Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:15PM

#15/18 Texas Longhorns (18-4 overall, 7-2 Big 12) at Kansas State Wildcats (15-7, 5-4)
Bramlage Coliseum | Manhattan, KS | Tip: 12:45 P.M. CT
TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)/ESPN Full Court/ESPN3

The Texas Longhorns have hit the halfway point of the conference season, sitting in a comfortable position as they head down the homestretch towards March. In his latest projections, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has pegged the Longhorns as a 5-seed, slotted 17th overall on his S-curve. Although the Big 12 is a very deep league and every game is a challenge, it would take a monumental meltdown for Texas to miss the tournament at this point.

Of course, there’s now also the additional goal of a Big 12 title. With Kansas one game ahead of Texas and three games ahead of Oklahoma and West Virginia, it’s already turned into essentially a two-team race. KU enjoys one of the nation’s best home-court advantages, while the Longhorns still have to tackle the league’s toughest road tests, so the odds are heavily in favor of the Jayhawks. Still, everything about this Texas season has been surprising, so battling Kansas down to the wire for a league title would fit perfectly into the crazy narrative.

The first of those tough road tests comes today for Texas, as the team travels to Manhattan to take on Kansas State. The Longhorns have lost in their last three trips to Bramlage Coliseum, but they aren’t alone in their struggles in the Little Apple. Over the last two seasons, the Wildcats are 12-1 at home against conference foes.

By the numbers

Kansas State’s calling card under head coach Frank Martin was always its defense and its toughness on the offensive glass, and those two qualities have carried over into the Bruce Weber era. This year’s Kansas State squad is currently ranked 13th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing just 0.931 points per possession.

The Wildcats do a great job extending pressure, and they position themselves well off from the ball to discourage passes. They work together very well as a unit, shading over to help off of their own man when possible and limit penetration opportunities. K-State has the nation’s 11th-best three-point defense, limiting opponents to just 28.9% from behind the arc. With that excellent perimeter pressure, sometimes the interior D is slow to react when dribble penetration gets inside. Typically, though, opponents get so frustrated by having to start their offense further out that they settle for jump shots and don’t attack that weakness.

On the other end of the court, Kansas State is not a great shooting team. Their own three-point percentage is nearly as low as the one their defense allows, with the team making just 31.4% of their long-range attempts. Last year, the Wildcats would frequently free up their shooters for 15 to 18-foot jump shots coming off of curls. This year, there is more spreading of the floor, and the motion away from the hoop doesn’t normally result in canned jumpers. Instead, the Wildcats are patient enough to let their movement and motion throw the defense off-balance for just a second, then attack with their quick guards or hit their dominant big man in great post position.

When Kansas State does settle for jump shots, their excellent offensive rebounding makes up for the misses. The Wildcats have reclaimed 35.6% of their missed shots, with many of those offensive boards coming in the form of short, weakside rebounds that lead to easy putbacks. Although it’s become cliché to say that K-State’s best offense is missed shots, that’s still accurate this season.

Meet the Wildcats

The player that Texas fans already know very well is Cedar Hill product Thomas Gipson (No. 42), a tank of a man that performed well against his home-state Longhorns in their last meeting. When these two teams squared off on January 21st, Gipson dominated Texas inside, scoring 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting. He’s a very strong interior player, but still has smooth post moves, and has even started working on a mid-range jumper. Although he prefers living on the blocks, that extra little wrinkle to his game has made him even tougher to gameplan for.

On the perimeter, the addition of freshman point guard Marcus Foster (No. 2) has given the Wildcats another weapon. Hailing from Wichita Falls, Foster has a very quick first step, allowing him to blast right through the cracks in the defense when K-State’s perimeter passing shifts opponents from side-to-side. On a team that isn’t very accurate from long range, his three-point shot is one of the best, and he doesn’t need much time or space to get it off.

Joining him in the backcourt is senior Will Spradling (No. 55), a spot-up shooter who has seen his three-point accuracy decrease during his time in Manhattan. After knocking down 37% of his threes during a solid freshman campaign, the word got out about Spradling, and he has found it tougher to get space on the perimeter. This year, he’s only knocked down 34.4% of his threes, but is still dangerous when he camps out in the corner and the other K-State guards start driving to the rack.

