Kansas State vs Oregon
Ernie Kent’s Oregon Ducks enter this matchup with aspirations of winning the Pac-10 Title. And why not? The team returns the nucleus from last season’s Elite Eight squad, which was eliminated by the eventual national champion Florida Gators.
Maarty Leunen anchors the Ducks in the post, leading the team in rebounding and second on the squad in scoring. Senior wing Malik Hairston leads the team in scoring at nearly 20 points per game. However, Oregon’s attack is not limited to these two players. Tajuan Porter, Bryce Taylor, and Joevan Catron are also double-figure scorers for Oregon. As a team, the Ducks average just over 93 points per outing.
Headed for that Pac-10 title, right? Maybe not. There are roadblocks known as UCLA and Washington St., two pretty talented top-10 teams, in the conference.
However, the Ducks need not worry about these roadblocks as much as they need to learn to create roadblocks; as in for opposing teams. Oregon’s defense is lacking, to put it tactfully. Giving up 76 points a game is not going to get it done over the course of the season. The good thing is Oregon realizes its collective problem. Here’s hoping Ernie Kent figures out how to get his squad to play some solid defense in this contest and beyond.
On the other side, first-year head coach Frank Martin has the task of replacing the long-tenured Bob Huggins at Kansas State, simultaneously continuing the historical success of the program while balancing the egos of players headed to the NBA at some point. Oh wait a second, Huggy Bear stayed but one season in the other Manhattan, leading K-State to an NIT bid. So much for that tradition to uphold. But, the talented NBA players are still there for the Wildcats.
By now, many of heard of and maybe even seen super-frosh Michael Beasley play. Kudos to Huggins, Martin, and the Kansas State administration for making sure their squad was lined up for a solid non-conference slate this season, garnering national exposure for the program. Already having played in the Old Spice Classic, the Wildcats have games upcoming at Notre Dame, versus California, and at Xavier.
Beasley leads Kansas State in points, rebounds, blocks, field-goal percentage, and three-point field-goal percentage per game. Exactly the opposite of Oregon’s balanced scoring attack, everything is going through Beasley for K-State. And why not? Many have pegged the fabulous frontcourt player at the likely first overall pick in next June’s NBA Draft.
The other NBA talent suiting up for Kansas State is Bill Walker, a 6-6 wing from Cincinnati. Once he becomes completely healthy, the 1-2 punch of Beasley and Walker should be enough to get this team to the NCAA Tournament. At that point, maybe they will lay groundwork of tradition for this program.
Big Picture: Barring catastrophic injuries, both Oregon and Kansas State should be NCAA Tournament teams come March. Each has talent and will have solid resumes for the committee to review. Each should also finish in the top half of good conferences.
This is definitely a game that will be looked at for seeding purposes by the selection committee. A road win here for Oregon in what will be a tough, hyped environment on national television would be huge. For Kansas State, protecting its home court against a Pac-10 squad would be a feather in their cap. The prerediction is that the Wildcats do just that, clamping down defensively and getting production from the entire team to support a solid effort from the star freshmen.