TUCSON, AZ - MARCH 17: Shane Southwell #1, Jacob Pullen #0, Will Spradling #55, and Curtis Kelly #24 of the Kansas State Wildcats watch as the Utah State Aggies take a free throw for a technical foul during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at McKale Center on March 17, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Date: Saturday, March 19
Time: around 8:40 PM EST (about 30 minutes after the Temple vs. San Diego State game ends)
It's been a crazy season for the Kansas State Wildcats. Back in November they were considered a top-5 team with national title aspirations. Expectations cooled off a little bit after a decent (but not great) non-conference slate that included losses to Duke, Florida and UNLV but wins over Virginia Tech, Gonzaga and Washington State. When the conference schedule started, things got really dicey, as the Wildcats suffered losses in 4 of their first 5 games and looked like a bigger preseason bust than Michigan State. The tide didn't really start to turn for K-State until mid-February when they hosted rival Kansas following their second loss to Colorado. Stunningly, Kansas State crushed the Jayhawks 84-68 and the Octagon came alive, boosting K-State to five more wins in a row to end the regular season, including an A+ road win at Texas.
However, the Cats came back down to earth as they lost to Colorado for a third time in a quick Big XII tournament exit. That slight hiccup, though, did not stop Kansas State from winning their first NCAA Tournament game, as they defeated Utah State on Thursday night behind 22 points and 5 assists from Jacob Pullen.
The Wisconsin Badgers had a much more balanced season than K-State, but they came into the tournament cold. A clunker at Ohio State and a close-but-ugly loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament had a lot of experts picking Belmont to upset Bucky in the first round of the dance. However, the underdogs from Nashville failed to fulfill that prophecy, as Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor got back on track with a combined 43 points on 12/25 shooting. The floppy-haired Mike Bruesewitz pitched in with 8 points and 9 rebounds while Jared Berggren made a surprise appearance with two clutch 3's down the stretch.
This game should turn out to be quite the rebounding battle as Kansas State excels at grabbing their own misses, while Wisconsin is great on the defensive glass. If Leuer, Bruesewitz and company can keep the Wildcats from second chances, they have a great chance to advance to regionals. Curtis Kelly, Rodney McGruder and Jamar Samuels are all great sources of rebounds for K-State, so look out for the trio battling Badger forwards under the rim.
The turnover battle should be interesting tonight because K-State gives up the ball a lot, but Wisconsin is so bad at forcing opponents to do the same that it might just balance out. On defense, K-State is good at forcing turnovers, but Wisconsin is the best in the nation at holding onto the ball.
Obviously, the #1 guy to watch on Kansas State is Jacob Pullen, who is averaging 19.6 points per game. He only shoots 42% from the field overall, but his 37% average from 3-point range can definitely hurt the Badgers, who are vulnerable from long range. Rodney McGruder is even more efficient from beyond the arc with 41% accuracy. He's also K-State's second leading scorer with 11.4 ppg and their leading rebounder with 6 per game. Curtis Kelly serves as the inside finisher/enforcer with 10.5 ppg on 54% shooting and 1.4 blocks per game.
We're expecting a very competitive game from Tucson this evening. Can Kansas State continue the roll they have been on since February and become the team they were expected to be? Will the Badgers get some respect back after they seemingly lost favor with everyone in America following their 36-33 loss to Penn State? We can't wait to find out.