**Real quick update** - Mario Little will be playing this evening and thus, will not be red-shirting this season. Here's to hoping it's the right decision and that he can get healthy in short order.
Heading into conference play, there are mixed emotions surrounding the Jayhawks. And that's mostly because there have been mixed performances by said Jayhawks. Fortunately, aside from a lazy 25 minutes against Siena, they're damn solid when enjoying the beautiful confines of Allen Fieldhouse.
The talent level tonight is nowhere near similar. But that will only take you so far. And much to my surprise, Frank Martin has formed a team that competes its ass off every time out. So far, Bill Self has not. I have little doubt that the latter will change – hopefully in short order.
Guard play will control the game tonight, but what each team gets out of their frontcourt may be the difference. The Wildcats get 60 minutes out of their main interior players. Darren Kent leads the way and has been good for 9 points and six boards nightly. But at 6'11" 230, a banger he is not. Kent relies on solid range on his shot and length for rebounds. He couldn't out muscle Shawn Bradley. But that doesn't mean he isn't useful. We won't want to play him with Cole, as that would take both our best rebounder and interior defender away from the basket. So it will be up to the Morris twins to limit his looks and keep him off the offensive glass.
Similarly, they likely won't ask Kent to bang with Cole on the other end. I'd anticipate they'll instead put Luis Colon and even Ron Anderson on him, knowing that they have ten fouls to give as each player is good for pretty much the same production (20 minutes, 5 points, 5 boards). As is often the case, Cole will be far and away the best player on the court at his size - so a big game will be expected and needed out of him. What may or may not surprise you is that each of the Morris twins actually provide as much or more than both Anderson and Colon as well, along with having much more potential even in the short term.
The Wildcats are pretty much Villanova-light in the sense that they're nothing without their guards. Their three leading scorers all stand 6"2 or below. Clemente is as fast as they come and is actually a slightly better outside shooter than he gets credit for, but slightly worse than he likes to think of himself. If you can make him fall in love with the three, you're golden – and he will fall in love with it if you deny him lanes. Fred Brown is quite the opposite, relying entirely on his outside shot (43%). Deny him the ball, don't let him come off screens cleanly and he'll take himself out of the game. And finally, you have Jacob Pullen; he of the miraculous game in Bramlage and ultimate bed-shitting in Lawrence a year ago. But really, he's just a hybrid of his backcourt mates. He's not quite the shooter Brown is and he's not as fast as Clemente, but he's much more balanced than both – having the ability to get to the hole, but also to pull up and drain a shot from anywhere.
Perhaps unfairly, I'm also lumping in Dominique Sutton and Jamar Samuels here. Really, both are frontcourt players, having no outside games whatsoever. However, both are extremely athletic and will likely be guarded by Morningstar/Releford/Little, so I'm leaving them here. As mentioned, their outside games don't need to be respected, but both can get to the rim with the ball or in pursuit of a rebound and given that each will have a size advantage, they will be important to contain.
Whereas our advantage down low is noticeable, it's much more even on the perimeter. If we have early season Tyshawn and we're getting Brady and Tyrel open looks, then things should go very easily tonight. But if one or both of those components is missing, things could get a little dicey, especially if we're not moving our feet on defense and keeping their quick guards from creating a lot of offense. Quite simply, when their guards are careful with the ball and productive, K-State has some success. And expectedly, when they start getting out of control and turning it over, the success is much harder to come by. If we get good pressure defense and intelligent offense from our perimeter players, this should be a comfortable win. If we're missing either, we may have to sweat it out.
Control the boards
As they were last year, the Wildcats are exceptional at cleaning up on the offensive glass. They have very few skilled inside players, but they have just enough athleticism and hustle to get easy buckets for themselves. If this is limited, they'll struggle. Unfortunately, this is also something we struggle at limiting. We've allowed far too many offensive boards against teams not as adept at getting them and it has hurt us badly. Cole will hold up his end, but we need the Morris' best effort and we'll really need Brady, Mario 7 Travis to keep a body on Samuels and Sutton.
There is no better way to take the wind out of a lesser team's sails than to bury them early. If we got out of the gates fired up (we will) and we use it to build an early double-digit lead, we'll put the pressure on them to respond. And while they may be able to answer the bell, they haven't exactly dazzled on the road (see: losing at 6-10 Oregon). Much like us, they struggle when out of their comfort zone and they don't have the skill set or athleticism to play equalizer. However, they just played Oklahoma close – so if we let them hang around and build confidence, the pressure shifts over to our side in a very big, bad way.
K-State isn't necessarily a plodding, slog it out kind of team. But given the location of the game, a fast pace should play to our favor. They don't have the athletes or the skill set to keep up if we're pressuring them and converting easy points in transition. Our half court offense certainly has it's moments, but I like us in transition a whole lot more. And just as importantly, I like our pressure defense much more than when we're set in a half court. Hell, this is what we did against Tennessee – who had a better athlete at nearly every position – and we still kept them at arms length throughout.
We haven't yet proven we can win on the road. But games in Allen have been a whole other story. And with any luck the crowd will be even louder than it was for Tennessee, because these young guys feed off that energy. Nationally, this game is a no-win situation – there's no excuse for losing to K-State and nothing gained by beating them. But internally, it's a huge opportunity to kick off the second season with a win and head to Boulder looking for their first on the road. It should be a great night in the Phog.