury). He is bigger and more physical than most of the point guards in the league, knows how to play, and is mostly content to just set things up for his teammates — but he isn’t afraid to make a play when needed.
With Wade out of the lineup, Kansas State is playing small much of the time, using 6’5 junior Xavier Sneed at the four-spot. Sneed is physical and athletic, and is an effective spot up shooter and an excellent defender. Sneed followed up a strong freshman year with something of a breakout sophomore season, and is one of the team’s more reliable perimeter shooting threats.
When he stays out of foul trouble, 6’9 junior Makol Mawien gives Weber a pretty good presence inside. He is currently anchoring one of the best defenses in the country, and can do a few things on the offensive end of the floor as well. Texas will need to keep him off the glass. When Mawien has to go to the bench, sophomore Levi Stockard is the primary option off the bench. It is honestly pretty thin along the interior for Weber; this is a team that really misses Dean Wade.
I generally avoid making predictions in these game previews, and this game seems particularly difficult to peg. Both of these teams have struggled to score during the first portion of the season. I know Texas fans reading this blog will have a hard time believing this, but Kansas State has had even a harder time on offense than Texas thus far this season.
So, if either team is able to create a stretch of productive offense against an opponent that is quite good defensively, then it may very well prove decisive in this game.
The game tips off at 8 p.m. Central and airs on ESPNU.