Just a week ago, after a loss to in-state rival Kansas, it looked like the tournament hopes of Frank Martin’s Kansas State team were bleak.
What a difference seven days can make.
With their big win over No. 9 Baylor and Tuesday night’s 78-68 win over No. 3 Missouri, the Wildcats should be on the right side of the bubble.
But this game says more about the weaknesses in Frank Haith’s Missouri Tigers than it does about where Kansas State finds itself in the NCAA Tournament picture.
First, some of the bright spots for Mizzou:
-Michael Dixon had another strong game off the bench with 21 points, and continued a season where he could be considered one of the best Sixth Men in the country.
– Ricardo Ratliffe was one point away from a double-double, tallying nine points and 14 rebounds.
There probably wasn’t much else that Haith was praising in the locker room after this loss.
For long stretches of the first half and at times in the second, Missouri lacked defensive intensity, which helped Kansas State to get open looks, have putbacks off offensive rebounds, and shoot 54% from the floor.
Not only did that make for a +6 rebounding margin for the Wildcats, but it also limited a key part of Missouri’s attack: the transition game.
With one of guard Phil Pressey’s strengths stifled, Kansas State was able to dictate the pace and make Missouri uncomfortable. The end result? An offense that seemed out-of-sync, missing layups at the rim and ending the night shooting 38% from the field, 12 percentage points below their season average. Pressey finished with six turnovers.
Much of it boils down to Missouri’s lack of size and depth, which has been a question all season and showed itself on Tuesday night.
For Kansas State, center Jordan Henriquez, who led the way with four blocks, and Jamar Samuels made for an inside presence that Missouri could not match with their four-guard set and an undersized forward, Ratliffe, on the inside.
Heading toward March, this strengthens the argument that many have made against a deep Missouri run in the NCAA Tournament. Matchups seem to be key.
If the Tigers run into a team with size and they, themselves, run into difficulties shooting (38%FG, 8-of-26 3FG on Tuesday night), some may be tempted to take the underdog.
Also, what becomes of the No.1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament?
Missouri was thought to be a No. 1, but things shift a bit with this loss. Kansas, Duke, and Michigan State are quickly approaching and making their own cases for a top seed.
The real proving ground for who gets a No. 1 seed may be on one date: Saturday, Feb. 25th in Lawrence, Kan., when Missouri travels to KU to possibly decide who will wear the Big 12 crown.