The team’s best shooter is its do-everything senior Shane Southwell, a 6’7″ player who can handle the rock, bang inside against bigger opponents, knock down jumpers with little space, and find teammates for open looks. Southwell is very accurate with his mid-range shot, but even when he has a good look, he’s ready to defer to teammates. When opponents scramble to challenge his shot, Southwell frequently passes up the opportunity and makes laser-like feeds to the post after he’s already airborne. His 23.4% assist rate is actually tops among the team’s starters, and ranks him just inside the Top 300 nationally.

Rounding out the starting five is a second freshman, Wesley Iwundu (No. 25). With both Iwundu and Southwell checking in at 6’7″, the Wildcats have a lot of length on defense, and Iwundu is constantly frustrating opponents on the perimeter. On offense, he’s a good slasher and can get to the rim in just a few seconds, but that isn’t his primary role in the KSU game plan.

Although Iwundu doesn’t usually shoot the three, he’s made 5-of-11 on the year, and his long-range bombs were a big reason why the Wildcats knocked off Oklahoma at home last month. At this point, his biggest weakness on offense is an inability to read the situation, which leads to him overplaying his hand and turning it over or getting called for a charge. With great driving ability and a good outside shot already in his repertoire, once the freshman can add in a pull-up jumper and a floater, he’s going to be a nightmare to contain.

The best option off the bench for the Wildcats is freshman guard Jevon Thomas (No. 5), who joined the team at midseason after eligibility issues were finally cleared up. Like Foster, he is an incredibly quick guard with excellent driving ability, but he is always looking to set up his teammates to score. His ability to find seams in the defense, attack with the bounce, and draw defensive attention is key on an offense that can sometimes stagnate.

The Wildcats also get contributions from Nino Williams (No. 11), D.J. Johnson (No. 50), and Omari Lawrence (No. 12). Williams is a 6’5″ wing, but he is a fantastic rebounder, especially crashing the offensive glass. Johnson has proven to be a serviceable backup for Gipson, although he doesn’t have the same post skills and tends to get called for offensive fouls when trying to set high ball screens. Lawrence is a senior who has never played major minutes, and is only averaging about 11 per game this year.

Keys to the game

1) Make Gipson work for his points – The K-State big man is very hard to slow down, but he completely manhandled the Longhorns in the paint just a few weeks ago. The Texas bigs need to prevent him from getting such deep post position this afternoon, and they cannot fall for his very good shot fakes near the rim. Giving up another 24 points to Gipson in Manhattan would make a road win very difficult.

2) Eliminate penetration from the guards – Keeping Foster and Thomas from driving into the heart of the defense will take away a huge piece of the Kansas State offense, but that’s easier said than done. K-State’s quick ball movement exposes gaps in opposing defenses, so it will take a team effort for the Longhorns to keep dribble penetration to a minimum. If they can do it, though, the Wildcats will likely have to knock down jumpers, something that they have struggled to do this season.

3) Strong presence on the glass – Although Texas has done a very good job rebounding the ball this season, the Horns struggled on the defensive glass against Kansas State in Austin. The Wildcats won back 43.2% of their misses in the first game, erasing Texas’ good defensive possessions with second and third chances. If Texas wants to end its losing streak at Bramlage Coliseum, the team has to close out defensive stops with solid rebounding not just from the bigs, but the wings, as well.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:38PM

#22/NR Kansas State Wildcats (14-4 overall, 4-1 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (14-4, 3-2)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2

The Texas Longhorns took a major step towards the NCAA tournament with Saturday afternoon’s win over Iowa State. With the victory, the Horns finally have the kind of win on their résumé that will hold cachet with the Selection Committe roughly two months from now. Even with Iowa State now on a three-game losing streak, the Cyclones are still ranked 10th in the all-important RPI. The victory was the first for Texas against the RPI Top 50, a data point that the committee weighs heavily when comparing Team A to Team B in order to dole out bids and nail down the S-curve.

