Cats ready to Battle Tigers

Championship teams win the games they are supposed to. If the Kansas State men's basketball team wants to start being known as one of those teams, it has to turn its current five-game winning streak into six wins by defeating Missouri tonight.

The Tigers (13-6 overall, 2-4 Big 12 Conference) come into Bramlage Coliseum riding a small win streak of their own.

Missouri opened conference play with four losses, including an 85-81 loss at home against K-State (15-6, 4-2 Big 12). The Tigers have been hot recently, however, having won its last two at Colorado and over a Texas Tech squad that was coming off wins over No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 8 Kansas.

Part of the reason for the early struggles might be because Missouri has a first year coach in Mike Anderson who isn't used to coaching in a power conference like the Big 12. He had spent all four of his head coaching years at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, but he did guide the Blazers to four 20-win seasons and three NCAA Tournament berths.

He runs the infamous "40 minutes of Hell", which is based on the premise of his teams running up and down the floor for the entire game without slowing down. It's also known as the "fastest 40 minutes on the hardwood". His teams are known as teams that will out-hustle opponents and have constant ball pressure and ball movement. Missouri will wear down other teams until they have nothing left.

His philosophy wasn't quite ready when K-State defeated Missouri earlier in the year, but lately the team has shown signs of understanding the true nature of the fast-paced gameplan, and it has shown in the two-game win streak.

"They have a team that presses, and presses hard," junior David Hoskins said. "It's going to be key that we take care of the ball when they come here. We are rolling right now and we want to keep this momentum going."

In order for K-State to maintain that momentum, it will have to go through Missouri guard Stefhon Hannah.

The junior transfer is averaging 15.3 points per game, and is fourth in the Big 12 with an average of 4.74 assists per game. He's also No.1 in the conference in steals, with 3.11 a game. Hannah had a game-high 15 points in the win over Texas Tech.

He originally had signed his letter of intent to play for K-State and for coach Bob Huggins, but his mom never signed because she wanted Hannah to go to Missouri. He ended up following his mom's advice, and now he is the starting point guard for the Tigers.

In the first matchup with K-State, he didn't play particularly well because he was in foul trouble the entire game. He went 2-for-9 from the field and 0-for-5 from the 3-point line. He only played 24 minutes while scoring seven points and dishing out a game-high five assists.

The game was sloppy for both teams, as they combined for 57 fouls and 40 turnovers. Missouri's Marshall Brown led all scorers with 28, and five Wildcats scored in double figures led by junior Clent Stewarts' career-high tying 19 points.

Tonight will be eerily similar to that game in that it will be fast-paced and will have numerous fouls and turnovers, but it won't be as sloppy as the first meeting.

The Wildcats have used incredible defense to take down teams during its current win streak. They rank among the top five in four defensive categories in the conference, including second in 3-point percentage defense (27.5), fourth in both rebounding (37.8) and field goal percentage defense (39.2) and fifth in scoring defense (63.3).

K-State is only allowing 60.9 points on 38.5 percent shooting in its last 14 games and the team is causing opponents to have an average of 17.1 turnovers per game while averaging 6.2 steals during that stretch.

K-State played Saturday and defeated Nebraska 61-45 in front of a season-high 12,086 fans. It was only the second home game of the season that saw Bramlage sell all 13,340 tickets. People that purchase tickets need to continue showing support for the Wildcats so that they can truly have that home-court advantage, especially with teams like Kansas and Oklahoma still to come on the schedule.

Expect tonight's game to be the new season high for actual attendance.

This is the beginning of an important stretch for K-State. It has enough wins to start thinking about the postseason. The team has a chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament at seasons' end, and the final 10 games will decide whether the Wildcats have what it takes to reach the postseason for the first time since 1999.

"It's a marathon, not a sprint," Huggins said. "We've got 10 games to go. The last 10 games of the year, as far as postseason appearances, are important. That's one of the criteria. It's a 10-game season from here on out."


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