Tonight in Kansas City, the #3 ranked Kansas State Wildcats look to quiet all the local and national critics who do not feel they are worthy of that ranking, when they take on the #12 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. The game will be taking place in the Sprint Center and although it technically is a "neutral" site, one would believe more Wildcat fans will be attendance than Bulldog fans. The start time is set for 8:30 central and it will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.
Gonzaga has won 10 straight West Coast conference titles and been to 12 straight NCAA Tournaments and this season they are favored to do the same. K-State enters the contest enjoying a Top Five preseason ranking coming off their Elite Eight run to finish last season.
Kansas State enters this game following up a terrible home performance against Presbyterian where the Wildcats survived 76-67. Gonzaga is coming off a rare loss on their home court to San Diego State 79-76. In that game, Gonzaga star Elias Harris appeared to have hurt his Achilles but reports state he will play against Kansas State. Harris has also been fighting a shoulder injury that has limited his effectiveness so far on the season.
Also supposed to appear in the game will be Curtis Kelly for Kansas State, who was suspended for the first three games of the young season. Kelly, a preseason All Big 12 pick will be making his season debut against arguably the Wildcats toughest opponent, it will be interesting to see if Kelly has any rust or presses at times.
Gonzaga, in addition to Harris, is led by Senior guard Steven Gray who is averaging 25.7 points and 7.3 assists a game. In the post, the Bulldogs are led by seven footer Robert Sacre who averages 11.7 ppg and by 6'9" redshirt freshman Sam Dower who is averaging 11 points a game.
K-State will once again look to their leader Jacob Pullen to lead them to victory. So far through 3 games, Pullen is averaging 16 points and 4 assists but he has only hit 5 out of 14 three point attempts. The only other Wildcat to be averaging double figures in points is sophomore Rodney McGruder who is scoring at 11.7 a game.
3 Keys to Victory for Gonzaga
Shut down Jacob Pullen - Easier said than done but if they can force Pullen into contested shots or force him to pass and make someone like Martavious Irving prove he can hit big shots.
Rebound - In their loss to San Diego State, they were outrebounded 39-29 by the Aztecs with 18 of those being offensive rebounds. This is an area K-State has had success in the past so Gonzaga needs to clear this up to win.
Get Sacre going early - If Gonzaga can score down low early this will force K-State to help down low and open up scoring chances for Gray & Harris.
3 Keys to Victory for Kansas State
Hit Free Throws - The Wildcats kryptonite so far this season has been the free throw line where they are a combined 40-79. In a contest against another highly ranked foe, free throws could prove to be crucial.
Establish Big Men - Gonzaga was outscored and outrebounded by San Diego State's frontline and this should be the formula K-State tries to emulate. With solid depth here in Wally Judge, Freddy Asprilla & Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, KSU should have an advantage.
Stay out of Foul Trouble - This maybe applies more to Jacob Pullen than anyone else as KSU needs him to stay on the court in this one. Also while the Bulldogs aren't fabulous from the charity stripe they are much better than K-State as they have hit 73.4% through three games.
Please check back tomorrow with BIg12Hoops.com as I will have a recap of this contest along with some thoughts on the atmosphere around the Sprint Center as I will be going to watch this game along with the Duke-Marquette contest. Very much looking forward to watching Kyle Singler & Nolan Smith along with Kyrie Irving play in person tonight.