One win, however, does not make a tournament-worthy team. The Longhorns will have to snag some more quality victories to keep themselves in the discussion, but fortunately will have numerous opportunities, as they compete in the nation’s top RPI-rated conference. Texas is in the midst of a four-game stretch against ranked opponents, all of whom are currently slotted 36th or better in the RPI. With the conference so deep this season, those types of schedule stretches are the norm rather than the exception; Kansas and Oklahoma both just completed their own streaks of four games against ranked opponents, as well. While the Longhorns could earn some of those quality wins on the road, the nature of home court in college basketball means that it will be decidedly easier for them to score some scalps at home.

Tonight, Kansas State provides yet another opportunity for Texas to pad its portfolio. The matchup is practically even, with Ken Pomeroy’s computers giving the Horns a 67-64 edge on their home floor. Texas let a golden opportunity slip away when Oklahoma escaped the Frank Erwin Center with a three-point win on the opening night of conference play. If the Horns want to keep their bubble prospects strong, they cannot afford to let another quality win slip away tonight.

The preview

I’ve toyed with the idea of a Twitter preview a few times this season when real-life time crunches pushed back my publication times much later than I preferred. Tonight, I’m going to give it a whirl and see how it goes. I could write a few thousand words on these K-State Wildcats, and I’ll do exactly that when the Longhorns face them on February 8th, instead of posting the usual, abbreviated preview that I typically use for the second half of the Big 12’s double round-robin. For tonight’s game, however, check out the Longhorn Road Trip Twitter timeline during the five o’clock hour for pre-game numbers, keys, and player notes. For posterity’s sake, I’ll embed them here on the website after the fact.

Until then, amigos…

Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:07AM

[7] Texas Longhorns (16-16) vs. [2] Kansas State Wildcats (25-6)
Big 12 Championship Quarterfinals | Sprint Center | Kansas City, MO
Tip: 6:00 P.M. CT | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list) | Internet: ESPN3
LRT Consecutive Game #253

Last night, the Texas Longhorns took the first and easiest step in their pursuit of an improbable Big 12 title, dispatching No. 10 seed TCU, 70-57. Texas must win the conference tournament to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 15 years, which means that the young Horns have to put together four wins in four days. With the first victory under their belt, things now get much tougher for Rick Barnes’ inconsistent bunch.

Awaiting the Horns in the quarterfinals are the experienced Kansas State Wildcats, who beat the Horns by a combined 38 points in the team’s two meetings earlier this year. It has long been said that it’s tough to beat the same team three times in a season, but those prior results offer Texas fans little reason for optimism about tonight’s match-up. Even in the relatively-close 12-point loss to Kansas State in Austin, Texas was out of the game for the entire second half, and trailed by as many as 19 points.

Ken Pomeroy gives the Horns a 27% chance to win, predicting a six-point margin of victory for the ‘Cats. The Longhorns will have to overcome those odds and what will amount to a home crowd for KSU if they want to keep their NCAA dreams alive.

Meet the Wildcats

For an in-depth look at the Kansas State roster and the team’s style of play, check out LRT’s game preview from the first meeting between these two teams.

Texas could not slow down Thomas Gipson in Manhattan
(Photo credit: Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

The first match-up

When Texas and Kansas State first faced off on January 30th, the game was quickly out of reach. The Longhorns had two leads in the first four minutes, but trailed 9-7 at the under-16 media timeout. Texas would never get any closer, falling victim to a brutal stretch of offensive inefficiency. For a span of more than 12 minutes in the first half, Texas managed only eight points, with all of them coming from Sheldon McClellan.

The Longhorns did manage to get some good looks early in the game, but could not make any buckets. With shots not falling, Texas only made things worse by constantly turning it over and giving up easy points to the Wildcats. On the night, Texas ended 27.5% of their possessions with a turnover and allowed KSU to score 33 points off of those miscues. In a lopsided 83-57 loss, those wasted possessions and free points were easily the difference in the game.

Most troubling for Texas fans is that this beatdown came with Rodney McGruder limited due to foul trouble and Will Spradling (No. 55) playing with a broken nose he suffered in the first half. With those two only chipping in 12 points, it was Texas-born big man Thomas Gipson (No. 42) who dominated the game, scoring 17 points and grabbing seven boards in only 21 minutes on the court.

The rematch

Even with Myck Kabongo back in the lineup, things did not get much better for Texas when they hosted Kansas State on February 23rd. The Longhorns failed to challenge the Kansas State shooters all afternoon, allowing the Wildcats to knock down 50% of their 18 three-point attempts.

