Name: Kansas State University
Location: Noted less-cool and Madison-Square-Garden-lacking Manhattan, Manhattan, Kansas. The Little Apple.
Oh It Can’t Be That Bad: I mean, one is New York City with all the cool stuff there, the other is a city of 52,000 (most of which, I can assume, is due to the university). Sorry friends.
Are you being funny with “The Little Apple?” Nooope. Go check out the city’s official website which has their official logo in the upper left corner. It’s a red logo and has a little leaf on the top. 100% looks like an apple.
Founded: 1863, and KSU is the first land-grant college established under the guidance of the Morrill Act. Suck on that and like it, Land-Grant Holy Land.
Enrollment: 22,221 students as of Fall 2018 (for those keeping track at home, that is 2.67 Marquettes)
Well That’s Not Very Creative: Yup. In fact, 10 schools in total have the Wildcat mascot, including Villanova, Kentucky, Arizona, Northwestern, and Bethune-Cookman, Marquette’s opponent earlier this season.
Why? Good question. Apparently, in 1915, the football coach, John Bender, nicknamed his team “the Wildcats.” After a few years (1917-1919) of being called the Aggies and the Farmers, the Wildcats nickname returned and stuck.
Notable Alumni: Kirstie Alley (Saavik in Star Trek II: The Wrath of KHHHHHAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNN, also some show about some bar), Jerry Wexler (noted record producer, in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), Joseph Boakai (the former Vice President of Liberia), actor Eric Stonestreet, Earl Woods (Tiger’s father), Michael Beasley (current Lakers player), Lon Kruger (current Oklahoma coach), William Porter (founder of E-Trade), Mitch Richmond (6 time NBA All Star Game MVP), Jordy Nelson (noted no-longer-a-Packer wide receiver), Terence Newman (15 year NFL player, Jim Thorpe winner), comedian Eddie Griffin, Thane Baker (4 time Olympic medalist)
Side note: I really want to be just famous enough to have a short Wikipedia page without it summarizing my entire life, which is creepy).
Last Season: 25-12, 10-8 in the Big 12. Had one of the weirdest Elite Eight runs in NCAA tournament history.
Weird how? Well, for starters, they went 10-8 in the Big 12 without beating a team that finished over .500 in league play. Then, as the #9 seed, they got #8 Creighton, as the Bluejays were without Martin Krampelj. If you only measure the Jays since his injury (5-8), they were not a tournament team. They win by 10 and thus get the #1 seed as befits tradition for the 8/9 game...... except..... Virginia was their #1 seed, and the Cavaliers lost to UMBC. This was a one possession game with two minutes left, but K-State beat the Retrievers by 7. So now they’re in the Sweet 16 having beaten two teams that had absolutely zero business being in the two games that they played, and they barely escaped having their name plastered up in history next to Virginia. Their opponent? #5 seeded Kentucky. The Wildcats win a nailbiter and advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2010. All they had to do to get to the Final Four for the fifth time in program history and the first time since 1964 was beat the #11 seed in their bracket...... Loyola-Chicago.
In summary: They didn’t beat anyone better than them in league play, caught two massive breaks in the first two rounds and almost didn’t make it through, beat a legitimate team in the Sweet 16, and found themselves in a situation where they should be upset that they didn’t make the Final Four. I dare anyone to find a weirder Elite Eight run.
This Season: 6-0, ranked #12 in the AP poll, with their best win being over Missouri. Ranked #74 at the time, the Tigers have since fallen out of the KenPom top 100, although just barely. This will be their first road game of the year.
Current KenPom Ranking: #20
KenPom Projection: 21-10, 10-8 in conference, good for a tie for 3rd in the Big 12.
Behind Whom? Kansas, Texas Tech, and tied with Iowa State
Points: Dean Wade, 16.2 PPG
Rebounds: Oh look, it’s Dean Wade again, 8.3 RPG
Assists: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but, Dean Wade, 3.8 APG
Dean Wade Fun Fact Time: Remember the Weird Elite Eight section? Dean Wade provides an interesting aspect to all of it. The 6’10” forward from St. John, Kansas, played just eight total minutes in the NCAA tournament last year, all of which came against Kentucky. There’s reasons to doubt the Wildcats based on their performance in the NCAA tournament, but the flipside of that coin is that they didn’t have Wade on the court.
Head Coach: Bruce Weber. If you were curious, Bruce Weber is an alumnus of UW-Milwaukee. Most of you probably weren’t, but you know that now. Use it to sound smart when discussing basketball with your tipsy uncle at Christmas.
Bruce is most-known for being the head coach of the 2004-2005 National Runner-Up Illinois basketball team, inheriting the team in 2003 after Bill Self left for the Kansas head coaching job. In a tangent, 2004-2005 Illinois was the first time I experienced sports heartbreak, because I grew up an Illinois fan. Actually, I have a bunch of relatives (including my little brother) who have attended or are attending the school.
Anyway, enough about me. In that 2004-2005 season, Bruce Weber actually beat UWM in the Sweet Sixteen. Another fun fact for family Christmas once you run out of other things to talk about. 2005-2006 was another good Illinois basketball year, but then the wheels gradually fell off, and Bruce was relieved as head basketball coach in 2012. He took the Kansas State job the same year, taking over from Frank Martin. He actually led the Wildcats to a tie for the Big 12 title in his first season before being upset by LaSalle in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Kansas City. The Elite Eight run last year is the first time that Weber has gotten the Wildcats past the first round of the NCAA tournament, the first time he got past the first round himself since 2011, and the first time he had gotten past the second round since that runner-up performance in 2005.
Okay, enough about Weber. What can we expect? Well, first and foremost, Dean Wade is a straight dude (see the stats above), and the rest of the starting lineup from the Elite 8 squad returned this year. It’s a strong first five. The Wildcats are a top-50 offense, but have the 5th-best defense according to KenPom.com so far this year. So that’s a thing, even with some preseason expectations built in to that ranking. Top 35 in both two-point FG% and in steal rate. They’re going to turn you over and not give up anything close to the basket. In fact, they’re top 20 in Defensive eFG%, Turnover Rate, and (Defensive) Rebounding %. You’re going to have tough shots, you’re going to get turned over, and you won’t be grabbing a lot of second chances off of misses.
Now for the good news! They’re a sub 300 three-point shooting team, so if Marquette can contend with the Wildcats inside the arc, there really aren’t lights-out shooters (for the most part) to make up for it. In fact, of players who have attempted 20 or more threes this season, their best shooter (Xavier Sneed) is shooting 8-23 (34.8%). The best overall percentage is Dean Wade (4-10, 40%), and he’s a career 38% shooter. If Marquette can keep them contained, one would hope they can’t shoot their way out of tough offensive possessions.
This might be a bit of a slog. If both teams come out flat, it could quickly devolve into who gets more stops on ugly offense. Marquette has already been not-great at holding onto the ball, so look for Kansas State to attempt to exploit Marquette turnovers. If Marquette can keep the ball secure, I expect this to be a close game.
All-Time Series: Marquette is 3-7 all-time against Kansas State, with the last official game coming in 1988. K-State has won the last four meetings, with MU’s last win coming back in December 1982. The most important contest in series history is, of course, Marquette’s 67-66 victory in the 1977 NCAA tournament Sweet 16, and that game had something of a controversial ending, at least for K-State fans.