Before the basketball season started who would have believed you if you had said the Kansas State game against Nebraska in late February would be a critical contest in the fight for NCAA Tournament inclusion. That is exactly what the game on Wednesday between these two schools has come down to though.
Both the Cornhuskers and Wildcats in the past week have taken down the Big 12's best two teams in Texas and Kansas respectively. Each team's hopes for an at large tournament bid immediately received a huge boost with those wins.
Each team comes in at 6-6 in Big 12 play and on a recent hot streak. K-State has won four of their last five games, the only loss being the game at Colorado where Rodney McGruder's last second three pointer was a split second too late. Nebraska meanwhile has reeled off three straight wins to resurrect their postseason chances.
K-State avoided a letdown at home after their big win by defeating Oklahoma by 15 points this past weekend. It will be important for the Nebraska players to avoid a letdown themselves and allow Kansas State to come in steal a game on the road.
In the previous contest of the season in Manhattan the Wildcats rolled to an easy 69-53 victory. Nebraska was unable to control the ball in that game as they committed 22 turnovers against the Wildcats defense but that was on the road and they figure to cut down on that number being at home.
This game figures to be a defensive contest as neither team has been an offensive juggernaut this season and each coach likes their team to be strong on the defensive end. In the Texas game for example the Cornhuskers held Jordan Hamilton to 3-16 shooting from the floor.
Kansas State as always is led by Jacob Pullen who is fresh off winning Big 12 Player of the Week honors and is doing his best to avoid having to decide whether to play in the NIT or not. One area to keep an eye on Pullen is his defense against Nebraska PG Lance Jeter.
Jeter is leading Nebraska in points at 10.8 ppg and in assists with 4.5 a game. It will be important for Pullen to frustrate him and not allow him to get any easy points in transition.
The only other Cornhusker averaging in double figures in points per game is Jorge Brian Diaz at 10.4. It would be beneficial for Diaz to get some touches early to force the Wildcats defenders to help down low and give good looks to shooters like Brandon Richardson and Toney McCray.
Two potential X factors for this game reside on the K-State roster in Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and Jamar Samuels. With Samuels you have someone who during certain games can score in bunches but at other times make some frustrating passes and fouls and get pulled for long stretches by Frank Martin. Henriquez-Roberts was unable to follow up his very impressive performance against KU in the Wildcats game against OU as he only played 10 minutes and went scoreless. The Wildcats need one if not both of these players to step up his game and play strong against a surging Cornhusker team.
While the Devaney Center has never been a particularly feared environment for visiting teams in the Big 12 that should change Wednesday night. One would expect the arena to be sold out and decked in red for this one.
The game is scheduled to tip at 8 P.M. Central time and can be seen on ESPNU.
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