Shooting vs. rebounding
The first thing K-State players and coaches noticed while watching La Salle beat Boise State 80-71 on Wednesday in the First Four was that the Explorers can make shots.
They beat the Broncos by making 52 percent of their three-point attempts and 63 percent of their shots.
“We will have to play great team defense if we want to stop them,” junior guard Will Spradling said.
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La Salle’s shooting ability reminded the Wildcats of Oklahoma State and Iowa State, but the Explorers incorporate more dribble-drive into their offense.
“It’s a lot like when we play Iowa State,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “You have to worry about the three, but you really have to worry about layups. First time we faced Iowa State, we gave up too many layups. They’re going to make a couple threes. We have to limit the number of layups they get, then stay in front. That’s the biggest thing.”
Rebounding will also be important. La Salle’s backcourt, led by Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren, was one of the best in the Atlantic 10. But the Explorers don’t have much size. Only one of their starters is taller than 6-foot-5.
“We will have the advantage on the boards, because of offensive rebounds,” Nino Williams said. “We should be very effective on the boards. You can hit every shot one night. You can miss every shot the next. As long as you play defense that takes care of everything. That’s what we’ve been emphasizing.”
Boise State didn’t pressure La Salle shooters on the perimeter. K-State, which led the Big 12 in scoring defense, hopes to make them work harder.
“We don’t know how they will handle that,” Spradling said. “We will play the way we always play. It usually works. Hopefully it works tomorrow.”
New staff meets veteran roster
The seniors on K-State’s roster are 5-3 in the NCAA Tournament and have won at least one game in March Madness each year.
But this will be their first NCAA Tournament game with Bruce Weber and his staff.
That could cause friction for certain programs, but that isn’t the case for the Wildcats. Weber coached in the national championship game with Illinois and associate head coach Chris Lowery made it to the Sweet 16 with Southern Illinois.
“They have complete respect for what we have done as coaches before we got here,” Lowery said. “Some of us have been to the Sweet 16. Some of us have been to the national championship game. Just winning the game isn’t our focus. It’s being 1-0. That’s what we keep preaching to them. Worry about the one that is in front of you. Do that and you will have sustained success.”
Players said coaches have taken the same approach to the NCAA Tournament as the old staff.
“It’s another year, but same mentality,” Angel Rodriguez said. “Everyone is trying to win a championship.”
Back home in Kansas City
Before the bracket was revealed, the Wildcats openly spoke about their desire to play its second- and third-round games at the Sprint Center for obvious reasons.
Kansas City is a short drive from Manhattan, and K-State has a large alumni base in the area. Fans will come out to support the Wildcats.
But that’s not the biggest reason why players said they wanted to play here. They like Sprint Center because they are familiar with it.
“It feels like a home game,” Williams said. “The great thing about being in Kansas City is that we were here last week and we were earlier this season. We know what it’s like to play here. We know the locker rooms and we know how to shoot on the rims. We are comfortable here.”
Of course, seeing a lot of purple in the stands will be nice, too.
“Hopefully we get a good amount of fans here,” Rodriguez said. “But if we don’t we will still go out and do what we have to do.”
K-State’s Martavious Irving and La Salle’s Sam Mills played together when they were growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
They are looking forward to reuniting in the NCAA Tournament.
“Since middle school, I’ve been playing with him,” Mills said. “He’s always been a tough-nosed player. It’s going to be nice playing against him again. I haven’t really played against him in a while. It’s nice to see his game polished. I think it’s going to be a pretty good matchup.”
— Kellis Robinett