Texas still managed to find itself down just three points late in the first half, but a disastrous exchange shoved the momentum to the Kansas State sideline before the teams headed to the locker room. With 22 seconds left, it appeared the Wildcats would hold for the last shot. Instead, Javan Felix fouled Angel Rodriguez (No. 13), who knocked down a pair of free throws. Kabongo then turned it over with just two seconds left in the half, and the Wildcats raced down the court for a three from Shane Southwell (No. 1) just before the horn.

Things continued to deteriorate in the second half. The Longhorns took more than four minutes to score a basket, allowing Kansas State to extend its lead out to fifteen points. Texas never recovered, trailing by as many as 19 points midway through the half. The Horns closed the gap for cosmetic purposes, but still dropped the final decision at home, 81-69.

Kabongo led the way for Texas, scoring what was then his career high of 24 points. McClellan came off the bench to score 15 points, rebounding quickly from his benching in the TCU game just five days earlier. Both players were able to score in transition and Kabongo drove to the rack in half-court sets, but otherwise the offense was bogged down.

The Longhorns also again struggled to keep Kansas State from reclaiming missed shots. The Wildcats snagged 41.4% of their offensive rebounding opportunities in Austin, improving upon the impressive 40% mark they had posted in Manhattan. Those extra chances only resulted in seven second-chance points for K-State, but they demoralized the Longhorn defense when it did manage to force a missed shot.

Keys to the game

1) Look for transition opportunities – In both games against Kansas State, the Texas offense had a very difficult time scoring in their half-court sets, but did find some success on the break in Austin. Unfortunately, the Wildcats take good care of the ball, turning it over on only 18.4% of their possessions. That means that transition opportunities for Texas will have to come off of missed K-State shots. Of course, the Horns have had difficulties winning defensive rebounds against the Wildcats, so this could be a very tall order.

2) Communicate and rotate on defense – Kansas State’s offense can look like a well-oiled machine when it is clicking, as the Longhorns discovered when the ‘Cats sliced them up with crisp ball movement in Austin. In addition, Rodriguez has the ability to slash through defenses and pull defenders away from the K-State bigs inside and the shooters waiting on the perimeter. The Longhorns must play sound team defense, communicate, and rotate quickly if they hope to disrupt a Kansas State offense that scored 1.26 points per possession against them in their two earlier meetings.

Texas needs another strong showing from Kabongo
(Photo credit: Eric Gay/Associated Press)

3) Aggression from the guards and wings – Texas found success in the second half of last night’s game when Kabongo, McClellan, and Julien Lewis started attacking with the bounce and making harder cuts off the ball. As a result, the Horns posted a free-throw rate of 82% against TCU, meaning that they shot more than eight free throws for every ten field goal attempts. Coming on the heels of a 62.7% free-throw rate against Texas Tech, it appears that the normally-stagnant Texas offense is finally making an effort to grind out points at the line.

Combine this recent trend with Kansas State’s penchant for sending opponents to the stripe, and the Longhorns may be able to pile up some points. Even if Texas does not end up drawing many fouls by attacking with the bounce, any sort of aggression will be an improvement. Static possessions with excessive perimeter passing and challenged looks late in the shot clock have unfortunately been the norm for Texas for much of the season. If the ballhandlers can be aggressive, while Lewis and McClellan work hard to get open off the ball, Texas can stay competitive this evening. If not, the Horns will likely be victims of a third K-State beatdown this year.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 12:56PM

#13/13 Kansas State Wildcats (21-5 overall, 10-3 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (12-14, 4-9)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: Longhorn Network
LRT Consecutive Game #247

It has been over two months since the Texas Longhorns have managed to string together a winning streak. Not since taking care of Texas State and North Carolina on December 15th and 19th have the Horns been able to build off of the momentum of one win by notching another. The team has managed to cobble together five wins over the last nine and a half weeks, but sandwiched them between 10 losses.

Kansas State and Kansas are battling for the Big 12 title
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Tonight, the Longhorns welcome a Kansas State team that is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The Wildcats are winners of six out of their last seven, and they put together an eight-game winning streak in December that included a victory over Florida and a 4-0 start in the Big 12.

