PREVIEW: Round of 32 vs. Kentucky

Kansas State guard Markquis Nowell goes in for a shot against Texas Christian University at Bramlage Coliseum on Feb. 7. K-State won 82-61. (Archive photo by Nichole Maryse Harris | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State Wildcats advance to the round of 32 for the first time in five years. Standing in their way is the Kentucky Wildcats, a historically successful program looking to take control of the East region.

Kentucky put together a respectable regular season, finishing third in the SEC with a 22-11 overall. For Kentucky, controlling the backboard will be key to victory. 

Forward Oscar Tshiebwe has played extremely well for the Wildcats averaging a double-double on the season with 16.2 points per game and 13.5 rebounds. Tshiebwe’s large 6-foot-9 frame makes him dangerous in the paint. 

Rebounding favors Kentucky, bolstering a frontcourt with size. Against Providence, Kentucky out-rebounded the Friars 48-31, led by Tshiebwe with a monstrous 25 rebound performance. K-State likes to control the pace of the game and maintaining control of the frontcourt will be key for K-State to not fall behind in the match.

Luckily for K-State, Kentucky posts one of the lowest shooting percentages in the SEC with 36.5%. If K-State makes smart shots and continues to share the ball as they did against Montana State, they should have the advantage in scoring.

Fouling for the Wildcats was a problem early against Montana State, limiting the time for starting players and keeping the game close. K-State must keep Kentucky away from the free-throw line to stay ahead.

Shooting from beyond the arch favors K-State with guard Markquis Nowell continuing to be dangerous from range. Nowell began the night against the Bobcats relatively quiet but quickly gained confidence in his shot leading into the second half.

Nowell and forward Keyontae Johnson continue to be the bread and butter of the K-State offense, but an emphasis on post players such as David N’Guessan and Abayomi Iyiola will dictate defensive success. Iyiola provided substantial defensive minutes against Montana State with paint disruption and forcing turnovers.

Limiting turnovers continues to be an emphasis for K-State’s offense, despite committing 14 against the Bobcats.

K-State looks to survive and advance to its first Sweet 16 since 2018. This would also be the team’s first Sweet 16 appearance under head coach Jerome Tang if they take care of business against a tough blue-blood opponent at 1:40 p.m. on Sunday.