March 17, 2010 – By John Ritter
The Kansas State Wildcats couldn’t figure things out against nemesis Kansas this season, but it’s been no problem dealing with virtually everybody else.
They may be able to get a blockbuster rematch in the Final Four, but first they have to deal with Sun Belt champion North Texas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats won the only prior meeting in 2001, and are heavy favorites again on Thursday. Kansas State is on the good end of a 16-point spread, according to BetUS, as it attempts to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1988.
It is only the second tournament appearance since 1996 for the Wildcats. They won their opening round game in 2008, only to be eliminated by Wisconsin in the regional quarterfinals.
The Mean Green are 0-2 against Big 12 opponents this season, losing by an average of 12 points to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.
The Big 12’s second-ranked team, Kansas State, reached the conference tournament final for the first time in school history last week with wins over Baylor and Oklahoma State, but lost to the Jayhawks by eight and failed to cover the spread. The Wildcats have lost three of their last five games, two of those losses coming to Kansas.
And so has been the entire season in Manhattan. Kansas State has seen a remarkable turnaround since Frank Martin took over as head coach in 2007, going from 23 that season to 27 in 2000-10. And without the three losses to the Jayhawks, the Wildcats are 27-4 – their best record since ’93.
But while their momentum may have been tripped up a bit, North Texas comes into the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country. They have won 11-straight, including a narrow win against Troy in the conference final, and are undefeated on a neutral court.
Both teams allow 69.4 points on defense, although the Wildcats score five more points per game.
Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen is 45th in the nation with 18.9 points, and Denis Clemente isn’t far behind with 16.2.
The Mean Green actually hold the advantage on offense, shooting 45.9-percent from the field, which is good for 51st in the country. But that doesn’t mean Kansas State struggles. The Wildcats are third in the Big 12, and 14th nationally, with 79.6 points per game and have four players scoring in double-digits for the year.
Still, they will be hard-pressed to hold of North Texas’ George Odufuwa, who is one of 21 Division-I players to average a double-double on the year. The Arizona State-transfer is picking up 11.5 points and 10.7 boards on the year, and is clearly his team’s primary rebounding threat.
“Over the last couple of years, I’ve been letting it come out more,” Odufuwa told ESPN. “I’ve been playing harder, more intensity. I changed my mindset: Play as hard as you can the whole time you’re out there.”
That’s the good news. The bad news is opponents rarely have success on the boards against Kansas State, which ranks 27th in the country with 39.1 rebounds per game.
North Texas has played the over in eight of it’s last 11 Thursday night games, while the Wildcats have done so in six of their last eight non-conference match-ups.