Know Your Wounded Rival: Kansas State

LEAVE YOUR TRIFECTA PICKS IN COMMENTS.

(Edit: For the second time in a week, I've fallen victim to a screwed up tipoff time.  I just assumed the game was at 8pm.  It is not.  It's at 4:30pm.)

Mizzou played well but lost a tough one yesterday in College Station ... and two days later, they have to suit up all over again.  It's Big Monday in Columbia tomorrow night afternoon, and though KSU-MU might not have quite as much luster as we may have thought at the beginning of the season, it's still likely to be ridiculously intense.

First things first: Yes, Kansas State was painfully overrated at the beginning of the season.  I feared it was coming a bit, and I felt it was unfair.  Like Nebraska in football, KSU was expected to not only maintain their previous level of success but exceed it, and despite the "Yes, they lost (one of their two best players), but Best Player (who is taking on a new role this year) will lead them to more success anyway!" red flag, they began the year ranked third in the country.  Tomorrow morning, they will likely be unranked.  Jacob Pullen was asked to take over a lot of the point guard duties that came open when Denis Clemente ran out of eligibility, but in losing both Clemente's distribution and scoring ability, the offense has stagnated terribly at times.  Growing pains should have been expected, especially with the tough early schedule, and random suspensions and/or leaves of absence for Pullen, Curtis Kelly and Wally Judge have forced Frank Martin to continuously shuffle around his lineup.  Now, no matter what happens -- even if they catch fire, which is not out of the realm of possibility -- the regular season will still end up having been a big disappointment because they will almost certainly not end up with a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.  Mizzou fans should know as well as anybody how the expectations game can mess with a season; KSU fans now know it well too.

All that said, though my expectations of KSU were lower than those voting them third in the country, they were still higher than what KSU has achieved so far.  They are a dangerous, intense team that still rebounds like crazy and plays good defense, but they turn the ball over far too much, and they can suffer some rather incredible offensive droughts.  Everybody is back from suspension, and though they did just lose Freddy Asprilla to pro aspirations, they are still deep, athletic, and relatively mean.  This will be a battle.

Kansas State: 13-5


KSU
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
70.0
Points Per Minute
1.89
1.61
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.08
0.92
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.25
1.20
2-PT FG% 47.2%
42.9%
3-PT FG% 38.2%
33.7%
FT% 58.7%
67.7%
True Shooting % 53.0%
50.1%




KSU Opp.
Assists/Gm 15.5
10.5
Steals/Gm 6.6
6.8
Turnovers/Gm 15.6
16.7
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.42
1.04




KSU Opp.
Expected Off. Reb./Gm 13.7
12.7
Offensive Reb./Gm
16.3
10.4
Difference +2.6
-2.3

This team still has all the characteristics of the K-State team that made a lot of noise last year, but the positives aren't quite as positive, and the negatives are a little more negative.  KSU is indeed still one of the best rebounding teams in the country -- Mizzou will have to be every bit as focused and aggressive on the glass as they were against Texas A&M and Old Dominion -- and opponents still don't shoot very well against them.  The Wildcats also force a ton of turnovers and shoot 3-pointers quite well.  However...

...even with the schedule they have faced, they should not be averaging 15.6 turnovers per game.  Yikes.  And to Mizzou fans convinced that Mizzou is now terrible from the line because they had a bad game against Texas A&M ... no, Kansas State is terrible from the free throw line.  Five of KSU's eight best players shoot 61% or worse from the line, and three are well below 50%.  It is a semi-devastating weakness.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

KSU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

KSU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 70
51
Push
Effective FG% 124
128
Push
Turnover % 256
19
MU Big
Off. Reb. % 3
254
KSU Big
FTA/FGA 84
194
KSU Big
MU Offense vs KSU Defense Ranks

MU Offense KSU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 22
27
Push
Effective FG% 36
52
Push
Turnover % 11
61
MU
Off. Reb. % 149
69
KSU
FTA/FGA 270
283
Push

Where the Wildcats are weakest

For starters, KSU ranks 338th in the country from the free throw line.  Only seven teams in all of D1 shoot worse than they do from the line, and the second-worst BCS conference team in this regard (South Carolina) is a full three percentage points above them.  Let's put it this way: much was made of how terrible Memphis was from the charity stripe during their run to the NCAA finals in 2008.  Well ... they shot 61.4%, over two percent better than K-State.

