Backcourt: One of the Wildcat’s well-known traits is that, more than likely, the leading scorers are going to change from game to game. With recent wins against top-ranked teams such as Florida and Oklahoma State, that point has been illustrated well. Junior guard Will Spradling had a season-high 17 points against the Gators and senior guard Rodney McGruder scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half against Oklahoma State.
Add in Angel Rodriguez’s performances in non-conference play, and it makes it even more obvious. Facing a Kansas team that has one of the country’s top scorers in freshman Ben McLemore will offer the K-State back court plenty of challenges. Senior guards Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson anchor the Jayhawks’ backcourt and have helped guide Kansas back into the top five nationally. McLemore has yet to find consistency outside of the confines of Allen Fieldhouse and containing him will be imperative for the Wildcats.
Frontcourt: The development of Kansas senior center Jeff Withey has been one of the biggest stories in the past three seasons of college basketball. The senior has grown into one of the most productive big men nationwide and, most impressively, stays out of foul trouble better than most players at any position. After pairing with All-American Thomas Robinson one year ago, Withey has worked in the frontcourt with senior forward Kevin Young. Although skilled in multiple areas, Young hasn’t offered the Jayhawks as much as recent big men that have moved through the program.
The Wildcats have been using a smaller rotation this season, with senior center Jordan Henriquez and sophomore forward Thomas Gipson as the main contributors. Henriquez has been working as a reserve and that has forced junior forward Shane Southwell to guard multiple positions all around the floor. Withey has the capability of filling the stat sheet in multiple areas, and the Wildcats will have to limit his production.
Reserves: In his opening season at K-State, Weber has spread minutes deep into his bench with 11 players averaging at least 11 minutes per game. The rotation has worked itself down in conference play, but the production of forwards Nino Williams and Jordan Henriquez is crucial to K-State’s success moving forward. Both players offer matchup difficulties at their respective positions, and when facing a team as talented as Kansas, playing within their individual roles will be vital.
Kansas will bring three off its bench and the top three reserves of each team will more than likely match up against one another on the floor. Sophomore point guard Naadir Tharpe is third on the team with 41 assists. All three players, Tharpe and freshman forwards Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor, have faced inconsistencies and the senior experience of the Wildcats will be a determining factor.
Coach: After replacing Bill Self at Illinois in 2003, Bruce Weber took over an Illini program that Self is credited most with developing. The two coaches were able to face off in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, but with Weber now joining Self in the Big 12 Conference, the matchup will be watched even closer. Self carried an impressive 283-54 resume along with eight straight conference championships into this season, but his record moving forward against Weber will be scrutinized as much, if not more, than any other opposing coach in his Kansas tenure.
Prediction: Since an early December loss to Gonzaga, the Wildcats have established an ability to win by any means necessary. They may not all be pretty, but K-State has capitalized and has been able to win. With the program solidifying itself into the top 20, an opportunity to knock off the Jayhawks is available and the Wildcats will get it done. The senior trio of Rodney McGruder, Jordan Henriquez and Martavious Irving will provide the necessary push to give K-State a season-defining win in their final Wildcat campaign.
FINAL SCORE: K-State 68, Kansas 63