KANSAS STATE (8-9) AT #3 KANSAS (14-3)
7 p.m. ET; ESPN2
The prospect for low-scoring Big 12 games was established during nonconference play when impressive wins were crafted by conference teams smothering opponents with stifling defense.
No. 3 Kansas (14-3, 4-1 Big 12) was the preseason favorite to win the league title, and entered conference play as the top-scoring team, but has been limited to 65.2 points per game during a solid start against their regional rivals.
The difference in scoring average between nonconference and league play amounts to a 16-point dip and prompted Kansas coach Bill Self to joke that “we were really on fire” when the Jayhawks traveled to Oklahoma and Texas last week and recorded 66 points in each win.
On Tuesday, Kansas will once again try to do whatever it takes when it plays host to Kansas State (8-9, 1-4).
“It could be a first one to 60 type league,” Self said. “I know that’s not exciting for a lot of people, but the spin on the positive is those are more like NCAA Tournament games. So, you learn to grind out games like that and play low-possession games, which may translate to the way games are in the NCAA Tournament.”
Self is not altogether averse to his teams playing in that fashion.
Although Kansas annually recruits at a high level and has landed a decent share of one-and-done prospects, Self is adamant that players buy in defensively.
That facet has sometimes kept one of the Jayhawks’ top 3-point threats, Iowa transfer guard Isaiah Moss, from logging extended minutes. Moss drained six 3-pointers last week in a win at Oklahoma, but on Saturday the Jayhawks attempted just 10 3-pointers at Texas and made only two.
When 3-point production lacks consistency, opponents are sagging defensively on senior center Udoka Azubuike.
“It just puts too much pressure on the defense to get stops when you can’t stretch the floor,” Self said.
Kansas is, however, capable of responding to such challenges. It is allowing 56.2 points and 35.6 percent shooting in Big 12 play to stack up with conference leaders.
Cracking that resistance in Allen Fieldhouse will be a stiff challenge for Kansas State. The Wildcats rank eighth in field goal percentage (.396) in Big 12 play.
By surprising West Virginia 84-68 with 59.2 percent shooting on Saturday, Kansas State halted its worst start in the Big 12 since 2015.
“We shot over 50 percent and they usually hold teams to 30-something on field goals,” said junior guard Cartier Diarra, who matched a career-best with 25 points and led Kansas State in scoring for the ninth time.
“That just shows the offensive part in how we executed. Just being ready, that’s the biggest thing. The (West Virginia) game has helped get us ready for Tuesday.”
The Wildcats are tied for eighth in the Big 12 and sitting below .500 after sharing the league title with Texas Tech last season. That run ended the 14-year stronghold Kansas enjoyed as Big 12 champion.
Kansas State has lost 13 straight in Lawrence, where the Jayhawks carried a 26-game winning streak before falling on Jan. 11 to Baylor.
–Field Level Media