Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber thinks the NCAA Tournament boils down to matchups.
Forget about seeds and regions. For him, nothing is more important than how the Wildcats compare to the team across from them on the bracket.
So how does K-State compare to Creighton, the team it will face at 5:50 p.m. Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament? A look back at how the Wildcats played against up-tempo teams this season may reveal the answer.
In some ways, this will feel like another game against a Big 12 team. The Bluejays are one of the highest-scoring teams in college basketball, ranking 10th nationally in points (84.3) and 11th nationally in field-goal percentage (49.7). They have topped 90 points in 10 games and reached triple digits in four.
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“They are an offensive-minded team,” Weber said. “Coach (Greg) McDermott is a brilliant offensive coach, and when he had his son he had an unbelievable weapon. They ran a lot of sets for him and we have watched him. You are always turning to them. I am good friends with (McDermott) and you always watch guys you know.”
K-State has played several high-scoring teams this season, including Arizona State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU. Its record against those teams: 5-6.
Creighton is not a carbon copy of any of those teams, but they are similar to the Sun Devils and Sooners. K-State lost to Arizona State 92-90 on a neutral floor in Las Vegas and split two games with Oklahoma, winning handily at home and losing by double digits on the road.
Unlike those teams, Creighton has two star guards.
The first needs no introduction. Marcus Foster, a former K-State player, is averaging 20.3 points for the Bluejays. He led the Wildcats in scoring as a freshman and sophomore before Weber dismissed him from the team.
“He is one of the better players,” K-State guard Barry Brown said, “and hopefully I get that matchup to show what I can do.”
Khyri Thomas is Foster's running mate. The 6-foot-3 junior is averaging 15.3 points.
They both shoot 42 percent from three-point range.
“Marcus is a good player. McDermott is a great coach. They have got one of the better offensive teams in the country,” Weber said. “But we told our guys, ‘Hey, we played Oklahoma, TCU, Kansas, three of the best offensive teams in the country and we have done OK guarding them.’ I think defending them is going to be a key. They are great in transition.
“Besides Marcus, their point guard (Thomas) is probably one of their better players and a NBA possible draft choice. They have got a lot of players who are going to play and play well. We are going to have to find a way to defend them.”
K-State has done a solid job keeping up with up-tempo opponents, but it has struggled most against strong defensive teams such as Texas Tech and West Virginia.
That could benefit K-State against Creighton, which ranks 228th nationally in points allowed (74.2).
“We are going to play our basketball and defend,” K-State forward Dean Wade said, “and we are going to be OK.”
If you like comparing results against common opponents, K-State has a slight edge. Both teams pummeled USC Upstate, but the Wildcats swept Baylor while the Bluejays lost to the Bears on a neutral floor.
For now, K-State is only focused on Creighton. But if the Wildcats advance to the second round, they will likely see a completely different matchup against Virginia, the No. 1 overall seed.
The Cavaliers smother opponents on defense. It ranks first nationally in points allowed (53.4) and regularly holds teams under 50 points. Clemson, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin all failed to score 40 against Virginia.
That means the Wildcats will need to defend one of the nation’s best scoring teams on Friday and hit shots against the nation’s best defensive team on Sunday in order to advance to the Sweet 16.
Those are two difficult matchups.
“Now you have got to prepare,” Weber said. “You have got to take care of your body and get your mind right and then you have got to play with a big heart. Those are the things we have got to do this weekend.”