1) Monitoring Massey: Junior forward Jeremiah Massey is Kansas State's most explosive offensive threat. Averaging 16.2 points and 6.3 rebounds, Massey is one of three undersized forwards (along with Marques Hayden and Cartier Martin) that roam the paint for the Wildcats. Massey is the most talented and experienced of the bunch.
While his offensive game is often lacking, the defense of junior center Kevin Young has been influential in the Tigers' best performances of the season. He put the clamps on Gonzaga's Ronny Turiaf in Missouri's upset win and turned a similar trick against Iowa State's Jared Homan last weekend. However, none of Kansas State's big men match up particularly well for Young. Massey makes up for his lack of size (6-foot-7, 230 pounds) with his quickness, able to evade bigger and stronger defenders. Young is not exactly the most athletic of the Tiger bigs, so putting Linas Kleiza or Marshall Brown on Massey would make sense.
No matter who draws the defensive responsibilities, nobody will completely contain Massey. But if the Tigers can limit his impact in the box score, they should be able to manage a win.
2) Sharp shooting: The Wildcats shoot an impressive 43.8 percent from beyond the arc, led by Martin, who converts 57 percent from the perimeter. That accuracy has earned Martin more playing time and, subsequently, more of a scoring load; Martin is averaging 11.5 points and 5.2 rebounds, good for third on the team in both categories.
The Wildcats are coming off a particularly strong shooting night in their 79-76 home loss to Texas Tech. After shooting a remarkable 7-of-9 from 3 in the first half, Kansas State slowed slightly in the second, making "just" 6-of-10 from the perimeter to finish 13-of-19, or 68 percent. Several players had strong shooting nights, but Martin and sophomore guard Fred Peete led the way, combining to go 9-of-10 on 3-pointers.
Missouri was dreadful guarding the 3-pointer the first few weeks of the season, allowing opponents to convert eight of them a game through the first seven games. Since falling to Arkansas on Dec. 7, the Tigers have improved markedly, allowing opponents to hit 3.5 3-pointers per game and shoot 30 percent from the perimeter. That stretch included some strong shooting teams, with Illinois, Gonzaga and American in the mix. Kansas State is one of the Big 12's best from the perimeter and will give the Tigers fits all night long if its shots are falling.
3) Remember me?: Columbia native Lance Harris has emerged as one of Kansas State's most intriguing players. Although he has started just one of Kansas State's 13 games, Harris averages 7.5 points and 2.7 assists. A 6-foot-5 guard, Harris is extremely athletic but struggled with the adjustment to Big 12 basketball last season, averaging just 2.1 points and less than one rebound.
Harris nicely complements Clent Stewart, a freshman guard who is averaging 30.4 minutes but just 5.8 points per game. Harris is more of a scoring threat than Stewart, but both take the back seat to Peete, whose 14 points per game rank second on the team in his first year of Big 12 play. A former junior college standout at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, Peete is quick enough to score from the perimeter and strong enough to bang inside, as his 5.2 rebounds per game show.
The Tigers will have the experience edge on the Wildcats' guards, but they need to be able to match them in scoring, too. If the Wildcats fall behind, they will move away from Massey and look for more opportunities from the perimeter; stopping that begins with stopping Peete, although Martin must be limited as well.
4) Purple pain: Kansas State simply has found ways to lose since opening league play last week. After pushing Nebraska to double overtime in Lincoln, the Wildcats ran out of gas and fell 95-85. Texas Tech, beleaguered by travel problems that forced the start of Wednesday's game to be delayed 13 minutes, was sluggish in the first half before a second-half rally and a 3-pointer by Curtis Marshall on the Red Raiders' final possession gave the visitors the victory.
The Wildcats easily could have won both games, which would have put them at an impressive 12-1. Alas, it was not to be and Kansas State enters Saturday's game looking to right the ship against a Tiger team that fared well but stumbled in the final minutes at No. 6 Oklahoma State on Tuesday. This matchup has "trap" written all over it, so we will find out how much the Tigers think of the Wildcats. They have tended to play up or down to their opponent so far, but if the Tigers do the same Saturday, they could find themselves below the .500 mark in league play, an unenviable position for any team.
5) Projected headline: Conley crushes ‘Cats
Last season, it took a monstrous dunk by Rickey Paulding over Frank Richards to propel the Tigers to a 79-69 win at Bramlage Coliseum. Missouri was sluggish in the first half, trailing by seven at the break before scoring 51 points in a dominant second half.
Statistically, it was one of the best games of Jason Conley's season; he scored 20 points and chipped in seven rebounds and four assists in the win. Let's look for more of the same this time around: Missouri struggles in the first half before rebounding in the second half. Led by Conley, the Tigers return to Columbia with their fourth win in five games.
Final score: Tigers 70, Wildcats 63