Each week in this space, KUSports.com online editor Jesse Newell will take a statistical look at one of the 10 teams that has the best chance of taking this year’s NCAA title.
Team: Kansas State
AP/Coaches Ranking: 13th/12th
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 10th
The Wildcats have one of the top offenses in the nation, scoring at least 85 points in six of their last seven games. According to KenPom, KSU ranks 11th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is second in the Big 12 behind Kansas. The Wildcats’ surge offensively has been brought about by two main factors. For one, KSU is relentless on the offensive glass, grabbing offensive rebounds on 42.8 percent of their missed shots, which is fifth nationally. Also, Kansas State is one of the best in the nation at getting to the free-throw line. The Wildcats average 32.75 free throws per game, which is an astounding number.
KSU also isn’t too shabby defensively, ranking 30th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. A main reason for the success is forcing turnovers, as the Wildcats force giveaways on 24.8 percent of their opponents’ possessions, which is good for 20th nationally.
Though the Wildcats shoot a high number of free throws, they also don’t shoot very well from the line (65.8 percent). As we’ve seen from many NCAA Tournament games in the past, usually at least one contest will be determined by late free-throw shooting. The Wildcats also foul too much, putting the opposing team on the free-throw line an average of 26 times per game. Because of that, opponents score 27.4 percent of their points against KSU on the foul line.
K-State also relies heavily on guards Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente for its scoring. KenPom’s numbers show that 29.8 percent of the Wildcats’ scoring has come from the point guard on the floor (ranking third nationally), but that means the Wildcats might be vulnerable if teams force other positions (small forward, 16.1 percent; or center, 15.9 percent) to produce offensively. Also, in the last six years, no Final Four team has been ranked outside the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency. KSU, at 30th, still has a ways to go in that area.
Players to watch
Six-foot guard Jacob Pullen is one of the best offensive players in the Big 12. Not only does he average 19.8 points while making 45 percent of his threes and 79 percent of his free throws, but he also distributes 3.4 assists per game. He has KSU’s highest shot percentage (shooting it on 29.8 percent of the Wildcats’ possessions when he’s on the floor) and also puts immense pressure on the defense, drawing an average of 7.3 fouls per 40 minutes played (ranking 29th nationally). An injury to him would be devastating for the Wildcats.
Though Denis Clemente is second on the team with 14.9 points per game, he has reached that number by shooting quite a bit (In fact, he has 18 more field-goal attempts than Pullen, but 4.9 fewer points per game). Clemente’s three-point percentage also has dropped off quite a bit since last season (29 percent this year from 41 percent last year). Curtis Kelly and Dominique Sutton, meanwhile, have been carrying the Wildcats on the boards. Kelly has pulled down offensive rebounds on 14.4 percent of his team’s misses while he’s in the game (52nd nationally), while Sutton has grabbed the offensive board on 12.6 percent of KSU’s misses during his playing time (135th nationally). Highly touted 6-9 freshman Wally Judge (4 points, 3.2 rebounds per game) hasn’t even begun to show his potential, and this KSU team could be even more dangerous come March if there is additional development from him.
If the Wildcats step up their defensive pressure just a bit, they have all the makings of a potential Final Four team.