Kansas State Wildcats
Record: (20-10, 10-6 Big 12)
Key Wins: California, @ Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Kansas
Key Losses: Oregon, @ Missouri, @ Nebraska, @ Texas Tech
Key Stat: 41.7. The number of rebounds Kansas State averages per game. (5th best in the country)
Biggest Strengths: Michael Beasley and Swagger. Sure, Michael Beasley is just one player, but look me square in the eyes and tell me that Kansas State doesn’t have one of the greatest strengths going into the tournament. Remember, this is the same 18 year old freshman who proclaimed earlier this year that his team would beat Kansas again at their place after upsetting the Jayhawks at their place during the early half of the season. Like Durant was for Texas, Beasley gives Kansas State a swagger that is undeniable to those who watch the Wildcats on a weekly basis. Beasley might be one of only two or three players in the country that can take his team, put them on his back and win a game. He’s just that great a talent. When you have a player of Beasley’s caliber who can make things happen, you start to get that feeling that any team is beatable.
Biggest Weakness: Lack of Tournament veterans. Kansas State is stepping into uncharted territory. For the first time since 1996, the Wildcats look like they’re headed back to the NCAA Tournament. Now for many that would be reason to celebrate, but when you have talents like Beasley and Bill Walker on the team, just making the Tournament won’t cut it. It’s too bad Kansas State is missing the one key ingredient to make that run a reality, and that would be having a player on the team that has played in the Tournament.
Having guys that have been there before makes it easier when you step on the floor for that opening round game. Kansas State is a relative newbie to the Tournament again, and that could really hurt them against a feisty mid-major that’s been to the tournament the last couple of years.
Most Important Player: Michael Beasley. He’s the National and Big 12 Player of the Year, averaged 26.5 points this season (third best in the nation), and 12.5 rebounds (best in the nation). Honestly, what more is there that you can say about the guy that everyone knows about? Beasley is the one player on the court that has to every team has trouble covering. Whether he’s boxing out on a rebound, or cutting to the hoop, Beasley just has a knack for making the game look easy.
X-Factor: Bill Walker. He’s what I like to call Michael Beasley Jr. Sure that sounds silly to call a guy who played basketball with O.J. Mayo an understudy to Beasley, however, I doubt Walker would be bothered by the compliment. Walker is currently averaging 16 points and over 6 rebounds, and has broken the 30-point mark on three different occasions this season. He plays a huge role for the ‘Cats due in large part to the fact that he forces teams to make a choice: do you double Beasley and leave Walker open, or do you try and play Russian Roulette by playing them in a man-to-man. Now that’s a decision I don’t think any coach wants to deal with.
Might Lose When….Michael Beasley gets in early foul trouble. If the rest of the nation learned anything from the Kansas State/Kansas game at Allen Fieldhouse earlier this season, it’s that Michael Beasley can be held in check. The only thing you need to do is make sure you go after him early and often on the offensive end of the floor. Kansas showed just how to get it done when they knocked the fabulous frosh out of the game early, built up a big lead and then held on until the end. It might sound like a stretch, but the quicker you can get Beasley out, the better. Either that, or you might want to consider paying a couple college kids to pull the old gag from the movie Celtic Pride. I’m not condoning kidnapping, but you know what they always say: win at all costs.
Might Surprise You With…their guards. Clent Stewart and Jacob Pullen might not be household names, but sometimes that isn’t a bad thing. On a team where Beasley and Walker rule the roost, the two guards continue to go unnoticed. Both are averaging three assists per game and over 24 minutes, while keeping the Wildcats cool and collected in pressure situations. Neither guard currently shoots well from the floor — both are shooting under 40 percent from the field — but when you have a great forward tandem like they do, those numbers really don’t matter.
Predicted Finish in the NCAA’s: Sweet 16. Michael Beasley alone can help Kansas State make a run through the first round, but it will be Pullen and Stewart — not Beasley — that pushes the team in the Sweet 16. From there these Wildcats will face pressure the likes of which they’ve never seen. In the end it all boils down to the simple question: have you been in this position before? I can tell you every player on the team would answer with a resounding, NO. Regardless, a Sweet 16 run will be something to be proud of.
Editor’s Note: I’m personally not convinced that K-State can win a game in the NCAAs. I’ll admit to not watching the Wildcats as often as Jonathan this year, but in the games I have watched, it’s been Beasley and very little else. A good defensive coach should be able to scheme to keep Beasley under control, and then it’ll be up to the supporting cast not to choke. Given that they’re staring an 8/9 seed squarely in the face, even if they get past the first round, they should be overwhelmed by the #1 seed in the next game.