Meet the Kansas State Wildcats; the shocking team at the top of the Big 12 standings. Thanks in large part to a favorable early schedule (the ninth easiest thus far according to KenPom.com) and a completely unexpected win in Norman a week and a half ago. Bruce Weber brings his team to Ames with an overall record of 11-7 and a 4-1 mark in league play.
I personally think Kansas State isn’t even close to a top five team in the Big 12 but I couldn’t be happier with their current placement in the standings. Nothing will help an Iowa State team re-focus after the emotional and long day Saturday against Kansas than to have the team at the top come to Ames. Whatever anyone thinks of them has to be set aside when you see that.
When the Wildcats have the ball…
Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot to be afraid of when you look at them by the numbers thus far. They’re scoring at just the ninth best rate in the Big 12 at 1.03 points per possession (PPP). The storyline is that they’re playing better since the start of conference play they are scoring just 0.97 PPP. Take that for what it’s worth in comparison to their non-conference scoring efficiency of 1.05 PPP based on the strength of schedule because the Big 12 defenses they’ve seen thus far are better than their non-conference opponents.
They play at a fairly slow tempo averaging just over 63 possessions per 40 minutes played ahead of only the super-slow Baylor among Big 12 teams. They shoot the ball reasonably well and get to the free throw line often to score most of their points. Per Ken Pomeroy, 25 percent of the points they score come from the free throw line, the 16th most in the country. That’s roughly 16 points of their average 65 points per game.
The Cyclone defense will counter that with their lack of fouling as the Cyclones lead the country in defensive free throw rate. Of course, there is that whole bugaboo about opponents refusing to miss free throws against Iowa State. Cyclone opponents are shooting 74.6 percent from the stripe while the national average is 68.8. Iowa State is 341st in the country in free throw defense.
The biggest weakness of the Wildcat offense has been their dreadful turnover rate of 22 percent of possessions being wasted on turnovers; that is the worst in the Big 12. Similar to Kansas, the Wildcats offer up a split on 3-point shooting that will drive any Hoiball supporter a bit batty. They’re the third best 3-point shooting team in the league at 37 percent but they take the second fewest attempts at just 28 percent of their shots coming from behind the arc.
When the Cyclones have the ball…
That’s a lot of 1’s on the Cyclone side of the table…and, a lot of 9’s on the Kansas State side.
The Kansas State defense has been dead last this season in scoring efficiency and opponents have shot it well and found a lot of success on the offensive glass. Their best defense has been their ability to force turnovers and chase opponents off the 3-point line. Just 32 percent of opponent shots have been from behind the arc.
The Cyclones will likely launch more shots from distance than that but the key shooting matchup may be that Iowa State is the best in the league with their shooting percentage inside the arc while K-State opponents have found a lot of success making shots inside the arc.
Iowa State rarely turns the ball over and they have the best assist numbers across the board in the league.
The player report…
You’ve probably heard by now about the resurgence of Marcus Foster but based off of his season long numbers, it’s hard to tell he was ever in a rut. He’s the leading scorer in this game by scoring rate of 15.3 points per 50 possessions played. He’s the go to guy in their offense and the one guy they have that can carry the load and must have good offensive games for K-State to beat good opponents. One area that bit KSU last year in this matchup in Kansas City was Foster’s foul trouble and he is a bit prone to putting himself in that spot.
Nino Williams and Thomas Gipson are the next two guys to look to contain on offense. Williams does most of his damage in the paint where he uses his size as a guard to his advantage. Gipson is basically a less active but more skilled version of Rico Gathers that we saw for Baylor but he’s physical and capable of racking up points in the paint and the free throw line.
Foster is the biggest concern as a shooter from deep at 45 percent but Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas are also capable though Thomas doesn’t squeeze off many shots. Justin Edwards is the 3-point shooter that is still trying to find his mojo while continuing to fire away.
Stephen Hurt, Williams, and Gipson are the big contributors on cleaning up the glass both at the offensive and defensive end while Thomas and Johnson are the primary creators for KSU. Unfortunately for them, Thomas has also been very turnover prone with a personal turnover rate of 36 percent.
Chart of the game…
How important are Nino Williams and Marcus Foster to the Kansas State scoring performance? The formula for Offensive Rating is extremely tedious so for the sake of simplicity this isn’t calculated as it should be in theory, but instead I just averaged their ratings by game and matched up with the scoring line.
The PPP is graphed to the primary axis on the left and the Offensive Rating to the secondary axis on the right. The two lines aren’t right on top of each other but there is a clear trend of Kansas State needing these two guys to play well offensively to score the ball well.
What I think will happen…
Since sometime in the middle of the game in Waco, I think the Cyclone offense started to find itself. The pieces of the roster have slowly started to click in unison as Bryce Dejean-Jones has reappeared, we’ve seen more of the Georges Niang that we know so well, and Naz Long has started to hit shots again. Add to that the abilities of Jameel McKay, Abdel Nader, and Dustin Hogue to combine to put up massive numbers in the front court. And, by the way, Monte Morris is pretty good too.
Whoever draws the assignment of Marcus Foster will have a big job on their hands but it will likely be a community effort that starts with Long. Keeping him from finding his groove will make a Kansas State win extremely unlikely. Options 2A and 2B for Kansas State in Nino Williams and Thomas Gipson will also need to be limited around the rim. Fred Hoiberg has mentioned many times in the last few days that Daniel Edozie has been playing well in practice and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a sniff at Gipson. Even just a few minutes per half of someone that can match Gipson’s size will be a big benefit on the defensive end.
I think the biggest key for the Cyclone offense to roll is Niang. Hurt and Gipson won’t be able to stick with him away from the rim and if anyone else guards him he absolutely needs post touches every time down the court. There simply isn’t a defender for Kansas State with the size and athletic ability to keep Niang in check on the block. If that happens, and the Wildcats up the double team pressure Niang will need to find the open man and become the facilitator.
Iowa State is the much better team and I think they have their eyes on the prize after that win against the Jayhawks. These next four games are all winnable for Iowa State and they likely all need to go in the win column to stay on track for the conference crown. After that stretch a trip to Kansas is on the docket and if they are indeed 7-1 in conference play at that time the race will be on.
But, they can’t get to 7-1 without getting to 4-1 first. I think they will tonight.