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2014 NCAA Tournament: Kentucky Wildcats vs. Kansas St. Wildcats Game Preview

Tonight is the night for a cat fight, and the one between Kansas St. and Kentucky should be a dandy.

0After the catastrophe that was last season, it feels a little bit uncomfortable to be back in the NCAA Tournament with such a low seed. Kentucky has played in the 8 vs. 9 seed game only 3 times in history: 1987 against Ohio St. (lost 77-91), 2006 against UAB (won 69-64) and 2007 vs. Villanova (won 67-58). Overall the record of #8 seeds vs. #9 seeds is 72-69 (0.511), so this game against the Kansas St. Wildcats is historically about as much of a tossup as you can get.


About Kansas St.:

  • Location: Manhattan, Kansas
  • Conference: Big 12
  • Head Coach: Bruce Weber (since 2012)
  • NCAA Appearances: 27
  • Most recent NCAA appearance: 2013
  • Most recent NCAA win: 2012
  • Founded: 1863
  • Enrollment: 17,186
  • Last season's record 27-8 overall, 14-4 in conference

Source: Basketball State

Season so far for Kansas St.:

  • Season record: 20-12 (10-8 Big 12)

Kansas St. has had an up and down season. The purple Wildcats started out with some really bad losses to Northern Colorado and Charlotte, both well out of the top 100. They turned it around 5 games into the season, winning 10 in a row with some quality victories such as the Gonzaga Bulldogs in a semi-home environment and George Washinton in Manhattan.

In conference, the Wildcats beat such worthies as Kansas (in overtime), Iowa St., Oklahoma St., Oklahoma, and Texas all at home. Kansas St was a very poor road team all season, managing only two victories on the road all season, and only one in conference. They do have two neutral site wins, but both were against markedly inferior competition.

Series history

Kentucky and Kansas St. have played only 8 times in history, most of them in pre-season tournaments such as the UKIT and the Las Vegas Invitational (the most recent contest in 2008). Kentucky is currently 8-0 against the Wildcats from Manhattan.

The most meaningful game between the two squads was in 1951, when Kentucky led by Bill Spivey, Frank Ramsey and Cliff Hagan, (a team that notably included C.M. Newton) defeated Kansas St. in the NCAA Tournament final in Minneapolis, MN.


Team Comparison

Rank and Records K-State UK
RPI #48 #19
Strength of Schedule #19 #4
Overall 20-12 24-10
Conference 10-8 12-6
Home 15-2 16-2
Away 2-7 5-5
Top 25 3-4 1-5
RPI Top 50 7-8 4-6

Courtesy of

Kansas State Roster

Marcus Foster S Fr. 32 29.1 15.6 3.2 2.5 0.6 0.2 2.3 0.425 0.734 0.404
Thomas Gipson S* Jr. 30 26.3 11.8 6.5 0.6 0.4 0.5 2.2 0.56 0.707 0
Will Spradling S** Sr. 32 30.3 7.8 3.1 2.9 1.4 0 1 0.392 0.729 0.345
Wesley Iwundu S Fr. 32 23.4 6.7 4.3 1.8 0.6 0.3 1.3 0.453 0.648 0.412
Nino Williams S* Jr. 32 16.3 6.4 3.5 0.7 0.4 0.1 0.9 0.51 0.722 0
Shane Southwell MR* Sr. 30 26.8 9.8 4.4 2.8 0.8 1.1 1.6 0.387 0.676 0.297
Nigel Johnson MR Fr. 29 13.6 4.3 1.4 1.7 0.7 0 0.8 0.376 0.676 0.279
D.J. Johnson MR* So. 32 14.2 3.5 3.6 0.1 0.3 0.5 0.8 0.511 0.511 0
Jevon Thomas R Fr. 20 16.9 2.6 2.1 2.8 0.6 0 1.1 0.239 0.347 0.167
Omari Lawrence R* Sr. 32 13.1 3.2 1.8 0.9 0.7 0.2 0.7 0.427 0.605 0.167
Ryan Schultz R* Sr. 15 2.4 0.9 0.5 0.2 0.3 0 0.3 0.214 0.625 0.182
Shawn Meyer R* Jr. 13 1.2 0.5 0.2 0.1 0 0 0.1 0.5 0.667 0
Jack Karapetyan R Fr. 6 3.3 0.3 0.2 0 0 0 0 0.25 0 0
Brian Rohleder R* So. 17 1.8 0.1 0.2 0.1 0.1 0 0.1 0.333 0 0

32 -- 70 36 15 6 3 12 0.436 0.658 0.334


Starter S

Major reserve MR

Reserve R

Returning player *

Returning starter **

Courtesy of ESPN

Four Factors

Kansas St: Team Notes

  • Kansas St. has been a very poor road team this year, as noted earlier.
  • The purple Wildcats are a very solid defensive team, surrendering only 95.7 points/100 possessions overall and 103.6 in the tough Big 12.
  • Kansas St. has seen big teams like Kentucky before. They were competitive both with Baylor, who beat Kentucky, and the Kansas Jayhawks, whom they defeated once.
  • Kansas St. does not get to the line much, and they are a slightly below average free throw shooting team.
  • Kansas St. is a good offensive rebounding team, but rebounds poorly defensively.
  • The Wildcats do force some turnovers, but not a great deal.
  • K-State is an average 3-point shooting team at 32%. They shoot a fair number of threes, however — 32.3% of their shots.
  • Kansas St. is a very young team by most standards, but not compared to Kentucky. They start two true freshmen.