For Kansas State, even a game against the league’s eighth-place team is huge. The Wildcats are chasing their first conference title since 1977, when they played in the Big 8. They enter today’s action in a first-place tie with Kansas, which holds a 2-0 head-to-head advantage over KSU. Although the Big 12 awards co-championships, Wildcat fans certainly don’t want to share their first league title in nearly 40 years with their hated rivals, especially in a year where those rivals swept the season series.

K-State will have to take care of business on the road if it wants to win the title or even to share a piece of it. After tonight’s road trip to Texas, the Wildcats still face games at Baylor and Oklahoma State on the last two Saturdays of the season. Kansas, meanwhile, has only two road games left — against Iowa State and Baylor — and will host three of the league’s bottom four teams. The Wildcats clearly have their work cut out for them down the stretch, so a loss tonight would be a damaging blow to their title hopes.

Meet the Wildcats

For an in-depth look at the Kansas State roster, check out LRT’s game preview from the first meeting between these two teams.

The first match-up

When Texas and Kansas State first faced off on January 30th, the game was quickly out of reach. The Longhorns had two leads in the first four minutes, but trailed 9-7 at the under-16 media timeout. Texas would never get any closer, falling victim to a brutal stretch of offensive inefficiency. For a span of more than 12 minutes in the first half, Texas managed only eight points, with all of them coming from Sheldon McClellan.

The Longhorns did manage to get some good looks early in the game, but could not make any buckets. With shots not falling, Texas only made things worse by constantly turning it over and giving up easy points to the Wildcats. On the night, Texas ended 27.5% of their possessions with a turnover and allowed KSU to score 33 points off of those miscues. In a lopsided 83-57 loss, those wasted possessions and free points were easily the difference in the game.

Texas had no answer for Thomas Gipson in Manhattan
(Photo credit: Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

Most troubling for Texas fans is that this beatdown came with Rodney McGruder limited due to foul trouble and Will Spradling playing with a broken nose he suffered in the first half. With those two only chipping in 12 points, it was Texas-born big man Thomas Gipson who dominated the game, scoring 17 points and grabbing seven boards in only 21 minutes on the court.

Since then…

That Texas game was the first in which Gipson came off the bench after he had made starts in the 13 previous games. It was also the first of six wins in seven games for the Wildcats, with Gipson the sixth man in all of those. Although he struggled against Romero Osby and Oklahoma and again against Jeff Withey and Kansas, the big man has become a key bench contributor.

The other player to suddenly step up in the last three weeks was point guard Angel Rodriguez. Although the sophomore was already one of the Big 12’s top assist men, he has complimented those skills by pouring on the points in recent weeks. After scoring 17 in the loss to Kansas and another 22 in a home blowout of Baylor, Rodriguez was named Co-Player of the Week in the Big 12. In that Baylor game, the point guard dished out 10 dimes against only two turnovers.

Most importantly, Rodriguez is now hitting his three-pointer with a little more consistency. When these two teams first met, he was slumping from long range, having made less than 22% of his threes in the previous 10 games. In the Texas game and the six others since then, Rodriguez has made more than 36% of his threes. Re-establishing his long-range threat forces defenses to play him a little tighter, which then gives him an even better opportunity to drive and create.

With consecutive Big Monday games and incredibly one-sided outcomes, it has been quite some time since Kansas State has played in a stressful, competitive contest. Since gutting out an important 79-70 home win over Iowa State on February 9th, the Wildcats have gone 2-1 in a trio of games that had a 17-point average margin of victory. Considering that the Longhorns have failed to put up enough points to blow out anybody, it’s safe to say that the Horns are hoping to end that trend this evening.

Keys to the game

1) Hang on to the ball – The Texas turnover problems have been a season-long storyline, but never were they as damaging as they were against the Wildcats in Manhattan. Texas made bad passes, had the ball stripped well beyond the perimeter, and seemed to travel every other time down the court. All told, the Longhorn miscues accounted for 33 of Kansas State’s 83 points, and they ended more than 27% of Texas’ possessions. If Texas cannot drastically turn those numbers around when they rematch tonight, the Horns will have very slim chances to pull off the upset.

