Kansas State’s tallest player is D.J. Johnson, a 6-foot-9 reserve power forward. The next two tallest players are Shane Southwell and Thomas Gipson, both 6-7. After that, no one is taller than 6-5.
That could pose some problems against Kentucky.
Though K-State has used a small roster all season, with Gipson mostly succeeding as the team’s lone consistent post presence, it hasn’t encountered an opponent like Kentucky, which boasts a size advantage at every position.
Every member of Kentucky’s starting five is 6-6 or taller. Guards Andrew Harrison, James Young and Aaron Harrison – all 6-6 – bring length to the perimeter. Julius Randle (6-9) and Dakari Johnson (7-foot) protect the rim. Oh, and Willie Cauley-Stein, another 7-footer, plays big minutes off the bench.
That means everyone on K-State’s roster, even Johnson, will be tasked with scoring against a taller defender.
One size mismatch that might go overlooked: Will Spradling and Marcus Foster, both 6-2, will go against defenders that have four inches on them.
“That doesn’t bother me at all,” Spradling said. “I have played against bigger and I have played against faster. We are prepared for anything. The biggest thing we have is upperclassmen who has been here before and can help our younger guys understand what it takes to win a game. They are a really young team.”
The last time Foster faced a tall, physical defender, he struggled mightily against Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, scoring nine points on 16 shots.
Foster said he didn’t see much of Smart in Kentucky’s guards, though. He compared them to Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane, a skilled scorer and average defender.
“You have to exploit the mismatches we can. They are all 6-foot-6, which means they are probably slower than I am,” Foster said. “I am just going to try and use my speed and skills to beat them on offense all night.”
There is one area where K-State has a distinct advantage over Kentucky: depth. K-State uses a 10-man rotation in most games. Kentucky uses seven players on a consistent basis.
The hope is that he can use his depth to his advantage, especially on defense, and wear Kentucky down in the second half.
“That’s when we are at out best,” associate coach Chris Lowery said.
Nigel Johnson is hot at the moment. The seldom-used freshman guard came off the bench to score a career-high 17 points on nine shots against Iowa State.
Does he have an encore ready for Friday?
“That game definitely helped me,” he said. “It taught me how to be more aggressive on offense. I’m going to try and stay aggressive and do what I can to help us win.”
MOTION TO THE RESCUE
Spradling likes the K-State offense against the young Kentucky defense.
“They haven’t really seen a style of offense like ours,” Spradling said. “They don’t have many teams that run motion in the SEC. If we run it right, we can create problems for them.”