Most of KSU's other weaknesses also come on the offensive side of the court.  They turn the ball over an incredible amount, for starters.  Plus, they rank just 210th in Off. 2PT%, meaning even when they grab offensive rebounds, they aren't guaranteed to make the putback.  They also rank just 157th in Off. Steal%; obviously against Missouri this is a bit of an issue.  (Then again, it seemed like it would be an issue against Texas A&M too, and it wasn't.)

An underrated weakness: despite seniors Pullen and Curtis Kelly leading the way, KSU ranks just 249th in Ken Pomeroy's Experience rating.  There are a lot of guys playing roles to which they are not yet accustomed, and it has shown at key times.

On defense, their only real weakness comes in two areas: they foul waaaaay too much, and they don't steal the ball enough (210th in Def. Steal%).  They still rank solidly in terms of FG% defense, turnovers, and offensive rebounds, but a) they're not quite as good in those categories as they were last year, and b) the fouls give the opponent a lot of free points.

Where they are best

Fouls aside, they do play good defense.  They rank 27th overall and grade out decently in just about every defensive category.  The closer you get to the basket, the stiffer the defense becomes -- KSU ranks just 148th in Def. 3PT% but 42nd in Def. 2PT%.  Don't be afraid of physicality against them -- they'll foul you if you make them, but if you don't, you are just going to take well-contested shot after well-contested shot.

While they have certainly struggled in a lot of offensive areas, they have stayed good at two things in particular: 3-point shooting (48th) and offensive rebounding.  Jacob Pullen has not shot as well as expected, but Rodney McGruder (43.7%), Will Spradling (39.0%) and Martavious Irving (36.8%) have helped KSU to shoot 38.2% from long range for the season.  McGruder is a rather underrated weapon overall -- we focus on Pullen and the big guys, but if McGruder gets hot from long range, Mizzou could be in trouble.  Not only that, but he is one of KSU's better rebounders.  He stays back on the defensive glass, and for a shooting guard, he's good on the offensive glass as well.

Both suspensions and tinkering have led to a bit of a strength for facing Missouri: depth.  KSU ranks 24th in Bench Minutes, and while it still doesn't appear that Frank Martin has consistently found some lineups that work for him, KSU is unlikely to tire against Missouri.  (Of course, 60 fouls will help them avoid fatigue as well, ahem.)  KSU also ranks 33rd in Effective Height.  Of the 11 players who are currently averaging 10 minutes or more, nine are 6'3 or taller and five are 6'6 or taller.

K-State's Season to Date

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    No. 26 Virginia Tech, 73-57
    vs No. 35 Gonzaga, 81-64
    at No. 38 Washington State, 63-58
    No. 101 James Madison, 75-61
    at No. 131 Loyola (Ill.), 68-60
    No. 140 Texas Tech, 94-60
    No. 241 Presbyterian, 76-67
    No. 243 North Florida 100-76
    No. 253 Texas Southern, 84-60
    No. 284 UMKC, 80-64
    No. 289 Savannah State, 92-61
    No. 342 Alcorn State, 89-55
    Emporia State, 85-61
  • Losses
    vs No. 1 Duke, 68-82
    vs No. 15 UNLV, 59-63
    vs No. 37 Florida, 44-57
    No. 60 Colorado, 66-74
    at No. 63 Oklahoma State, 62-76