2) Keep KSU off the offensive glass – The Longhorn turnovers and points scored off of them were certainly damaging in the first loss, but bad defensive rebounding was another nail in the coffin for the Longhorns. The Wildcats were able to reclaim 40% of their missed shots, and they turned those extra chances into an additional 12 points.

Texas has done little in recent weeks to give fans much hope that they can keep the Wildcats from reclaiming their missed shots again tonight. In the last nine games, the Longhorns have allowed eight opponents to win more than 35% of their offensive rebounding chances, with four of those teams actually posting offensive rebounding marks north of 40%. Fortunately, the Longhorns will have Jonathan Holmes available this time around, but his presence has not made much of a statistical impact in that department in the three games since his return.

Myck Kabongo drove at will against K-State last year
(Photo credit: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

3) Attack with the bounce – Last season, Myck Kabongo was able to find success against K-State by beating Rodriguez with the dribble. Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland were able to do the same at times in the first meeting, although Holland would often waste those drives with questionable passes in the paint.

If Kabongo can again find those cracks in the defense and make the Wildcats react to his penetration, Texas will be able to score much easier this time around. If not, the Horns are likely destined for another frustrating game where points are hard to come by and the Wildcats pull away quickly.

4) Turn back Rodriguez’ drives – Kansas State and its motion offense is tough to defend. Opponents have to be constantly communicating, hoping to battle through screens while still staying close with the likes of McGruder, Spradling, and Shane Southwell. But when Rodriguez is also able to put the ball on the floor and slice up a defense, K-State is downright impossible to shut down. The Longhorns found that out the hard way in the first meeting with KSU, as Rodriguez repeatedly slithered through the Texas D and dished out eight dimes to go with his 11 points.

Tonight, the Longhorn guards need to learn from those mistakes and keep Rodriguez on the perimeter. Without his dribble penetration, Kansas State is forced to knock down jump shots out of their motion sets, and the Wildcat bigs become less of a factor. If the Longhorns cannot manage to do this and they allow Rodriguez to run wild, there’s little hope for Texas to keep up with a clicking KSU offense.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:06AM

Texas Longhorns (9-10 overall, 1-5 Big 12) at #18/21 Kansas State Wildcats (15-4, 4-2)
Bramlage Coliseum | Manhattan, KS | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
LRT Consecutive Game #240

The Texas Longhorns finally earned their first conference win on Saturday night, taking care of a Texas Tech team that should finish the season at the bottom of the Big 12 standings. Texas looked rejuvenated, hustling to loose balls and pressuring the Red Raiders into mistakes. While excitement was certainly tempered by the quality of opponent, geting over that hump and finally earning a league win was a big accomplishment for this young team. After three narrow losses in Big 12 play and a heartbreaking loss to UCLA in the non-con, the win was a much-needed boost of confidence.

With four games still remaining until the return of point guard Myck Kabongo and with Jonathan Holmes out at least three weeks with a broken bone in his hand, the young Longhorns face long odds in trying to climb back towards .500 in league play. Increasing the difficulty level are a pair of tough road trips over the next week, as the Horns head to Kansas State tonight and West Virginia on Monday. Although Texas is just 1-8 away from the Erwin Center and winless in true road games, stealing a victory in either one of those games would go a long way in the team’s fight to get back to the middle of the pack.

The Wildcats haven’t missed a beat under Bruce Weber
(Photo credit: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

Kansas State poses an especially tough test, as their experience far outweighs that of the Longhorns. The Wildcats return essentially everyone from last year’s NCAA-tournament team, having lost only Jamar Samuels and little-used Victor Ojeleye to graduation. Texas has also come up empty in its last two trips to Bramlage Coliseum, while K-State has won 11 out of their last 12 games at the Octagon of Doom.

By the numbers

With almost the entire K-State roster back, it’s no surprise that the team has maintained its stingy defense from the Frank Martin era. On the season, the Wildcats are allowing an adjusted 0.902 points per possession, according to Ken Pomeroy. The Wildcats force mistakes on 22.4% of their defensive possessions and have held opponents to a 46% effective field-goal percentage, both stats that rank in the Top 100 nationally.

