The Wildcats (13-7, 2-4) struggled losing their first four Big 12 games, but have rebounded with wins over Colorado (77-75) and most recently Missouri (88-72) Wednesday night in which Kansas State broke out of a shooting slump from long range knocking down 12 three-pointers.
As poor as the Wildcats began conference play shooting the ball, their defense has been more of a concern. The Wildcats have given up better than 50% defensively in four of six games and are surrendering 49.2% in six games. Throw in 16.5 turnovers per game and a 2-4 record entering Saturday becomes easy to understand.
For Texas, the play of sophomore point guard Dogus Balbay has been the difference in recent games. Balbay is now more than the best on the ball defender on the team. He has become comfortable with his role, has begun to finish drives, is rebounding in traffic as well as one will see in a six foot player and is gaining confidence in the mid-range.
Balbay is averaging 4.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists in Big 12 play in just 21.6 minutes per game.
For the Longhorns (14-5, 4-1), the game will be all about rebounding, ball pressure and defending the three point line. Kansas State is one of the top offensive rebounding teams in college basketball and has a number of players that can attack the offensive glass with success.
Texas enters Saturday with a 14-game home winning streak in Big 12 play dating back to last season. In the Rick Barnes era, Texas is 71-11 at the Frank Erwin Center.
The Wildcats hold a 9-8 series advantage, but Texas is 7-3 against Kansas State in the Rick Barnes era.
At halftime, Longhorn legend and Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Slater Martin will have his number retired. Martin won five NBA world championships and was a seven-time All-NBA Selection in his eleven professional seasons.
The game is set to tip-off at 3pm central and will be televised by the Big 12 network.
Kansas State Big 12 results
At Kansas 71-87
At Nebraska 51-73
At Colorado 77-75 (OT)
A Look at the Coaches
Rick Barnes, who is in his eleventh season at Texas, coaches the Longhorns. Barnes has a career record of 464-231, including 262-97 at Texas. Barnes is 124-41 in Big 12 games at Texas.
Frank Martin is in his second season as the head coach in Manhattan. Martin has a career record of 34-19. He has a 1-1 record in the NCAA tournament.
A Look at the Numbers
Texas shoots 43.6% from the field, 31.7% from three and 65.6% from the free throw line.
The Wildcats convert 44.9% overall, 35.8% from the three point line and 64.1% from the foul line.
The Longhorns surrender just 39.2% shooting and own a +5.3 rebound advantage.
Kansas State surrenders 41.3% defensively and checks in with a +6.9 rebounding margin.
The Longhorns are committing 11.9 turnovers per game, while the Wildcats are turning the ball over 14.3 times per contest.
The Longhorn Starters
G Justin Mason 6-2 Jr. (6.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists)
G A.J. Abrams 5-10 Sr. (17.0 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists)
F Damion James 6-7 Jr. (15.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals)
F Gary Johnson 6-6 So. (11.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.0 blocks)
F Connor Atchley 6-11 Sr. (5.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks)
Key reserves include 6-0 sophomore Dogus Balbay (2.0 points, 1.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists), 6-1 freshman Varez Ward (3.2 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists), 6-10 sophomore Matt Hill (1.5 rebounds), 6-10 junior Dexter Pittman (8.3 points and 4.3 rebounds) and 6-10 sophomore Clint Chapman (1.3 points and 1.7 rebounds)
The Wildcat Starters
G Dennis Clemente 6-1 Jr. (12.7 points, 2.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists)
G Jacob Pullen 6-0 So. (14.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.7 steals)
F Dominique Sutton 6-5 So. (7.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals)
F Darren Kent 6-11 Sr. (8.7 points and 5.6 rebounds)
C Luis Colon 6-10 Jr. (5.8 points and 5.1 rebounds)
Key reserves are 6-2 sophomore Fred Brown (9.4 points and 1.6 rebounds), 6-7 freshman Jamar Samuels (9.6 points and 4.9 rebounds), 6-8 sophomore Ron Anderson (4.9 points and 5.5 rebounds) and 6-3 junior Chris Merriwether (1.5 rebounds)
What to Watch For
Kansas State will be one of the best, if not the best, rebounding teams Texas has played this year. Blocking out first and then working to keep Wildcat players on their back is going to be key.
The Wildcats send three players to the offensive glass and average over 16 offensive rebounds per game. They have big bodies in Luis Colon and Darren Kent as well as active and attacking rebounds in Ron Anderson, Dominique Sutton and Jamar Samuels. It will take a team rebounding effort from Texas to keep the Wildcats from receiving many second chance scoring opportunities.
This could be the game Texas sees an extended stretch of zone, box and one or a sagging man with the chaser on Abrams. Kansas State would prefer to begin in man-to-man and likely will, but Gary Johnson presents a challenge for Kansas State off the dribble and Connor Atchley will pull out a big, interior defender.
In the Baylor game, Atchley didn't hesitate and put up five shots in the first half. While he fired blanks, he must keep shooting the ball for Texas to be at their best on offense as the season progresses. He simply has to shoot his way out of the slump and continue to fire without hesitation. If he can knock down a couple Saturday, it will put a lot of stress on a below average defensive team.
The strength offensively for Kansas State is their trio of guards that combine to average 36.2 points per game. In Big 12 play, the Wildcats have struggled from the three point line save the Missouri game in which they hit 12-22 on Wednesday.
While the guards are the strength, they have still managed to average 16.5 turnovers per game in conference play. Look for Texas to apply a lot of ball pressure throughout the game as well as hard doubles in the post with active hands. Both Kent and Colon have a size and strength advantage on post catches.
Saturday is a game that Gary Johnson should thrive in versus man or zone. Johnson will have a matchup in man to drive the ball from the free throw line extended. If Kansas State chooses to sag into the paint, Johnson will receive the much improved 12 to 15 footer any time he wishes. Against zone, his ability to play in the high post will be key for Texas is Kansas State plays a traditional 2-3 at times. Also, Johnson has the ability to consistently beat his man down the floor.
If Texas will play with patience on the offensive end, they will likely get any shot they desire. Making Kansas State defend deep into the shot clock is to the Longhorn's advantage. Keep Kansas State moving, switching and rotating and the Wildcats will struggle to defend through the shot clock.
If Louis Colon or Jamar Samuels gets the ball down low in a position to go up and score, Texas must commit a hard foul and send them to the free throw line. Colon shoots 55.6% and Samuels 60.6%, so making them earn points is key.
The top shooter in terms of percentage is Fred Brown off the bench. Brown shoots 43% from three and is coming off of a five three-pointer game. Texas has to stick with him and not rotate off and lose sight.
Jacob Pullen is the leading scorer and will attempt the most three point shots and field goals for Kansas State. Pullen also has very quick hands on the defensive end and will create a run out or transition scoring chance or two each game off of steals and/or deflections.