Coach Mick Cronin and the Cincinnati Bearcats coaching staff can now put all of their attention to scouting Kansas State. Cronin told a crowd of reporters yesterday that he assigned Larry Davis to scout Kansas State and assistant coach Antwon Jackson to scout Wake Forest. The Wildcats beat Wake Forest on Tuesday night in the opening round of the NCAA tournament and will face the Bearcats on Friday night. Jackson can presumably now turn his attention to Kansas State, too.
Given that the Bearcats haven’t faced Kansas State since 1968, let’s take some time to examine what we know about the Wildcats.
Record: 21-13 overall, 8-10 Big 12 Conference
Good Wins: at Oklahoma State, vs. West Virginia, at Baylor, at TCU, vs. Texas Tech, vs. Baylor (neutral)
Bad Losses: at Oklahoma by 30
KenPom Overall: 28
KenPom Offense: 43
KenPom Defense: 29
Location: Manhattan, Kansa
Coach: Bruce Weber
Kamau Stokes is a very skilled passer. He’s especially adept at finding big men cutting towards the basket off of a pick and roll. He’s creative, but also a little reckless. He turns the ball over an average of 2.9 times per game, and has had several games this season where he’s had five or more turnovers. Even in Tuesday’s win over Wake Forest he ended up with more turnovers (5) than assists (3). He’s a solid three-point shooter, hitting 36.8% of his shots from behind the arc. He takes an average of five three-pointers a game, and has the ability to carry the team offensively and hit clutch shots.
Barry Brown is a solid scorer, but he struggles defensively and shoots just 61.5 percent from the free throw line. He often gets caught out of position, and doesn’t close out strong on three-point shooters. I’ve seen several instances of him lazily running up to someone taking a three-pointer. The Wildcats switch into zone at times depending on who they’re playing, and he’s certainly a weak spot in a zone defense.
Wesley Iwundu is probably Kansas State’s most complete, and most talented player. He’s always been an excellent defensive player, and has developed into an above average offensive player in the past two years. I see a lot of similarities between Iwundu and Kevin Johnson, but Iwundu has the more impressive frame, body type and offensive abilities.
Style of Play
The Wildcats remind me quite a bit of the Houston Cougars. They have a couple of small, quick guards in Brown and Stokes capable of beating their defender off of the dribble, similar to Houston’s Galen Robinson and Rob Gray. Neither player has the scoring ability of Gray, but Brown certainly has his quickness. Like the Cougars, the Wildcats struggle defensively at times, and lack the kind of size necessary to contain Cincinnati’s front court. I think the best word to use to describe their defense is ‘uninspired’. They lack urgency on screens and close outs, and Brown’s subpar footwork allows quick guards to get by with relative ease.
Kansas State is not shy to shoot three pointers. Stokes and Brown lead the way, and Xavier Snead and even Iwundu will take a few threes per game. Dean Wade, the Wildcats’ 6’10” sophomore, is their lone inside/outside threat. Wade shoots 40.4 percent from behind the three-point line, but is more selective than Stokes and Brown.
This is definitely a winnable game for the Bearcats. It certainly won’t be easy, but Gary Clark and Kyle Washington should have plenty of opportunities to score against this team. Wade and DJ Johnson will struggle to contain those two, and that should hopefully open up space behind the arc. As I mentioned earlier, the Wildcats struggle to close out on three-pointers, so the Bearcats could be in for several lightly contested shots. Kansas State’s carelessness with the basketball is another reason Bearcats fans should be optimistic about their chances. Against a lesser team it might not be a big issue, but Cincinnati’s defense is too good, and too aggressive. They will undoubtedly make Stokes pay when he tries to get a little too creative.