March Madness

2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (8) Kentucky vs. (9) Kansas St.

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Kentucky Wildcats 24-10, 12-6

Coming into the season there was legitimate speculation nationwide over whether the Wildcats could run the table and potentially go undefeated en route to winning the NCAA championship; that’s how much hype there was surrounding their recruiting class. Now they’re going to be pointed to as the reason why we should never make those kinds of predictions or place expectations that large on such a young squad, no matter how talented they are. It took three games for the Wildcats’ chances at an undefeated season to be eliminated. As they make their 54th NCAA Tournament appearance and fourth under head coach John Calipari, the talk of them winning their ninth national championship has significantly diminished. They played the fourth most difficult schedule in the country and went 4-5 against the RPI top 50, falling twice to Florida. Their best win came back on December 28 against Louisville. In the interior, the Wildcats have two of the best big men in the country in Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein. However, their perimeter play has been inconsistent and frankly disappointing for most of the year. The Wildcats lack three-point shooting threats to keep the floor spaced properly on offense, turn it over in excess and just have poor ball movement in general. They only average 11.5 assists as a team, which is in the bottom 100 nationally. With another year, Cal may have been able to turn this team into the powerhouse many expected them to be, but he doesn’t have that kind of time. The majority of them will be gone after the next loss, which could come much sooner than Big Blue Nation would like if the chemistry and consistency issues rear their ugly head again.

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Kansas State Wildcats 20-12, 10-8

Losers of three straight, the Wildcats aren’t entering their 28th NCAA Tournament with a lot of momentum, but with a 7-8 record against the RPI top 50 they know they can play with the nation’s best. Bruce Weber is in his second year at the helm of the Wildcats’ program and he has this year’s squad defending at a very high level. The Wildcats, who played the 38th most difficult schedule in the country, surrender just 64.9 points a night and are particularly tough out on the perimeter, where the opposition connected on just 28.8 percent of their treys on the year. Weber regularly plays nine guys and in Marcus Foster has one of the most underrated freshmen in the 2013 recruiting class. Foster was just a three star recruit out of Hirschi High School in Wichita Falls, Texas, but he’s the Wildcats’ leading scorer at 15.6 points per game. He’s scored 20 or more eight times this season, including a career-high 34 against Texas on February 8. He doesn’t always get the help he needs offensively, though, as the Wildcats score just 69 a night. They leave far too many points at the free throw line, missing 34.4 percent of their attempts. Only 40 teams in the country missed at a higher rate. The Wildcats’ defense gives them a chance against anyone in the country, but the name of the game is scoring points and if their offense isn’t up to par they’ll be one and done again this postseason. Rebounding will also be key for the Wildcats, who only go bigger than 6’7 during the 14 minutes a game 6’9 sophomore D.J. Johnson plays.