Kansas St: Player notes

  • Freshmen Marcus Foster is a deadly 3-point shooter and puts up a lot of K-State's shots.
  • Thomas Gipson is a big boy at 6'7"/265 lbs., but is vertically challenged for a guy that thick.
  • Shane Southwell might be the team's best passer, and is also a good shot blocker.
  • Will Spradling is a very efficient offensive player with an offensive rating of 117. He shoots the three well, but not spectacularly so at 34.5%
  • Nino Wiliams is the best percentage offensive rebounder on the Wildcats' team.


  • No injuries to report for either team.

Likely matchups


  • Marcus Foster vs. Andrew Harrison — It's freshman against freshman, and Foster is a very talented guard who will force Andrew to guard him closely. Foster is the kind of guy who can get Andrew into foul trouble, so this matchup is a dangerous one for Kentucky

Advantage: Draw

  • Will Spradling vs. Aaron Harrison — This one is talent vs. experience, and Spradling is a cagey veteran who knows how to get open, knows when to shoot and when to pass, and doesn't make many mistakes. He is a tough, scrappy player who gets a lot of rebounds for this size. Aaron, though, will have a significant size and slight athletic advantage. Spradling will have trouble guarding him if he gets into the lane.

Advantage: Kentucky

  • Nino Wiliams vs. James Young — Iwundu is a talented young freshman, but you can't say he's better than Young. They are similar players with their size and athleticism, but Young is much more of a 3-point threat. Iwandu shoots the 3-ball well, but very rarely, having made only seven all season. Young is a more polished player and a better rebounder.

Advantage: Kentucky

  • Nino Williams vs. Julius Randle — Williams is undersized for the four spot, but he has some thickness. Unfortunately, he's matched up against a major force of nature who can outrebound people bigger than him, of which there aren't many.

Advantage: Kentucky

  • Thomas Gipson vs. Dakari Johnson — This isn't a mismatch, as Gipson is a big, strong guy with all the thickness and weight he needs against Johnson. It's interesting that both of these players are below-the-rim guys, neither particularly athletic.

Advantage: Draw


Kansas St. has a good bench and uses it. they often go at least nine deep, and Shane Southwell plays starters minutes off the bench, much like Willie Cauley-Stein does for kentucky D.J. Johnson has been coming on late and has some excellent size, so you'll probably see quite a bit of him tonight Omari Johnson and Nigel Williams round out their bench. Alex Poythress will be key off the bench tonight, and if he can raise his game a little, it will really help UK.

Advantage: Draw


Kansas St. is an effort squad, a bunch of blue-collar guys who don't do anything particularly well except defend as a team. They are not usually a threat to come up and put 90 on you, they like to play at an even pace and run a lot of stuff in the half-court. They do a good job of freeing up drivers off the high pick and roll, and when they get pressured on the perimeter, they'll run a flex cut on you and get you back door.

The most impressive thing about this Kansas St. team is that they hang around no matter who they play. They've had very few lopsided losses this season, but they have been dominated a few times, such as in Lawrence versus the Jayhawks, on a neutral floor versus Georgeown, and in Stillwater vs. Oklahoma St. But most of their games have been grind-it-out affairs, and I doubt you'll see much different tonight.

Where Kentucky has an advantage, besides size, is the unfortunate tendency for K-State to foul. Three of their players average over 2.5 fouls per game, and although Kentucky has a couple of players like that, UK's bench is good enough to handle it. The big worry for Kentucky will be point guard Andrew Harrison's tendency to get into foul trouble.

It is also theoretically possible for Kentucky to go huge with Randle, Cauley-Stein and Johnson all in the game. We have seen a little bit of that, and we might see it again tonight, although that does tend to mess with the rotations. It could be effective, however, because of the fact that Kansas St. has only two players on the roster over 6'7".

Another advantage Kentucky has is switching on defense. With the exception of Gipson and D.J. Johnson, Kansas St. will have a hard time finding mismatches because of the size of Kentucky's back court. Kentucky's size will also force the purple Wildcats to take more perimeter shots, and the key for the UK is just to make sure they are challenged.

What Kentucky really needs to do to win this game is to dominate the glass like they have all year, make a reasonable percentage from the free throw line, run opportunistically, and focus on making Kansas St. make tough shots. K-State is really good at getting easy shots from time to time, so the more Kentucky can force them to shoot over their length, the better they can be. Also, Kentucky cannot lose Marcus Foster, as he can make shots by the bucketful, and is a tough stop when he gets into the lane.

I also hope Kentucky will play inside out, because Kansas St.'s size will allow some good 3-point looks. But above all, the Big Blue must be patient, because K-State is a fine defensive team. You can get good looks against them, but they make you work for it. Kentucky must move the ball and wait for a good shot or a mismatch.

This will be a very tough game. Kansas St. doesn't look that tough on paper, but as a bunch of good Big 12 teams can tell you, the stats just don't tell the tale of these lunchpail guys. They will be ready to work, and if Kentucky can't match their effort, I think UK will slink home with their tails between their legs. But if Kentucky plays solid, fundamental basketball with short, crisp passes, good blockouts, share the ball and wait for good shots, they should be fine.