Last Time Out
The Wildcats lost their last two games, though that's a bit deceptive because those losses came by four points to Kansas and six points at Iowa State. That game was a three-point contest late, though the Wildcats couldn't get any closer.
Kansas State actually shot 50.9 percent from the field in the Iowa State loss, but were out-rebounded 35-28 by the Cyclones, and Iowa State shot 11-of-22 from behind the three-point line. The biggest advantage? The Wildcats were pounded in second-chance points 18-2.
Wildcats Finding Their Way
Last year, Kansas State went 22-11, but the Wildcats were an identical 15-4 through 19 games (albeit 4-3 in conference play, as opposed to 4-2 this year). But strangely enough, the Wildcats of this season haven't been as good, from an efficiency standpoint, as they were a year ago.
Sure, the defense was expected to drop off from where it was a year ago under ferocious defensive coach Frank Martin. But the Wildcats figured to improve offensively under new coach Bruce Weber, a practitioner of Bob Knight's motion offense, especially with the Wildcats returning a ton of key players, including top scorer Rodney McGruder.
But the Wildcats have actually gotten worse in both categories, with their Adjusted Offensive Efficiency dropping from 53rd to 72nd and their Adjusted Defensive Efficiency falling from 21st nationally to 41st, while the tempo slowed to 253rd nationally.
The Wildcats do still have some similar strengths … they are still a stellar offensive rebounding team, grabbing 39.1 percent of the available offensive boards, the 12th-best mark nationally. But they're a poor shooting team (192nd in eFG%), and don't supplement that by getting to the free throw line (253rd in Free Throw Rate). Though the latter might not be as big a problem in that they shoot just 64.7 percent from the free throw line (291st).
The Wildcats are solid, if not spectacular, defensively. The Wildcats are 90th in eFG% defense, and are 75th in turnover percentage. Iowa State is the only one of their six conference opponents to score more than 70 points against them, and the only other team to score 70 plus this season against Kansas State was the current AP No. 1, Michigan. The Wildcats have played three of the AP top four with Michigan (1), Kansas (2) and Florida (4), and went 1-2 in those games, besting Florida. K-State also lost to No. 7 Gonzaga, so the Wildcats are plenty battle tested.
The Wildcats Individually
Perhaps the biggest change between last year's Kansas State team and this year's is that Weber has opted for a smaller lineup at the post spots. Last year, Martin tapped 6-foot-7 jumping jack Jamar Samuels, an excellent rebounder (especially offensively) and underrated shot-blocker as the four, with the 7-footer Jordan Henriquez at the five. Henriquez was seventh nationally in block rate, blocking 13.1 percent of opponents' shots when he was in the game, and he ranked as a top-200 rebounder nationally both on the offensive and defensive glass.
But Samuels graduated and Henriquez has battled off-and-on with Weber, finding himself as one of the Wildcats' substitutes off the bench. With Adrian Diaz (6-10 230) also battling injuries and not playing against Iowa State, the popular starting lineup is to pair wing Shane Southwell (6-6 210) with Thomas Gipson (6-7 270).
The former player might be one of the most improved players in the Big 12. To say that Southwell spent time improving his outside shot might be an understatement — he's making 46.8 percent of his three-point shots (not bad for a guy whose main knock was that he wasn't a shooter). He's also scoring 11.8 points per game and grabbing 5.0 rebounds per contest in conference play.
Gipson isn't a great athlete, and he isn't especially skilled, but his size gives a lot of teams trouble down low. He averages about seven points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game.
As Southwell has come on offensively, so has fellow senior wing Rodney McGruder (6-4 205). McGruder is averaging 18.7 points per game in conference play, hitting an ultra-efficient 50.6 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from three. He's also grabbing 4.5 rebounds per game, and is a pretty salty defender.
Angel Rodriguez (5-11 180) can turn a game on its head with his quickness and savvy. He's averaging 8.0 points per game, 6.0 assists per game and more than two steals per game in conference play. One of the reasons the Wildcats do a nice job of taking care of the ball is that they essentially play with two points with Rodriguez and Will Spradling (6-2 180). Spradling isn't a great athlete and doesn't score well inside the arc, but he's a respectable three-point shooter with a nearly 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Henriquez (7-0 250) is one of the first reserves off the bench, and he could improve this team by figuring things out offensively. He's still blocking shots at about the same rate (actually slightly higher) as he did last year, and he's still rebounding at similar rates. But his offensive efficiency has dropped quite a bit.
With Diaz injured, D.J. Johnson (6-8 250) and Nino Williams (6-5 220) have seen their minutes increase a bit. Martavious Irving (6-1 200) is another guard who can slide through without much drop off, and Omari Lawrence (6-3 210) also helps in that respect.
Matching Up With Texas
The Longhorns would do well to get up-and-down in this one, because the tempo will likely be ground to a halt, and Texas will want to try and score points before Kansas State is set. But that's difficult because 1) K-State doesn't really turn the ball over and 2) the Wildcats are outstanding as an offensive rebounding team, so you can't really leak guys into the break early.
Another, more manageable idea could be to attack the rim and try to get to the free throw line. The Wildcats are a poor free throw shooting team themselves, and they aren't especially great at defensive free throw rate (159th).
Texas is better defensively than the Wildcats are, and with the way Kansas State plays smaller lineups, the Longhorns can get away with playing Ioannis Papapetrou a bunch of minutes at the four, which is what Texas did against Tech, with Papapetrou slapping up a 15-4-5 with two steals. He'll have to locate Southwell at all times. And Sheldon McClellan can't have any defensive lapses against McGruder, who is hot and excellent at hunting his shot right now.
Beat the Wildcats on the glass, don't give away anything easy and pick up points any way you can get them. That's the gameplan.