On Saturday (11:00 A.M., ESPN), the #20/#21 Missouri Tigers (22-6, 8-5) travel to Manhattan (KS) to take on the Kansas State Wildcats (19-9, 7-6). K-State is coming off of a 61-57 road win at Nebraska, while Missouri is coming in off of a 77-59 win at home over Baylor.
When these two teams met in Columbia last month, the Tigers emerged with a 75-59 win over the Wildcats. In that game, Missouri defended about as well as they have all season, and Marcus Denmon, Phil Pressey, and Ricardo Ratliffe all had big games.
Since these two teams last met, Coach Frank Martin's Wildcats seem to have righted themselves, and they have begun to play closer to the level of their talent, and their expectations.
There's good reason that Kansas State was picked to win the conference, and was ranked as high as they were, early in the season. The Wildcats are very talented. They are big. And, they are deep.
One thing that Coach Martin's team has done well all year is rebound the basketball. On the season, the Wildcats are out-rebounding opponents by 7 rebounds/game, including a 3 rebound/game edge in conference play.
Kansas State is also pretty good on the defensive end. During conference play, they are forcing opponents into 15.6 turnovers/game. But, conference opponents are shooting 45% from the field against the Wildcats.
The Wildcats are led in scoring during conference play by 6'0" senior G Jacob Pullen (21.6 points/game, 3.5 assists/game). Pullen's been shooting the basketball lights out, and has raised his 3-PT FG% to 38% from behind the arc, in conference play.
One of Kansas State's most efficient players is 6'4" sophomore G Rodney McGruder (11 points/game, 5.8 rebounds/game), who has emerged as Pullen's primary support. McGruder is also K-State's best outside shooter, hitting 42% from beyond the 3-PT arc during conference play.
Up front during conference play, Coach Martin has been starting 6'8" senior F Curtis Kelly (8.5 points/game, 5.3 rebounds/game), 6'7" junior F Jamar Samuels (8.5 points/game, 4.8 rebounds/game), and 6'6" freshman G Shane Southwell.
Off of the bench for Coach Martin during conference play are 6'3" freshman G Will Spradling (6.5 points/game), 7'0" sophomore F Jordan Henriquez-Roberts (3.2 points/game, 3.8 rebounds/game), and 6'1" sophomore G Martavious Irving.
Other bench players who have seen some action for K-State during conference play include 6'6" junior F Victor Ojeleye, and 6'3" junior G Devon Peterson.
Kansas State is physical, and will really get after it defensively. Will the Wildcats want to play fast?
The lack of consistent defensive intensity has been the limiting factor for the Tigers this season. At times, Coach Anderson's crew approaches the requisite defensive intensity. But thus far, the Tigers have failed to consistently play, game in and game out, with the necesary defensive mindset.
The work horse for the Tigers is 6'2" junior G Marcus Denmon, who leads Missouri in scoring during conference play, with 15.7 points/game, and is Missouri's best back court player. He'll draw the defensive assignment of guarding Pullen.
A pair of 6'8" junior forwards, Laurence Bowers (11.9 points/game, 6.3 rebounds/game, 2.3 blocks/game), and Ricardo Ratliffe (10.7 points/game, 5.7 rebounds/game), provide Missouri with a formidable inside duo.
Missouri ranks 4th nationally in scoring, at 83.3 points/game, 5th in steals, at 9.7 steals/game, and 5th in turnover margin, at 5.3 turnovers/game.
Missouri Kansas State
FGM: 847 700
FGA: 1792 1616
FG %: .473 .433
3pt FGM: 208 200
3pt FGA: 556 535
3FG %: .374 .374
FTM: 430 442
FTA: 591 695
FT % .728 .636
Points: 2332 2042
Per Game: 83.3 72.9
Reb./Gm 36.7 38.3
Steals 9.7 6.3
Assists: 17.0 13.9
Blocks: 5.3 4.5