PREVIEW: Pack returns for men’s basketball’s second round with No. 2 Baylor

Freshman guard Nijel Pack attempts to get a pass off in K-State's last game against Baylor on Dec. 19, 2020. The Wildcats fell to Baylor in that last meeting 100-69. (Photo Courtesy of Scott Weaver)

After dealing with injuries and COVID-19 issues during the last two months, the Kansas State men’s basketball team was close to being at full strength in Saturday’s game against West Virginia. The result? The Wildcats recording their most turnovers in a game since 2002 and their lowest point total since 2019 while dropping their sixth straight game.

Their missing piece on Saturday? Nijel Pack.

The good news is that the freshman phenom point guard will make his return to the court on Wednesday night. The bad news is that it will be against arguably one of the best teams in the nation, No. 2 Baylor — a team that beat K-State 100-69 in their last meeting.

Previewing their last meeting on Dec. 19, 2020 Weber could only describe the Bears as “a nightmare.”

“They’re a very, very good team,” Weber said. “We got home about 2 Wednesday morning from Iowa State. By the time I got to bed, I couldn’t fall asleep. I started watching film, and I texted our coaches. I said they’re scary good. I’m awake, but it’s like a nightmare.”

To put it into perspective, the Bears rank in the top 10 in seven statistics, including first in scoring margin with an average victory coming by over 24 points. Baylor also averages a Big 12 Conference-best 86.1 points per game and has four players that average double-digit scoring per game, including junior guard Jared Butler who averages 17.1 points per game, the fourth-highest in the Big 12.

If their scoring ability doesn’t scare teams, then it is their defense that should. The Bears are second in the Big 12 in scoring defense, holding teams to around 62 points per game while also averaging just over nine steals per game which is fifth in the country.

For a team that just gave up their most turnovers in a game since 2002, this is a major problem.

Even with the odds stacked against K-State, the Wildcats are catching Baylor in one of their toughest stretches of the year and it has shown. After winning each game by double digits, the Bears have won two out of their last three by just eight points and even trailed for 28 minutes in their most recent victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday.

While that still might not lead to K-State pulling off the massive upset in Waco, Texas, on Wednesday night, there are still some factors in the game that might lead to K-State being more competitive — including the return of Pack.

While Pack has been out for four straight games due to COVID-19 protocols, K-State has averaged just 54.5 points on 38.4 percent shooting. Having the freshman point guard back should lead to a more efficient offense.

“It will be a great help,” freshman Selton Miguel said after Saturday’s loss. “He definitely is a leader. He’s definitely our point guard. He executes the plays the coaches have for us. He’ll make us better … better shooters, too. He will definitely help us.”

Even while being out, Pack is still second on the team in scoring, averaging 10.7 points per game and the team’s most efficient three-point shooter, shooting at a 37.7 percent clip.

It will be his minutes that Weber is worried about on Wednesday night though. Having not played for 17 days going into the West Virginia game on Saturday, Weber really wanted to focus on getting him conditioned for Wednesday night’s contest.

“He’ll be back,” Weber said on Saturday. “But obviously he hasn’t played for 17 days and I’ll work him out tomorrow [Sunday] and get conditioning, and two good days of practice and hope he can fight through 15-20 minutes which will hopefully help us in the long run.”

Normally averaging just over 32 minutes in each of the 12 games that he has played in, that type of drop in minutes is not what you would hope for in a game against the No. 2 team in the country. But the Wildcats will take any time they can get from the young star, having him on the court drastically improves their offensive attack.

Baylor has won the last three meetings against K-State and hasn’t trailed in either of those competitions. For Weber, Wednesday night’s game simply can’t be any worse than their last meeting in December.

“We lost by infinity last time … I’m not sure you can get higher than infinity,” Weber said.

Tip-off for Wednesday night’s game is set for 8 p.m. on ESPN2.

Hey! I’m Cameron Bradley and I am the sports editor for the Collegian! I am a junior from Wichita, Kansas, and I am majoring in journalism. When I’m not working for the Collegian, I’m creating content and putting on broadcasts with K-StateHD.TV. I am also currently a member of the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity. I love sports, spending time with friends, family and doing everything that I do for the glory of God!