I wrote an identical headline yesterday for the Kansas game against Northeastern with just the team names changing. It’s pretty remarkable that Kansas and Kansas State are the two teams the national media is jumping on to get upset in the first round.
Kansas State was 10-2 entering conference play in what was expected to be a big year in the final season for Barry Brown Jr., Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade. But Big 12 play started off about as bad as it could have with a 20 point home loss to Texas. The Wildcats followed that up with a six point loss at Texas Tech. Their next game saw them down 21 points at home in the second half to West Virginia.
Kansas State was 0-2 in the Big 12 and it looked like they were once again out of the Big 12 race before it barely started. But something happened in the second half of that West Virginia game. Barry Brown took over and scored 29 points in the game and the Wildcats came all the way back to win by two.
That win led to a streak of nine consecutive Big 12 victories and a record of 14-2 over the last 16 conference games. They tied Texas Tech for the conference title and earned the #1 seed in the Big 12 conference tournament.
Right when it appeared that Kansas State would have their best chance in years to do damage in the NCAA tournament they learned that Dean Wade was once again hurt and will likely not play at all in the tournament. However, the Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight last year without Wade and played some games this season without Wade. So although they would prefer to have Dean Wade, they have a good amount of experience playing without him.
UC Irvine Anteaters (30-5, 15-1 1st in the Big West)
Much like Northeastern is a trendy pick to upset Kansas, the UC Irvine Anteaters are the other trendy national pick to upset Kansas State.
UC Irvine shoots 45.9% on the season including 36.1% from behind the arc. Kansas State holds opponents to just 41.4% shooting including 31.2% from behind the arc. Kansas State had arguably the best defense in the Big 12. They will lose a little of their effectiveness without Wade, but the Wildcats will still be tough to score on.
Kansas State finished in a tie for first place in one of the best conferences in the country. UC Irvine has not played a schedule anywhere close to what the Wildcats played. The Anteaters will be facing a defense better than anything they have seen this season. It’s tough to adjust to that in one game.
The concern for Kansas State is its offense. The Wildcats have really struggled to score the ball at times this season. Not having Dean Wade will make that even tougher on Kansas State. Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Xavier Sneed are going to need to step up on the offensive end to make up for what the team will miss from Wade.
Bruce Weber discussed his concerns with facing UC Irvine after seeing the bracket last Sunday.
Prediction: Kansas State’s Big 12 schedule will have prepared them for a tough game and the Wildcats will find enough offense to defeat UC Irvine and advance to the second round.