The Big 12 Conference co-champions, your very own Kansas State Wildcats, are dancing in the NCAA Tournament once again for the 31st time in school history.
The Wildcats were selected as the fourth seed in the South Region and will face the 13th-seeded University of California, Irvine on Friday at 1 p.m. central time on TBS.
UC Irvine is the automatic bid out of the Big West Conference after claiming the conference tournament in a dominating 92-64 victory over California State Fullerton. UC Irvine boasts a 30-5 record entering the tournament, and it is one of five teams entering the NCAA Tournament with 30 or more wins this season.
Additionally, the UC Irvine Anteaters are currently on a 16-game winning streak. Their last loss came on Jan. 16 in an 80-70 loss to Long Beach State.
K-State and UC Irvine both played Texas A&M on the road. The Aggies defeated the Wildcats 65-53
The Wildcats were defeated by the Aggies 65-53 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, but the Anteaters narrowly defeated Texas A&M 74-73 in early non-conference play.
The Wildcats are loaded with tournament experience, with the starting five players projected to be the exact same starters as the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
However, K-State will be without senior forward Dean Wade for the second year in a row because Wade is listed as “doubtful” for the entire tournament due to a foot injury.
The Anteaters have a height advantage, starting two true forwards with 6-foot-8-inch junior forward Tommy Rutherford and 6-foot-10-inch graduate student forward Jonathan Galloway. Galloway leads the team with an average of eight rebounds per game.
The Anteaters also rank third in the country in total rebounds, and average 40.3 rebounds per game — 11th in the nation. Without Wade, this could create a problem for the Wildcats; Wade led K-State with 6.2 average rebounds per game.
In terms of scoring, UC Irvine averages 72.9 points per game and limits opponents to an average of 63.3 points per game.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats average 65.8 points per game, but they have limited opponents to 59.2 average points per game, which ranks third in scoring defense in the nation.
The two teams do not shoot 3-pointers particularly well. K-State is entering the matchup shooting with a 33.6 percent success rate, while the Anteaters are shooting 36.1 percent.
Senior guard Barry Brown and senior guard Kamau Stokes are both leading the Wildcats in scoring. Brown leads the team with 14.9 average points per game, and Stokes averages 10.8 points per game.
Junior guard Max Hazzard leads the Anteaters with 12.5 average points per game, and Even Leonard is second with 11.1 average points per game.
The points from the players on the bench will be crucial in this matchup. UC Irvine gets more balanced scoring off the bench, whereas K-State relies on the starting five for points.
On UC Irvine’s bench, freshman forward Collin Welp averages 8.9 points per game, and junior guard Eyassu Worku averages 7.5 points per game. The closet duo off the bench for Wildcats is sophomore guard Mike McGuirl and junior forward Austin Trice. McGuirl averages 3.5 points per game and Trice averages 1.9 points per game.
The winner of this matchup will face the winner of fifth-seeded Wisconsin and 12th-seeded Oregon on Sunday.