Nebraska at Kansas State, 7 p.m. CT, ESPN3
The Huskers and Wildcats meet up for the first time this season, with both teams traveling in surprisingly different directions. I almost feel dirty for saying this considering the game is in Manhattan (where K-State has been unbeatable recently), but the matchup does not look favorable for Kansas State. This will be my first foray into the world of advanced basketball stats (I have enough trouble with baseball) so bear with me.
It seems simple: Nebraska has been exceedingly effective on defense this season. According to kenpom.com, they’ve held opponents to 30.1% from three point shots and 41.4% from shots within the three point line. Those numbers are good for 22nd and 8th best in the country, respectively. Texas, as a comparison, has been playing elite-level defense, holding opponents to 27.2% from three (3rd best) and 39.5% from two (also 3rd best). Basically the metrics confirm what the eyeballs suggest, Nebraska is a good defensive team and they’ve been playing like it all season.
On the flip side of that coin, Kansas State hasn’t gotten it down on offense this year. Their 2 point percentage ranks 237th in the country (46%) and of their players that log significant minutes, only Curtis Kelly is making over 50% of his field goals.
Jorge Brian Diaz (16 points against A&M) may not find it as easy inside against the K-State frontline of Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels. Despite the Kansas debacle, in which Marcus Morris and Thomas Robinson ran wild, K-State’s frontline had done a decent defense job recently against Baylor and A&M. The Diaz-Kelly matchup will be pivotal…that is if Frank Martin lets Kelly play.
After the spanking K-State got in Lawrence Saturday and the Wally Judge situation earlier this week, who knows where the team’s collective psych is. Perhaps it’ll all inspire the team and they’ll go on a nice run. Or they could just easily keep slipping in what is already a hugely disappointing year. Either way I’ll be interested to see how K-State responds to all the adversity and what their body language looks like early in this game. I hate analyzing the mental makeup of people I’ve never met, but their has been a soap opera going on in Manhattan this season and I’m drawn in.
Bottom line: When Jacob Pullen got benched earlier in the year, the big story was Martin coming out and saying that he wasn’t ready to lead. The Wildcats are in a low place right now and Pullen’s leadership certainly will be put to the test the rest of the way. This is the type of game that I could see Pullen going out and showing why he was a pre-season All-American. But I think enough games have been played that the identities of both of these teams are solidly set. Nebraska has proven it can play well in tough environments this season and I think this is a road game they grab. I’ll take the Huskers to win 55-51.