K-State took on a very challenging early schedule -- by Thanksgiving, they had already played three Top 40 teams.  They cruised by Virginia Tech and Gonzaga but got thumped by Duke at the Sprint Center.  Offensive weaknesses began to present themselves early on, but they were surviving.  It was not until mid-December when things started going south.  KSU was dominating Florida until an incredible offensive drought led to a 57-44 loss; then, Pullen and Kelly, the team's senior leaders, got suspended for receiving improper benefits (more merchandise at a clothing store than what they paid for).  They lost to UNLV at the Sprint Center (looking at Pomeroy's rankings, though, that's really not a bad loss at all), cruised through some cupcakes, then suffered back-to-back upsets to Oklahoma State and Colorado to start Big 12 play.  Everybody's back now (sans Freddy Asprilla), and they crushed cupcake-esque Texas Tech yesterday, so they could be on the way toward a rebound.  One thing is certain: this is a team desperate for another big win, and Mizzou is most likely going to get a very, very good effort from them tomorrow.

K-State Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Jacob Pullen (6'0, 200, Sr.) 17.8 0.58 30.5 MPG, 17.9 PPG (51.4% 2PT, 33.3% 3PT, 73.9% FT), 4.0 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 2.7 TOPG
Rodney McGruder (6'4, 205, So.) 13.8 0.48 28.9 MPG, 12.2 PPG (50.0% 2PT, 43.7% 3PT, 60.6% FT), 7.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.5 TOPG
Jamar Samuels (6'7, 220, Jr.) 10.0 0.43 23.4 MPG, 10.3 PPG (44.8% 2PT, 30.0% 3PT, 60.0% FT), 6.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.6 TOPG
Curtis Kelly (6'8, 239, Sr.) 9.3 0.42 21.9 MPG, 10.4 PPG (55.1% 2PT, 50.0% FT), 4.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, 2.9 TOPG
Will Spradling (6'3, 170, Fr.) 5.7 0.28 20.2 MPG, 5.4 PPG (43.3% 2PT, 39.0% 3PT, 85.7% FT), 2.3 APG, 1.6 RPG, 1.3 TOPG
Wally Judge (6'9, 248, So.) 4.6 0.27 17.1 MPG, 6.4 PPG (45.9% 2PT, 43.8% FT), 4.4 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.9 TOPG
Martavious Irving (6'1, 209, So.) 4.4 0.22 19.7 MPG, 5.9 PPG (47.1% 2PT, 36.8% 3PT, 47.6% FT), 1.5 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.2 TOPG
Jordan Henriquez-Roberts
(7'0, 245, So.)
3.7 0.34 10.8 MPG, 3.0 PPG (43.5% 2PT, 41.2% FT), 3.7 RPG
Nick Russell (6'4, 200, So.) 3.0 0.21 13.8 MPG, 4.6 PPG (42.1% 2PT, 26.5% 3PT, 86.4% FT), 2.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.4 TOPG
Victor Ojeleye (6'6, 226, Jr.) 2.9 0.28 10.3 MPG, 2.3 PPG (43.3% 2PT, 42.9% 3PT, 66.7% FT), 2.0 RPG
Juevol Myles (6'1, 190, So.) 2.6 0.40 6.5 MPG, 3.0 PPG (64.7% FG, 50.0% FT)
Shane Southwell (6'6, 220, Fr.) 1.3 0.22 6.2 MPG, 0.9 PPG (35.7% FG, 50.0% FT), 1.4 RPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds.  It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls.  It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: Pullen (28%), Kelly (26%), Samuels (24%), Judge (23%).
  • Highest Floor%: Pullen (40%), Spradling (40%), McGruder (39%), Kelly (39%).
  • Highest %Pass: Spradling (67%), Russell (55%), Pullen (53%).
  • Highest %Shoot: Ojeleye (52%), Henriquez-Roberts (42%), McGruder (41%).
  • Highest %Fouled: Henriquez-Roberts (27%), Judge (18%), Samuels (16%), Kelly (14%).
  • Highest %TO: Kelly (12%), Judge (11%), Henriquez-Roberts (10%).
  • Rebounding stats give you a large hint toward Frank Martin's style of ball.  Kansas State currently ranks third in the country in Offensive Rebounding % despite no single player pulling in a rate of higher than 13%.  Judge (13%), Henriquez-Roberts (13%), Samuels (12%) and Ojeleye (10%) all grab offensive boards at a double-digit rate, but it truly is a team approach for K-State.
  • As mentioned above, Asprilla left the team recently.  He was a limited offensively, but he was a big body who pulled in as many rebounds as points (4.9), and his departure hurts KSU's depth if nothing else.
  • A lot of KSU's offensive struggles this year can be boiled down to identity.  Spradling and Pullen have served, somewhat, as de facto point guards even though they are both better at shooting than passing.  Spradling's %Pass is the highest on the team, but he is the only person who's %Pass exceeds 55%.  Like rebounding, KSU almost takes a team approach to ball distribution ... and that's not necessarily a good thing.  Roles have been blurred in crazy Denis Clemente's absence, and it often results in super-stagnant offensive play.
  • Just as expectations have hurt KSU overall, expectations have done serious damage to Wally Judge's career to date.  He was a big-time, five-star signee ... who is basically playing like a raw, developing 3-star player.  As a sophomore, he is still a bit flaky -- he looked like he may be turning a corner, averaging 16.3 points and 11.3 rebounds in tuneups against UMKC, North Florida and Savannah State, but once the real competition started again, he disappeared.  He scored eight points on 3-for-8 shooting and grabbed just eight total rebounds in losses to Oklahoma State and Colorado.  KSU really, really needs him to become another reliable option, and he just hasn't had it in him to date.

