In an early game on Saturday the #17 ranked Kansas State Wildcats travel to Stillwater, OK to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys in a game that should be somewhat of a litmus test for both teams.
Both squads have struggled to score on the year as Oklahoma State is averaging only 71.5 points a game, good for 137th overall in Division 1. K-State scores at a clip of 75.8 points a game which ranks them 58th overall.
The Cowboys enter with a 12-2 record while K-State comes in with a mark of 12-3 but questions remain on how good both of these squads actually are. Oklahoma State does have wins on their resume over BCS opponents in Alabama and Stanford but that is deceiving as neither is destined for the NCAA Tournament. In their one true road test against Gonzaga on New Year's Eve, the Cowboys were beaten soundly 73-52.
Kansas State comes in with questions still to be answered about their squad in general. With such high expectations entering the year, the Wildcats have not looked like a team that was picked to win the Big 12 in the preseason. In losses at Florida and against UNLV, the Wildcats have shown a lack of a top flight offensive game if Jacob Pullen is not reliably hitting outside shots.
For the game on Saturday, Curtis Kelly will be out as he continues to serve his suspension over the illegal benefits situation in Manhattan. Jacob Pullen will be playing in his second game back for Frank Martin as he went for 24 points in his return against Savannah State.
If K-State plans on entering the hostile environment of Gallagher-Iba and coming out with a victory they are going to need Wally Judge to continue and raise his game as he done lately. In the past three games, Judge has averaged a double double with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Another key player to watch on Saturday is starting PG Will Spradling for K-State. The freshman will be experiencing his first Big 12 conference action on the road in a place many juniors and seniors have melted under the pressure.
As has been mentioned the crowd should play a role in this game. Oklahoma State will need to come out and feed off the crowd and try to get an early lead. They should be paced by consistent seniors Keiton Page and Marshall Moses.
In the Cowboys last game against Texas-San Antonio, J.P. Olukemi scored 15 points while freshman Markel Brown scored 11 points. These two players along with Darrell Williams will need to add some scoring in the ballgame to ease the load on Page and Moses.
An X-Factor in the game will be the play of Matt Pilgrim in the paint. The senior has been very inconsistent this season but he has shown the ability previously to dominate for stretches. Although K-State has the height to disrupt Pilgrim down low, no one on KSU is as physically strong underneath as Pilgrim is. If he can turn his season around now that conference play has come along that would be a huge gain for Travis Ford and the Cowboys.
As will be the case in probably ever league game if it comes down to free throws at the end, K-State figures to be in trouble and against Oklahoma State this is true. While the Cowboys aren't great at the line they have hit 71.5% of their free throw attempts on the year. KSU is only making 56.1% of their attempts.
This contest might be won behind the 3 point arc though and not at the free throw line. For the season K-State has attempted a whopping 91 more three pointers, 285 to 194, than the Cowboys. They have therefore made 43 more on the year than OSU. If K-State can avoid another cold spell from deep it could give them a chance to grab a conference road win early. This is something to watch early on and see if players like Pullen, Spradling, Rodney McGruder and Martavious Irving can knock any outside shots down to give the Wildcats some momentum.
If you are someone who thinks something can be gleamed from common opponents then you would think K-State should have the edge in this game. Both teams have faced Gonzaga and Virginia Tech so far this season with K-State defeating both while Oklahoma State lost to both teams.
Last year these two schools met twice, once in Manhattan and once in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. The Cowboys won a tight game in Bramlage but the Wildcats turned around and blew out OSU in the Sprint Center.
In this game if K-State can whether the storm early and continue to get some baskets down low from Judge & Jamar Samuels it should allow them a strong chance of winning. Oklahoma State needs to gather all the emotion they can early and try to build an early lead which would could force a young K-State team to crumble much like they did against Florida.
Look for this game to be physical with the chance of a lot of foul calls which might cause the game to be somewhat choppy. Even though K-State comes in as the ranked team, it is never a given getting a win in Stillwater, just ask KU's team last year.
Tip time is scheduled for Noon and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.