9:10 PM EST, tru TV – Line: Kansas State -2, Over/Under: 149
Before the 2017 NCAA Tournament begins in all it’s chaotic glory, there are a quartet of play-in games to get out of the way, with the first pair of tilts highlighted by a clash between the Kansas State Wildcats and Wake Forest Demon Deacons for the right to face Sixth-Seeded Cincinnati in the Round of 64 on Thursday. As is the case with most major conference teams competing in this particular round, Kansas State (20-13, 6th in Big XII) was indeed lucky just to get into the dance, as it seemed they did everything within their power to NOT receive an invitation over the past two and a half months of the campaign. Returning to the Tourney after a two-year absence, the 2016-2017 season has been a tale of two halves for Bruce Weber’s charges, who began the year winning twelve of their first thirteen contests, with their only loss being a narrow 69-68 defeat against Maryland, but finished it as losers of eleven of their final nineteen outings heading into the Big XII Tournament. Thankfully, the Wildcats made the most of their opportunity in the league tourney, toppling eventual Three-Seed Baylor (70-64) before nearly pulling another upset, this time over West Virginia (51-50). It was a case of better late than never for these guys, who for all intents and purposes had quite a hard time once they got into the Big XII portion of their schedule, where they managed a mediocre 8-10 record. Simply put, this is NOT an efficient team on either end of the floor, particularly on the offensive end where they average 71.7 points per game, ranking 213th out 351 teams in Division 1 Basketball. Furthermore, they rank third-worst in the conference in Field Goal Shooting (44.0%), and next-to-last in Field Goal Percentage Allowed (46.8%), while getting outrebounded by 2.9 boards a night. The main issue is that they play at such a slow pace, forcing their opponent to maximize their offensive possessions, but at the same time they too fall victim to their own machinations. Basically, the uglier that Kansas State make a game, the better off they’re going to be; the Wildcats force 15.3 turnovers per game (2nd in Big XII) and practically live at the Free-Throw Line, shooting a league-best 22.8 Free-Throws (1syt in Big XII), netting 16.4 of them, second-most in the conference. The triumvirate of Wesley Iwundu (12.5 PTS, 47.5% FG, 35.9% 3FG, 6.4 REB, 3.4 AST, 1.0 STL), Kamau Stokes (11.6 PTS, 35.5% FG, 35.6% 3FG, 2.6 REB, 4.3 AST, 1.1 STL), D.J. Johnson (11.2 PTS, 61.5% FG, 5.8 REB, 1.5 BLK) have each attempted at least eighty freebies in league play, with Iwundu shooting 140 on the season as a whole. In the Big XII Tournament win over Baylor, they outscored the favored Bears 45-39 in the Second Half, largely on the strength of their work at the Charity Stripe, where they knocked down 18-of-27 attempts (66.7%), five more than their opponent. This, however did not translate the following night against West Virginia, where despite racing out to a 25-16 Halftime lead, K State visibly ran out of gas against the Mountaineers’ press, getting outscored 35-25 over the final twenty minutes of action. Weber watched his troops make just nine of their sixteen free-throws (56.3%), while also clanking all but five of their twenty-one attempts from beyond the arc (23.8%). In both instances, the Wildcats managed to slow the opposition down considerably, relegating both offenses to sub-40.0% shooting from the field, which is something that they’ll have to do once again against Wake Forest, who as we’ll get into shortly, are capable of creating quite a few problems on that particular end of the court.
Meanwhile, it’s been a significantly longer wait for Wake Forest (19-13, 10th in ACC), who after six years without an NCAA Tournament appearance are finally back in the Big Dance, though they too had to fret over their proverbial bubble bursting over the course of Selection Sunday. Throughout the campaign, the Atlantic Coast Conference was heralded by many as the top conference in College Basketball with eight teams getting invites to the Tourney, while the Demon Deacons managed to sneak in with a 9-9 league record. However, Danny Manning’s charges made the most of their opportunities late, knocking off a pair of NCAA Tournament participants, Louisville (88-81) and Virginia Tech (89-84), in the final week of the Regular Season. Against the defensively stout Cardinals, the Deacons got hot from beyond the arc, netting 10-of-24 attempts from three (41.7%), while getting to the Charity Stripe at will, attempting a whopping thirty-six free-throws, calmly knocking down twenty-six of them (72.2%). The home side outscored their opponent by a combined twenty-three points in those respective categories, as Sophomore Forward John Collins (18.9 PTS, 62.0% FG, 9.8 REB, 1.6 BLK) scored a game-high twenty-five points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field (58.3%), along with eleven rebounds, a steal, and a pair of blocks. The Bench also factored heavily into the victory for Manning, accounting for a total of forty-six points, outscoring Louisville’s reserves by eighteen points, with Keyshawn Woods (12.8 PTS, 50.2% FG, 45.8% 3FG, 4.3 REB, 3.5 AST) contributing with twenty points on Senior Night at Lawrence Joel Coliseum. As we stated earlier, Wake Forest is a team that can cause quite a bit of problems for an opponent on the offensive end of the court, ranking second in the ACC in scoring (81.6) on 46.1% shooting (5th in ACC), while dishing out a stellar 14.9 assists (3rd Overall). That’s impressive considering uber-talented teams such as North Carolina and Duke also inhabit the conference as well. Like Kansas State, this is also a team that absolutely lives as the Charity Stripe; no team in the league attempts (24.2) or makes (18.7) more free-throws than these guys, while shooting a healthy 77.2% (3rd Overall) in the process. In fact, Collins alone has attempted 212 freebies on the season. However, as good as these guys have been on the offensive end of the floor, they’ve left an awful lot to be desired on the defensive end, for they’ve allowed 80.3 points (13th in ACC) on 46.2% shooting from the field (8th in ACC), including a miserable 52.5% from within the three-point arc (13th in ACC), while permitting 14.9 assists (11th in ACC). Simply put, good offensive teams are capable of torching this group, but nothing compares to their inability to keep their opponents off the Free-Throw Line. Wake Forest has committed more Personal Fouls than any team in the conference (360), relinquishing 17.1 points from the Stripe in league play (14th in ACC), which is NOT something you want on your resume’ before you play a team like Kansas State.