Kansas State’s Sweet 16 X-factors: depth, defense, Dean and ‘X’

Kansas State-Sweet 16-Kentucky-Wildcats-NCAA Tournament

By way of wins over Creighton and UMBC, the Kansas State Wildcats find themselves in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010.

No. 9 seed K-State faces No. 5 seed Kentucky with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line Thursday in Atlanta. Kentucky enters as the favorite (-5.5) in the tilt.

But if Kansas State has proven anything over its first two games of March Madness, it’s that it can rely on a litany of weapons. From getting 17 points from a seldom-used reserve guard against Creighton to advancing past the first weekend without its best player, K-State has shown perhaps the most mettle of any squad in the NCAA Tournament thus far.

Depth

In Kansas State’s first round win over No. 8 seed Creighton, K-State got 19 points and 39 minutes from its bench, including 17 and 22 respectively from Mike McGuirl.

Going in the tournament, McGuirl had appeared in all of eight games and scored 13 points. But when Cartier Diarra, K-State’s starting point guard, got in foul trouble, it was McGuirl that filled the void.

The Wildcats routinely have multiple options they can rely on. Dean Wade, Barry Brown, Xavier Sneed, Makol Mawien and Diarra have all led K-State in scoring in a game this season.

Defense

K-State’s defense has flown under the radar in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have held its two opponents to the fewest combined points (102) of any team left in the field.

On that end of the floor, Kansas State is led by “Lockdown” Brown. As Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star points out, Brown’s been a relentless defender for the Wildcats.

From the Star:

A reporter had a question for Brown … Are you the best one-on-one defender in the NCAA Tournament?

“Most definitely,” Brown answered, again without hesitation.

That’s a debatable statement, given the plethora of great defensive players that made the Big Dance. But he’s definitely in the conversation along with West Virginia guard Jevon Carter and Villanova stopper Mikal Bridges.

Brown’s primary matchups in the NCAA Tournament have been Creighton’s Marcus Foster and UMBC’s Jairus Lyles. The two players combined for just 17 points — including Foster’s season low of 5 — on 6-of-26 shooting.

“Barry isn’t the type of defender to take go hard for a while and then take plays off,” K-State junior Amaad Wainright said. “He just really locks in. You have to take out your best moves on Barry in every practice, because he can full speed for 1,000 possessions until he gets tired.”

Brown will likely be matched up with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky’s second-leading scorer.

Kansas State ranks in top 50 nationally in 3-point defense (32.7 percent) and scoring defense (66.9). Teams rarely light up the scoreboard for 80-plus against the Wildcats.

Dean

The biggest unknown for K-State heading into the Sweet 16 is how much Wade will value into the Wildcats’ equation against Kentucky.

Wade himself says he’s feeling up to the task of playing in his first game since missing the Big 12 Tournament semifinal against Kansas with a foot injury.

The native Kansan is arguably Kansas State’s best player. He’s a threat on the perimeter, shooting 44 percent on 3-pointers this season. He’s also got a solid arsenal of post moves, averages 6.3 rebounds per game and stands 6’10”.

He’d be the best matchup for Kentucky’s Kevin Knox, the leading scorer for Kansas State’s opponent.

If Wade is able to play, even on a minute cap, he provides a much-needed boost to the Wildcats’ lineup.

‘X’

Sneed, often referred to by teammates by his first initial “X,” gave K-State its biggest spark against UMBC.

In a defensive slugfest that saw both teams combine for 93 points, Sneed’s first big highlight came on a transition dunk led by his steal.

A few minutes later, he reached to the rafters for a vicious put-back slam.

While Sneed only had 8 points against UMBC, his 7 rebounds and 4 steals helped account for Wade’s absence. Over the course of the season, Sneed averages 10.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

Seldom mentioned in the same breath as Brown, Wade or even Diarra, Sneed has been a consistent presence offensively for K-State and is proving to be a spark plug in the postseason.

The post Kansas State’s Sweet 16 X-factors: depth, defense, Dean and ‘X’ appeared first on Diehards.

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