However, when you dig a little deeper into the numbers, it’s clear that K-State’s defensive stats have been buoyed a bit by a very strong start against weak non-conference competition. Since the start of Big 12 play, Kansas State’s adjusted defensive efficiency has ballooned to 1.001 points per possession. League opponents have an effective field goal percentage of 49.8% and a free-throw rate of 44.8%. In simpler terms, Big 12 foes are getting to the line to shoot a little more than two free throws for every five field goal attempts.

Another K-State statistic that has seen a precipitous drop since the start of league play is their offensive rebounding percentage. For the year, the Wildcats have reclaimed 39.1% of their missed shots, but have been able to do so only 27.8% of the time against Big 12 opponents. In fact, in Saturday’s loss to Iowa State, KSU posted just a 17.2% mark on the offensive glass. The Wildcats are only an average-shooting bunch, having an effective field goal percentage of 47.7% on the year. That means that offensive rebounds are essential for K-State to keep scoring, so the drop-off in league play is concerning.

The other reason that the Wildcats are able to have an efficient offense despite average shooting is the fact that they value the basketball. Kansas State has a turnover percentage of only 18.9%, and the team has improved that to 17% against Big 12 opponents. Their ability to maximize possessions by not turning it over and getting to missed shots is the reason that their adjusted offensive efficiency is a solid 1.062 points per possession.

That offense has a new look under first-year head coach Bruce Weber. He favors a motion offense with constant cutting across the free-throw line and baseline, eschewing pick and roll sets for dribble handoffs and crisp passing. As a result, the Wildcats have assists on nearly 65% of their buckets, a number that ranks 11th in the nation. That stat also underscores the fact that it can be hard for K-State to score if it doesn’t get looks in the flow of the offense. The team lacks true slashers that can get to the rim or players that can shake a defender to get an open jumper.

Rodney McGruder is the senior leader for K-State
(Photo credit: Brandon Wade/Associated Press)

That reliance on taking jump shots off of passes also means that the Wildcats don’t get to the line very often. The team’s free-throw rate of 32.3% is ranked in the bottom 100 of Division I’s 347 teams, but that could be a blessing in disguise. When the Wildcats do manage to get to the charity stripe, they make only 64.7% of their attempts.

Meet the Wildcats

The team’s leading scorer is senior Rodney McGruder (No. 22), a player that Texas fans know all too well. In last year’s meeting at Bramlage Coliseum, McGruder poured in 33 points, and he has averaged 19.3 points in four games against Texas. There were some growing pains for the senior at the begining of the season, as he adjusted to his new role in Weber’s offense. Now, he is much better at reading the defense on his cuts and finding open space to receive the pass and get up his shot. McGruder is averaging 18.7 points and has made 44.2% of his threes in Big 12 games.

Whoever is tasked with slowing down McGruder will have to bring their track shoes. The Wildcats will run their star through numerous screens, waiting for just enough of a defensive lapse to get him open for a jumper. If Julien Lewis and the other Texas defenders can stay in McGruder’s shirt and force him to put the ball on the floor, his effectiveness is limited. He has shown at times this season that when opponents deny him open looks on the pass, he can get frustrated enough to start forcing bad, challenged shots off the bounce.

As of late, the other main scoring threat for Kansas State is junior Shane Southwell (No. 1). After coming off the bench in the team’s first nine games, Southwell has been a starter in the last ten. In Big 12 play, he is averaging 11.8 points and has knocked down 48% of his threes. He is a skilled shooter who has a nice midrange jumper, but he is perhaps most dangerous when opponents switch on screens. The 6’6″ Southwell is quick to notice when he has a smaller guard on him, and will isolate those defenders near the hoop for short jumpers and layups.

At the point, sophomore Angel Rodriguez (No. 13) has grown up quite a bit since last season. In the team’s last four games, the once-erratic Rodriguez has posted 26 assists against only three turnovers. For a player that would often over-penetrate and force the ball against set defenders, that improvement is staggering. He still can get defenders on his hip and drive to the rack, but now the sophomore has a better feel for when those opportunities are actually there.

Angel Rodriguez has drastically reduced his turnovers
(Photo credit: Matthew Putney/Associated Press)

Unfortunately, while Rodriguez has been improving his ball control, his long-range shooting has declined considerably. The Puerto Rican product certainly has range beyond the arc, but he has made only 6-of-28 (21.4%) in the team’s last ten games, dragging his average down to 29.6% on the year. While the Longhorns can’t completely sag off of him, his long-range struggles do mean that they can give him a little space and try to neutralize his driving ability.

