During my summer migration from Washington to Nashville, I had the "opportunity" to drive through the state that Dorothy once called home. For the first few hundred miles, Kansas does not disappoint. Flat plains covered with wheat are met with a steady stream of billboard evangelism and adult superstores. Unlike their neighbors to the west (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho), Kansas does not subscribe to the 75 mph speed limit. They want you to enjoy those wheat fields at a more fossil-friendly speed of 70 (Still not as bad as going 65 through Eastern Oregon).
About sixty miles outside of Topeka, the landscape changes. To the right appears a patch of trees followed by an hill. An actual hill! Something not seen since just east of Denver. To the left, something that stands taller than the hill. A series of massive billboards in purple and black, all with one letter. Combined they spell K-A-N-S-A-S S-T-A-T-E.
Why is this important? It's not. Maybe I'm just a narcissist who thinks everything I do or say is interesting. Or maybe I wanted to show that these two universities have some similarities. From the way they pop out of nowhere in the middle of endless wheat fields, to the way they've had some moments of football glory not so long ago and have struggled more recently, to the way they've enjoyed some occasional basketball success that resulted in abrupt departures of coaches. Probably the first one.
Our Cougs travel to this familiar landscape tomorrow to take on those Kansas State Wildcats. This will be a second consecutive difficult road test for Washington State. This team features a little more size and beef up front, with a little less height at the guard position than the previous opponent. K-State has been impressive on both ends of the floor against mostly lesser competition and like the Cougs, has lost their only game against a high-level competitor. Most importantly for WSU, the Wildcats like to push the ball, and as we've pointed out several times before, that gives the Cougars the best chance to succeed.
Let's break down some of the important factors for this game:
K-State is currently 70th in the nation in adjusted tempo at 71.9 possessions a game. WSU's two fastest games of the year have been 73 possessions in the opener and 72 in their last matchup versus Gonzaga. Expect both sides to try and push the ball all game long. Don't be surprised if this is the fastest pace you've seen from a Coug game in a long time, and that is a very good thing.
On the boards, Kansas State is an excellent offensive rebounding team and an equally terrible defensive rebounding team. Sound familiar? It should, because our Cougs are in a similar situation. However, the Cougs have been a little better on the offensive glass and on the defensive glass. Look for Washington State's taller guards to crash the boards and get some extra chances, they are going to need them.
Like Wazzu, K-State has struggled to defend the three-point shot. This bodes well for Klay Thompson, because he is deadly once he gets his feet set. However, outside of Klay and maybe Reggie Moore, the Cougs aren't really a team that will take advantage of that, as they are 280th in the country in 3PA per FGA.
Once inside the arc, look for the Cougs to have problems. Kansas State is one of the top teams in the country in 2pt% against, as they allowing just 37.4% of two pointers to fall.
Kansas State likes to foul. They like to foul a lot. So much so that the guys who wrote the Basketball Prospectus Major Conference Preview made it a focal point in their preview:
The Wildcats’ fouling went through the roof last year, as Big 12 opponents averaged more than 26 free throws
per game. No other major-conference team in 2009 could match the Wildcats in terms of frequent fouling.
K-State has kept that hack-happy trend going this year. They are 262nd in the country in opponents' free throw rate. Luckily for them, they offset that by being fifth in the country in free throw rate on the offensive end. This is something that Casto, Moore, and Klay need to exploit. This time around, they need to make sure they convert at a percentage they did through the first six games if the Cougs are going to have a chance.
That's all for now. This will be another tough test for the Cougs. If they are able to pull this one off, it will have huge postseason implications, as the Wildcats look like a potential tournament team early on. Nuss will be back with more tomorrow in the game thread.