Keys to the Game

  1. Big-Boy Rebounding.  When Mizzou decides to hit the glass, they do so pretty well.  Against good rebounding teams, they have acquitted themselves alright, nearly breaking even against Texas A&M and Old Dominion, the two best rebounding teams they have faced.  To beat KSU, you have to limit them to a shot or two per possession.  If you let them attack the glass, they'll eventually score.  But with their vulnerability to turnovers and only average overall shooting ability, if they are not doing well on the glass, they are going to suffer at least one large scoring drought.

  2. Kim English vs Rodney McGruderMarcus Denmon and Jacob Pullen are clearly each team's No. 1 overall scoring options, but I'll say this: if Kim English outplays Rodney McGruder, it will be very difficult for KSU to keep up with Missouri.  Can he?  We've spent a good portion of this season challenging English to become a more reliable offensive weapon than he has been this season, and we've seen sporadically that it will be nearly impossible to beat Missouri if English and Denmon are dialed in.  But English has been almost nonexistent against "real" teams, averaging just 8.9 points on brutal shooting (32.6% on 2-pointers, 32.4% on 3-pointers, few trips to the free throw line).  English spent a good portion of his offseason trying to develop a more complete overall offensive repertoire.  All that has resulted in is overthinking.  This is K-State, Kimmeh -- don't think, just play. Hard.

  3. Ball Control.  Mizzou unexpectedly lost the ball control battle against Texas A&M -- anywhere near the expected number of A&M turnovers (either based on A&M's offensive averages or Mizzou's defensive averages), and Mizzou would have pulled off the victory.  For the season, Kansas State has struggled as much or more than A&M in this regard.  Plus, they don't come up with nearly enough steals on defense.  If Mizzou does a better Mizzou impression and comes away with an easy victory in the assists-steals-turnovers department, Kansas State will either have to shoot beautifully or rebound even better than normal to make up the difference.

Prediction

Pomeroy has this one going to Mizzou, 81-74, but if you look at the matchups above, Mizzou needs home court just to break even.  KSU holds two significant advantages -- offensive rebounding and offensive fouls drawn -- while Mizzou really only holds one -- defensive turnover rates.   I think Mizzou takes this one, and if Bad Kansas State shows up, it could be an easy one, but I expect Good KSU.  Free throws could make the difference, and unlike Saturday, free throws favor Mizzou.  We'll go with an 82-79 Mizzou win.  Expect an incredible number of fouls and a late bedtime a 2.5-hour game, but that's fine as long as Mizzou is 16-3 at the end of the night.

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