The Kansas State Wildcats have two items on their NCAA Tournament résumé that few schools in the country can claim: wins over two of the Big 12’s top three teams, Baylor and Missouri. Their 57-56 win at Baylor on Feb. 18 was a victory that could push a potential bubble team firmly into March Madness. Another victory over the No. 3 Missouri Tigers would surely seal the deal.
But the Missouri Tigers are determined to not let that happen. Though they were dominated in their Jan. 7 meeting, a 75-59 loss that saw Mizzou shoot 32.7 percent and get out rebounded 36-22, the Tigers are 15-0 at Mizzou Arena this season and playing with confidence. They are riding a seven game win streak, most recently pulling out a good victory at Texas A&M 71-62 to move to 25-2 on the season and 12-2 in the Big 12. The Wildcats, however, have lost two of their last three games, but have been playing through a gauntlet of top teams. They lost at home against No. 5 Kansas 59-53 on Feb. 13 before heading to Waco and upsetting then-No. 10 Baylor. They are 18-8 overall and 7-7 in the Big 12.
The two teams are in very different places in their season, as far as jockeying for postseason positioning. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi listed the Tigers as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest regional in his latest edition of Bracketology, a projection of how the NCAA Tournament bracket will look on Selection Sunday, while Kansas State came in as a No. 9 seed in the East. Even before their win at Baylor, the Wildcats looked to be in good position to make the tournament for the third year in a row. However, Cole Manbeck, writer for The Manhattan Mercury, suggests that seeding is not the first thing on the Wildcats’ mind.
[Head coach Frank] Martin doesn’t have a magic 8-ball to predict what’s going to happen in these last four games and the Big 12 tournament, nor is he getting wrapped up in all the “bracketology” talk. But the one thing he does know is that he’s proud of the fight his team has continued to show despite some losses that could have sucked the life out of a young squad.
K-State has been spotty this season, boasting victories over Missouri and Baylor, but also have lost to Oklahoma twice, which are two of OU’s three Big 12 wins. They are a big team that can dominate on the glass, ranking 29th in the country in team rebounding. 6’7” senior forward Jamar Samuels (10.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG) has been a productive big man for K-State all season. In addition, 6’11” junior center Jordan Henriquez (6.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.1 BPG) has been a tough matchup for Mizzou on the defensive end in the past, registering 10 points, eight boards and four blocks in their first meeting this season. The biggest threat offensively is junior guard Rodney McGruder, who averages 14.5 PPG and 5.3 RPG, despite being only 6’4”.
Mizzou easily avenged their only other loss this season by blowing out Oklahoma State at home on Feb. 15, and will be looking for similar revenge when the Wildcats come to town. The loss was Mizzou’s most embarrassing of the season, as K-State dominated the Tigers on the defensive end, holding them scoreless for a period of over eight minutes in the first half while extending their lead to 38-19. It was too much for the Tigers to handle, and were unable to come back. The two teams have been like night and day when playing at their respective homes in the history of the rivalry. The Tigers have lost their last games played at Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum, while the Tigers have beat the Wildcats 24 of the past 26 times they have played at Missouri.
Still, the Tigers will have to be much more productive on the offensive end to gain the revenge they seek against K-State. Senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe (13.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG) has been off-and-on his last few games, and may see more difficulties against the Kansas State frontcourt. Ratliffe was limited by foul trouble in the first meeting, scoring only two points in 14 minutes. The Tigers will have to rely on their outside game, primarily seniors Kim English (14.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG) and Marcus Denmon (17.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG), to carry the scoring.
The Tigers have played so much better at home than on the road, it can be easy to look past teams when they come into Mizzou Arena. But Kansas State’s physical style and dominating win over the Tigers in January have Mizzou on high alert. They will have to come out focused and control the game to their style of play to avoid any Big 12 sweeping the season series in conference play. They can’t afford to overlook this game, even with a big time Border War showdown looming on the horizon.
Topics: Baylor, Border War, Bracketology, Bramlage Coliseum, Jamar Samuels, Jordan Henriquez, K-State, Kansas State Wildcats, Kim English, Manhattan, Marcus Denmon, Missouri Tigers, Mizzou, Mizzou Arena, NCAA Tournament, Oklahoma, OU, Ricardo Ratliffe, Rodney McGruder, Texas A&M, Waco