In the middle, sophomore Thomas Gipson (No. 42) is a vacuum that keeps the K-State offense humming. Although the Wildcats don’t typically post him up and dump the ball inside, he constantly reclaims missed shots and knows where to go when Rodriguez drives so that he can receive the dump-off and go up strong. Gipson’s offensive rebounding mark of 15.9% is 21st in all of D-I hoops, while his 17.3% mark on the defensive end also ranks just outside the Top 400.

One issue with Gipson’s game is his inability to convert at the line. Although K-State doesn’t get to the stripe very often as a team, he draws a little less than six fouls on opponents per forty minutes. That sends Gipson to the free-throw line around four times per game, where he is only making 57.4% of his attempts.

Rounding out the starting five is three-point marksman Will Spradling (No. 55). Like McGruder, Spradling will have numerous screens set for him in the K-State motion offense, and he has the quick release and accuracy to make opponents pay. On the year, he has made more than 35% of his threes, and has taken more than 67% of his looks from behind the arc. Although the Longhorns are already going to have their hands full trying to shut down McGruder and Southwell, they also cannot afford to lose track of Spradling.

With conference play now in full swing, Coach Weber has shrunk his core rotation to eight players. Senior forward Jordan Henriquez (No. 21) is a familiar face to fans of Big 12 basketball, as his 6’11” frame has made him a defensive presence all four of his years in Manhattan. He has a lot of length — even for a guy that tall — and has great timing, making him a great shot-blocker in the middle.

It’s also worth noting that when Henriquez gets the ball in the post, teams might actually find success simply fouling him. The senior has made just 28.9% of his free throws this year, and is a 50% career shooter at the line.

Fellow senior Martavious Irving (No. 3) plays an important role as the team’s backup point guard, and also brings excellent perimeter defense to the table. Irving is also a threat to pop the three, and has shown no qualms about quickly taking one off the dribble when opponents are paying too much attention to McGruder and Spradling off the ball.

Sophomore forward Nino Williams (No. 11) was a highly touted recruit out of high school, but never found consistent playing time under Coach Martin. He is still just a role player at this point, but is now at least seeing the court every night and averaging 12.5 minutes per game in league play.

Although not a part of that core rotation, freshman forward D.J. Johnson (No. 50) could also see some meaningful minutes in this one. After hardly playing from mid-December to late January, he logged 20 minutes against Iowa State on Saturday and chipped in a block and two boards. At 6’8″ and 250 pounds, he already is an intimidating presence inside, and it looks like he can be a force in the Big 12 by the time his career is finished.

Keys to the game

1) Limit KSU’s offensive rebounds – Closing out defensive possessions with rebounds has been a problem for Texas all season, and that could unfortunately play a huge role in tonight’s game. The Wildcats are generally an average team when it comes to shooting the ball, but they crash the glass and earn second-chance points. The Longhorns allowed a smaller Texas Tech team to reclaim more than 48% of their missed shots on Saturday, and late-game offensive rebounds helped Baylor and West Virginia pull out overtime wins over Texas. Repeating those same mistakes tonight will eliminate any hopes of a Longhorn upset.

2) Communicate on defense – With the constant screening and cutting in Kansas State’s offense, the strong Longhorn defense is going to be tested tonight. Texas needs to recognize who the shooters are and avoid going under screens against them, while also being aware that players like McGruder and Southwell will exploit favorable matchups that can arise from switching screens. If Texas can play sound team defense, the score will be in the range that can give them a shot at pulling off the road win. If not, this Wildcat offense can make their half-court offense look like a clinic.

3) Take care of the basketball – The opening ten minutes of the Oklahoma game and the final minutes of the Kansas loss reminded Texas fans just how bad the turnover bug was for the Longhorns at the beginning of the year. While the youngsters have made vast improvements in that department, the hiccups tend to come back in waves, and often at the worst possible time. Kansas State forces quite a few mistakes with their defense, so the Longhorns must avoid coughing it up tonight. Not only will turnovers waste possessions, but they will often lead to runouts that will get a loud and intimidating Bramlage crowd whipped into even more of a frenzy.

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