In one of the craziest opening weekends of the NCAA Tournament in recent memory, Kansas State has slid under the radar as a potential Cinderella story. Of course, Bruce Weber’s team had an easier road to the Sweet 16 than most No. 9 seeds in Tournament history after No.16 UMBC shocked the world by defeating No.1 Virginia in the opening round.
Kentucky has clear path to the Final Four
Kentucky’s path to the Final Four got a whole lot easier when Buffalo and UMBC staged opening round upsets against No.4 Arizona and No. 1 Virginia, respectively. The Wildcats disposed of Buffalo in the Round of 32 on Saturday night, defeating the Bulls 95-75 behind a monster game from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The freshman point guard finished with 27 points, six rebounds, and six assists on the night, while Hamidou Diallo chipped in 22 points, including a couple of ferocious dunks, to help lead Kentucky to the second weekend of the Big Dance.
John Calipari has his kids playing their best basketball of the season. Kentucky enters Friday night’s matchup riding a five-game winning streak. The Wildcats come in scoring 116.6 points per 100 possessions for the season (20th in the NCAA), while allowing 95.6 points per 100 possessions on the defensive end of the floor (24th in the NCAA).
What Kentucky lacks in experience, the team makes up for with talent, length, and athleticism. The Wildcats rank fourth in the nation in average height at 78.9”, which has helped them block 13.8 percent of their opponents shot attempts this season (18th in the NCAA).
On offense, the Wildcats rely on crashing the offensive glass and getting to the free throw line to generate points. They own an offensive rebounding rate of 35.6 percent (8th in the NCAA) and a free throw rate of 43.1 percent (7th in the NCAA) so far this season.
Kansas State avoid upset vs. UMBC
Kansas State avoided an upset on Sunday, knocking off Cinderella story UMBC 50-43 despite shooting just 8.3 percent from three-point range on the night. Barry Brown scored 18 points, while Makol Mawien chipped in 11 to finish as the only other Wildcats’ player in double-figures on the night. Kansas State shot just 1 for 12 from three-point range and turned the ball over 18 times on the night, but managed to come away with a win by limiting the Retrievers to just 29.8 percent shooting.
Bruce Weber’s squad enters the Sweet 16 scoring 110.7 points per 100 possessions for the season (74th in the NCAA), however, the Wildcats may get a big boost back for Friday’s game. Leading scorer Dean Wade is expected to be back in the lineup after missing the first two games of the NCAA Tournament. Wade averages a team-high 16.5 points per game, while shooting 44.0 percent from three-point range and 55.0 percent from the field – so his presence will certainly be felt on the offensive end.
While scoring hasn’t always been easy for Kansas State this season, the Wildcats come in ranked among the stingiest defensive teams in the country. Weber’s squad has limited their opponents to just 95.5 points per 100 possessions so far this season (20th in the NCAA), while forcing them to turn the ball over on 21.5 percent of their possessions (24th in the NCAA) against the Wildcats’ defense. Opposing teams own an effective field goal percentage of only 48.9 percent (69th in the NCAA) and a three-point percentage of only 32.8 percent (46th in the NCAA )against Kansas State’s defense this season.
- Wildcats are 2-6 ATS in their last 8 neutral site games.
- Wildcats are 1-3-1 ATS in their last 5 vs. Southeastern.
- Wildcats are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 non-conference games.
- Wildcats are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games vs. a team with a winning straight up record.
The difference in this game is going to come on the offensive glass. Kansas State really struggles to contain second-chance opportunities on defense and Kentucky is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation. Expect Kentucky’s length and athleticism to cause some problems on defense in this game and take them to cover the spread in the Sweet 16 against a tough Kansas State team.
Pick: Kentucky Wildcats
Both of these teams rank among the best defensive teams in the nation. While Kansas State isn’t going to hold Kentucky to under 30 percent shooting in this game, they should be able to put together a good defensive performance against John Calipari and company. Kansas State has allowed under 60 points in each of their first two tournament games, while Kentucky has been equally stingy on the defensive end. Look for this game to go under the projected total on Thursday night.
- Under is 9-2 in Wildcats last 11 vs. Big 12.
- Under is 5-1 in Wildcats last 6 neutral site games.