The last time these two teams met, Oklahoma was able to come away with an unforeseen win, at least from the fans perspective. Kansas St. will certainly be looking to settle a vendetta as the Sooners travel into Manhattan. Tye Burger of Bring On The Cats was kind enough to sit down and exchange a Q&A previewing the game tomorrow.
CCM - The last time these two teams met, Kansas St. dominated the glass 39-24 while pulling down a ridiculous 21 offensive boards. It's not often you see a team lose the battle on the boards in this fashion and still come away with a win. However, Oklahoma was able to counter those numbers by shooting 54.9% from the field and a blazing 44.4% from range. To say the least, it was not a particularly great shooting night for the Wildcats. Was this simply an anomaly or did Lon Kruger's relentless man-to-man defense play a bigger role in the 39.1% the Wildcats shot in Norman?
TB - It was probably a little of both. Oklahoma ranks 88th (36.5 percent) in KenPom's three-point percentage defense, but only 219th (46.4 percent) in two-point percentage defense. K-State shot a little below OU's average on the year from both long range (33.3 percent), and two-point range (44.1 percent). My personal sense was that K-State looked tired in that game, both because they shot like their legs were dead and they got beat for loose balls left and right. Those are two sure signs of a tired team, and Frank Martin said after the game that they had been running stairs in practice since the Baylor game on Tuesday to try and correct some bad attitudes. On top of that, he benched freshman point guard Angel Rodriguez, who has started the last two games, as punishment for a bad attitude after the Baylor loss. I don't mean that to sound like I'm taking credit away from OU, because they absolutely played better than K-State. But part of the reason for the performance seemed to be that Frank pulled what we call a "buy-in-or-quit" game to try and correct some issues from the game earlier that week.
CCM - Andrew Fitzgerald has slowly but surely been progressing with each season. With his newly found mid-range game, it opens a lot up for Romero Osby. While there are times that Osby has seemed to lose his aggressiveness, those days are hopefully in the rear view mirror at this point and he has been able to get nearly any shot he wants. Obsy is far more athletic that Fitz is and has the threat to put up a double-double each time he steps on the floor, but both present unique problems. These were the two major players in Oklahoma's win last time around. What will Kansas St. and Frank Martin do in order to slow them down this time?
TB - My hope is that we'll do what we've done against most teams with solid front lines this season, and that is to run one big guy after another at them. Last time, junior center Jordan Henriquez only played eight minutes, a prelude to his short-lived suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. Freshman Adrian Diaz didn't play at all, and Thomas Gipson only played 15 minutes. Keeping fresh defenders out there against Fitzgerald and Osby will be key. K-State's game on defense is to pressure every dribble and every pass, and they allowed far too much operating room for these guys, especially Osby, in Norman. A solid four-man front-court rotation will be vital to K-State's success on Saturday.
CCM - Something new that Lon Kruger has been trying out recently and that start against the Wildcats was the use of a dual point guard set. Cameron Clark was moved to the bench in order to start Carl Blair. This was a stint that lasted 3 games and helped the team to 2 wins with the increased ball security while moving Steven Pledger, OU's sharpshooter over to the 3-spot. Pledger now had less ball handling to worry about and was able to let the game come to him instead of forcing it. Against the Baylor Bears, Kruger inserted Clark back into the starting line-up. At this point no one is 100% sure if Blair or Clark will get the start. As a Wildcats fan, which backcourt set worries you more from Oklahoma, the dual PG set or the traditional set?
TB - Neither lineup particularly concerns me. K-State has a lot of versatility in its guard lineup, both offensively and defensively. Angel Rodriguez is the exciting-but-frustrating freshman who can make a great play one trip, a terrible play the next trip, and is inconsistent on defense. Will Spradling is the steady hand, but the worst ball-handler and the least athletic of the three. Martavious Irving can't shoot at all this year, but he's the best defender and can get into the lane and create on offense. Oklahoma's guards, particularly Pledger and Clark, are very solid players, but they're not the type of guys, like Baylor's Pierre Jackson and KU's Tyshawn Taylor, for whom K-State has no answer.
CCM - Frank Martin has certainly instilled the idea of aggressiveness into his teams. The Kansas St. Wildcats are regarded as the most physical team in the Big XII with zero fear of banging bodies. In almost every sport, the aggressiveness of a team/player can be used against them. Recently, the opponents (minus Texas Tech) have been staying in striking range to a more talented Wildcat team. Is this something that has been happening to KSU in conference play?
TB - Most of it is just the improved talent level of Big 12 teams. This K-State team is deep in the sense that it has a lot of players who are competent Big 12-level athletes, but it has almost no elite-level talent, with Rodney McGruder as the probable exception. We've seen it happen time and again this season. When the team's best lineup is on the court, this team can go on big runs and open up double-digit leads against almost anyone. But when those players need a break, as inevitably they do given the way Martin demands they play, long droughts are possible, too.
If it weren't for the toughness and physicality Martin instills in his teams, this would probably be a pretty average group. Some fans, at times myself included, got a false sense of what this team was capable of after solid nonconference wins over Alabama, Virginia Tech and Long Beach State. While this is probably a top four or five team in the Big 12, it is not a contender for the conference crown. It's just not good enough to run anyone out of the gym, other than Texas Tech.
CCM - We have a theory over at CCM that no matter the sport, someone is going to have a career night against the Sooners. While this is more evident in the losses than it is in the wins, it has held true up to this point. Baylor's Perry Jones III had a career double-double of 21 points and 12 rebounds while Texas A&M's Elston Turner had a career high 23 points against the Sooners in their past two games. If you were going to predict a Wildcat to have a career night, who would it be?
TB - Rodney McGruder is the only player I can predict to have a big night. But given that he scored 33 points against Texas, it's getting more difficult for him to have a career night. He could have a helluva solid game against the Sooners and still end up 10 points short of a career night. So I guess I'll say that one of the front-court players, such as Gipson or Diaz or even Henriquez are the most likely to have a breakout game. "Just" going for a double-double against a legit Big 12 team would be enough for these guys.
CCM - Will EcoKat be in attendance?
TB - Only in the heart of BOTC reader Sean T.
In all seriousness, no, she won't. There was a lot of misunderstanding over what EcoKat was. The national media picked it up as though she was our new mascot, or a secondary mascot, like the male and female cougars at Houston or Big Jay and Baby Jay at KU. EcoKat was unveiled as the mascot for an environmental contest with KU last fall. She never was intended to replace Willie. I'm also guessing that somebody in marketing got a bit of a lecture over it, too, but that's neither here nor there.
CCM - Lon Kruger has traditionally been know for his stiff man-to-man defense. While the zone is something that every coach has in his arsenal, Kruger rarely uses it if at all in games. Some of the success that Oklahoma has had against the top teams stems from a sporadic use of a 1-2-2 zone defense. It adds just enough of a wrinkle to throw some teams out of rhythm. How is K-State expected to handle the rare zone defense from the Sooners?
TB - Unlike some past K-State teams, I actually look forward to seeing these Wildcats face a zone defense. K-State was killing Baylor when the Bears were in their 2-3 zone, but could not protect the ball against Baylor's five game. With all the big bodies this team has, it's usually not a problem to get the ball into the middle of the zone, from which point the zone is toast. In addition, Rodriguez is fearless driving the ball, and McGruder has shown an impressive ability to get into the seam and knock down a 10-foot jumper. And to top it all off, zone defense makes it more difficult for the defense to box out, which plays right into K-State's hands as a team that loves to crash the offensive glass.