Last weekend was Jacob Pullen's homecoming game in Chicago, today's game in Miami is a homecoming for K-State head coach Frank Martin. Along with Martin a few other KSU players, Martavious Irving, Freddy Asprilla & Juevol Myles, have some Florida ties and should be playing in front of friends and family today when the #6 Wildcats take on the #24 Florida Gators in the first game of the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic.
The game itself will represent a tremendous challenge for K-State and could be a strong indicator of how good the Wildcats might actually be this year. Florida brings back all five starters from last seasons squad that made the NCAA Tournament and one would expect the Gators to be playing in front of a highly partisan crowd.
The Gators so far on the year are 7-2 with losses coming at the hands of Central Florida & Ohio State, the loss to the Buckeyes by a score of 93-75. There is no one particular player that Kansas State needs to focus their efforts on defensively as the scoring load gets spread around for Florida. Four out of the five starters for Billy Donovan's squad average in double figures and the fifth player, Alex Tyus, is averaging 9.9 points per game.
A key factor for K-State in this game will be to play solid defense in the post as Florida likes to try and dump the ball into the paint with 6'10" Vernon Macklin and let him go to work. So far on the season Macklin is shooting a robust 64% from the field, letting you know that he isn't going to be out shooting many jump shots. K-State will need to focus on making him along with Tyus and 6'9" Chandler Parsons take some shots further away from the basket than they would prefer. Parsons though is able and willing to step out and hit the three even though his percentage is down on the year in comparison to last season.
Another key area K-State needs to do well in if they hope to win the game is improving their rebounding numbers. In their last game against Loyola (IL), the Wildcats were outrebounded by a margin of 42-34. This will have to be a focus for KSU as Florida will throw some massive bodies at them today such as Macklin, Tyus, Parsons along with 6'9" freshman Patric Young who was a McDonalds All American last season in high school.
On the perimeter, Florida has PG Erving Walker and SG Kenny Boynton, both of whom are not particularly great outside shooters. Walker has stepped up this year to hit 45% of his 3 point attempts but last season he was at 34.7%. On the other hand, Boynton is only shooting threes at a rate of 24.6%, his game is more predicated on slashing and creating.
For KSU, there is word that Wally Judge may play in this game but then again he may not so this is a small sub-story to keep an eye on. If Judge can come back and contribute it would be a nice bonus for this team.
The player that not only the Florida Gators but Kansas State fans will be watching closely is Jacob Pullen. The senior has struggled shooting the ball so far on the season making only 33% on his three point attempts and committing some unforced turnovers as well. Pullen needs to step his game up today if the Wildcats hope to travel down and beat a ranked opponent in front of their fans.
Kansas State has been playing dangerously with almost every opponent this year and today they face one who can hurt them. While K-State should be a better team than Florida on paper and enters with a higher ranking don't be surprised if KSU comes back after this one with another loss on their record.
The game is scheduled to tip at 2:30 Central Time.