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Freshmen come up big in Kansas State’s win over No. 6 Oklahoma State

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Winners of eight straight games entering Saturday’s Big 12 opener against No. 6 Oklahoma State, Kansas State hasn’t been mentioned along with the likes of the Cowboys, Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor when it comes to who’s capable of winning the conference title. The reasons included the need to account for the graduation of Rodney McGruder, Angel Rodriguez’s decision to transfer to Miami and the lack of a clear-cut primary scoring option.

If Kansas State is to be successful they’ll need to do so as a committee, and that was the case Saturday as they beat the Cowboys 74-71 in Manhattan. And two of the key figures were players who were not Wildcats last season, as freshman Marcus Foster racked up 17 points and eight rebounds and classmate Jevon Thomas added ten points and five assists in his third game at K-State.

Offensively Foster’s somewhat taken over the role left vacant by McGruder, entering the game averaging a team-best 13.8 points per game, and that continued to be the case on Saturday afternoon.

Thomas on the other hand proved to be the spark plug the Wildcats envisioned against Oklahoma State, with his speed proving to be a factor on both ends of the floor but especially on offense. Offensively he gives Kansas State a point guard capable of applying pressure to the opposition off the dribble, something they lacked while he sat out during the remainder of the fall semester. After using that speed to set up teammates in his first two games (5.0 apg), Thomas got untracked scoring-wise against Oklahoma State.

Add in the interior toughness displayed by rugged forward Thomas Gipson (11 points, ten rebounds) and 15 points from Nino Williams, and Weber’s Wildcats were able to put forth the effort needed to survive shooting 36% from the field. Kansas State will be successful when they’re balanced offensively, and defensively when they make teams work for everything they get in the half court.

Oklahoma State’s perimeter tandem of Markel Brown and Marcus Smart entered Saturday averaging a combined 33.7 points per game with both shooting at least 46.7% from the field. They may have scored 31 points against Kansas State, but the duo did so while shooting 8-for-22 from the field (36.4%). And when this happens it’s tough for the Cowboys to win, even with Le’Bryan Nash accounting for 20 points and nine rebounds.

Can Kansas State surprise some people and contend for another Big 12 title? That remains to be seen. But if there’s anything to be taken from their win over Oklahoma State, it’s that the Wildcats have no intention of going down without a fight.

NEW PODCAST: Indiana, Cal, troublesome trends and a weekend preview

California's Jabari Bird celebrates a score against Oregon in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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The gang is back together again for another episode of the NBCSports.com College Basketball Talk Podcast, with Rob Dauster hosting and Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips joining him. Today’s episode touched on big wins picked up Thursday night by California and Indiana, discussing the performances of those teams and also touching on their prospects down the line.

Also discussed were the recent performances of Iowa State, Providence and Texas A&M (which are you more worried about?), and some of the top games on this weekend’s schedule headlined by Kansas visiting Oklahoma. And if you’re a fan of seafood, you may take umbrage with some of Rob’s comments at the beginning of the podcast.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and there’s also a link to listen to this podcast below. Thanks for listening.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Key contests in Atlantic 10, Pac-12

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks with guard Allonzo Trier (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern State in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)  ALL LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; PAC-12 OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; GREEN VALLEY NEWS OUT
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: UCLA at No. 17 Arizona, 9:00 p.m.
The Bruins and Wildcats have already met once this season, with a Bryce Alford three-pointer giving UCLA an 87-84 win. But UCLA has continued to struggle with consistency since then, and the chance at payback should serve as a motivating factor for Arizona. Sean Miller’s team welcomed back Allonzo Trier in Saturday’s win at Washington, and in forward Ryan Anderson they have one of the conference’s best players. The “rivalry” aspect of this game should make it a good one, as UCLA tends to show up for big-name opponents, but it could also be another major blow to the Bruins’ fleeting hopes of getting back to the NCAA tournament.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 19 Dayton at Rhode Island, 7:00 p.m.
The Rams have struggled with injuries all season, most recently dealing with Jarvis Garrett’s broken jaw and Kuran Iverson’s concussion. Garrett’s back on the floor, playing with a face mask that appears to be inspired by Hannibal Lecter, and it’s that team toughness that makes URI a serious threat to first-place Dayton at the Ryan Center (Iverson’s been medically cleared but remains a game-time decision). Charles Cooke has been outstanding for the Flyers this season, and Dayton’s depth makes them a tough matchup for any team much less one as banged up as URI.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. As a result of No. 11 Oregon’s loss at Cal last night, No. 23 USC finds itself tied in the loss column atop the Pac-12 standings heading into their game at Arizona State (8:00 p.m.). Outside of keeping opponents off the offensive glass the Sun Devils have had issues defensively in conference play, and with the Trojans’ many scoring options led by guards Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs this will be a tough matchup for the home team.

2. Monmouth looks to maintain its lead atop the MAAC standings, as they visit Rider (9:00 p.m.). The Broncs haven’t been the conference contender many envisioned them being when the season began but they’re still dangerous, with players such as guard Teddy Okereafor capable of giving opponents fits. Justin Robinson, who’s been excellent at the point all season long, leads the way for a Monmouth team that still has hopes of earning an at-large bid should they need it.

3. Having lost to Yale last weekend, Columbia’s in a position where they need to hold serve ahead of the rematch in New York City March 5. That makes games like tonight’s against Penn (7:00 p.m.) that much more important for Kyle Smith’s Lions, who have done a good job of turning opponents over in league play (22.8 TO%). Penn’s had issues taking care of the basketball, and that combined with Columbia’s tandem of Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg could prove to be the difference at Levien Gym.

4. Two teams looking to make a push in the MAC East race meet in Buffalo, as the Bulls host Ohio (7:00 p.m.). Nate Oats’ team had its four-game win streak snapped by Toledo, with the Rockets beating Buffalo by two Wednesday night. They’ll look to rebound with a defense that has been the best in the MAC in conference play (tops in defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage), but they have to take care of the basketball in order to do so.

5. Grand Canyon, which can’t play in the NCAA tournament as they’re still in the Division I transition process, looks to remain a game behind New Mexico State in the WAC standings. Dan Majerle’s Antelopes visit Seattle (10:00 p.m.), which handed GCU its first conference loss 13 days ago. GCU shot just 6-for-23 from three in that game, which they led by ten late in the first half. If Seattle is to win they’ll need to slow down the tandem of sophomore Joshua Braun and senior Grandy Glaze, who combine to average 31.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.