Rebounding Key to Kentucky’s Success Against Kansas StatePosted by David Changas on March 19th, 2014
In one of the most intriguing match-ups of the NCAA Tournament’s Second Round, Kentucky takes on Kansas State in St. Louis tonight. On the surface, as with most #8/#9 battles, this game appears to be a toss-up. And though most oddsmakers have installed Kentucky as a six-point favorite, a fairly sizeable spread for two teams that appear to be equally matched, there is little reason to think this one won’t go down to the wire. Kansas State is battle-tested, having dealt with the rigors of the Big 12 round-robin that allowed for very few breathers. Kentucky, on the other hand, played very few conference games against quality opponents. In fact, the only NCAA Tournament team it has beaten since the calendar flipped to 2014 was Tennessee.
There is no question that Kentucky comes into this NCAA Tournament this season with a lot to prove. For a team that was the consensus preseason No. 1 in the polls, an #8/#9 NCAA Tournament opener is nothing short of disappointing. However, a win over Kansas State almost certainly will give coach John Calipari’s team a shot at top-seed Wichita State, and offer it a chance to wipe away much of that disappointment. Calipari has spent much of the past few days criticizing the Selection Committee for giving his Wildcats a #8 seed despite having played one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules. At this point, though, all that should matter to him is what his team needs to do to defeat its Big 12 opponent.
The area of the game in which Kentucky should be most able to exploit its match-up with the other Wildcats is on the glass. Kentucky ranks second nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, as it grabs an astounding 42.2 percent of its misses. Kansas State, meanwhile, though an effective offensive rebounding team itself (35.0%), allows its opponents to grab 33.3 percent of its misses. That could be a deadly combination for Bruce Weber’s team, as in a close game, the extra looks Kentucky will get might be the difference. Kansas State is limited in size, with only one player standing over 6’9″ (D.J. Johnson). He plays fewer than 15 minutes per game, and Kentucky should take advantage of its size advantage inside. The blue-clad Wildcats have one of the nation’s best rebounders in Julius Randle, and can bring in seven-footers Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson off the bench. That’s the type of size Kansas State will have difficulty handling, and if Kentucky can control the boards tonight, it should move on to face the Shockers.