PREVIEW: What’s to come for the Wildcats in the Big 12/SEC Challenge

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Freshman guard DaJuan Gordon shoots a three pointer during the game against the Universtiy of Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 21, 2020. The Wildcats fell to the Jayhawks with a final score of 81-60. (Sabrina Cline | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State:

K-State is a much younger team this year after losing three key seniors after last year’s Big 12 regular-season title.

Despite the youth, the Wildcats can be unstoppable if everything clicks, otherwise, games can sometimes get out of control.

That really showed this past week for the Wildcats, who defeated No. 14 West Virginia last Saturday handily 84-68, but then turned around and had an abysmal performance at No. 3 Kansas on Tuesday night, losing 81-60.

This year, K-State has relied on the play of senior forward Xavier Sneed who leads the team in points per game with 14.7 and also rebounds per game with 4.7.

The Wildcats are also led by redshirt junior guard Cartier Diarra who leads the team in assists per game with 5.1 as well as steals per game with 1.7.

The inexperience and struggles of the Wildcats really started to show once they got into the beef of the schedule, starting off the season at 4-0 and going 4-10 since, including an 0-4 start in Big 12 play, finding themselves near the bottom of the Big 12 standings.

The frustration of the season boiled over on Tuesday night as players from both Kansas State and Kansas were involved in an altercation before the final buzzer. The altercation resulted in a three-game suspension for freshman forward Antonio Gordon as well as an eight-game suspension for redshirt junior forward James Love once he is medically cleared for competition.

The Wildcats will look to put things back together on Saturday with the break from conference play.

Alabama:

The Crimson Tide is a team opposite of K-State coming into the Big 12/SEC Challenge, hitting their stride in conference play and struggling at the start of the season.

After starting off the season at 2-4 with a season-opening loss to Penn, the Crimson Tide has since gone 9-3 and are currently on a 3-game winning streak including a massive 77-62 victory over No. 16 Auburn last Wednesday.

Alabama is led by junior guard John Petty Jr. who leads them in points per game with 16.7 as well as rebounds per game with 7.3, having four double-doubles currently on the season.

Behind him is sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr. who leads the team in assists per game with 4.6 and steals per game with 1.7, and is not too far behind Petty Jr. in points per game with 16.3, a solid duo for the Crimson Tide.

In a tough SEC conference, Alabama lies in the middle of the pack, falling to Florida and No. 15 Kentucky, but getting victories over Mississippi State as well as Auburn has kept them among the top contenders for the SEC.

Their most recent SEC victory was over foe Vanderbilt, defeating the Commodores 77-62 in a game that saw Petty Jr. earn his fourth double-double of the season with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Never trailing in the game the Crimson Tide have now only trailed for 3:14 across their past three games.

Alabama looks to keep their hot streak going with a big victory over a Big 12 opponent on Saturday.

Things to watch for:

It will be interesting to see how the Wildcats respond to the antics and loss to KU on Tuesday.

The Wildcats will be in the national spotlight for the second time on ESPN2, and with all of the talk about the situation on Tuesday, one thing to look out for is how the Wildcats will respond to adversity when it hits on Saturday.

The performance of Cartier Diarra and freshman guard DaJuan Gordon for K-State will be huge in determining the outcome of Saturday’s contest.

Both teams fell in their respective games in the Big 12/SEC Challenge last season, with K-State falling to Texas A&M 65-53, while Alabama fell to Baylor 73-68.

Check out all of the action at 5:00 p.m. CT on Saturday on ESPN2.

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