Gameday Breakdown: No. 8 Kansas vs. No. 7 Kansas State

Kansas State guard Desi Sills (13) puts up a three over Kansas guard Gradey Dick (4) during the first half on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023 at Bramlage Coliseum.

No. 8 Kansas Jayhawks (17-4 overall, 5-3 Big 12) vs. No. 7 Kansas State Wildcats (18-3 overall, 6-2 Big 12)

Time: 7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023

Location: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas

TV: ESPN+ | Radio: Jayhawk Radio Network via Learfield

Keys for Kansas

1. Emphasis on the ‘controllables’

Kansas coach Bill Self said Monday that his team learned a lot from the first match-up with the Wildcats, an 83-82 overtime loss in Manhattan a couple of weeks ago.

And while some of what they learned in that one will help the Jayhawks as they prepare for the rematch, some of it is a little bit beyond KU’s control.

For example, Self pointed to KU’s 6-of-29 shooting clip from behind the 3-point line in that one and said simply, “Of course it helps if you shoot the ball better, but those are things sometimes that aren’t controllables. I tend to really focus on controllables, and the controllables are we can certainly rebound better, be much more alert defensively and pay attention to scouting report better.”

Specifically, Self noted that the attention to detail with the scouting report included remembering and locking in on which K-State players use which hand as their strong hand, which players they can help off of to protect the paint and which players they can “bluff” off of, showing help but not really leaving the man.

“Usually the second time is better,” Self said.

He also said that Kansas State is playing better today than they were against the Jayhawks in Manhattan, so executing and matching effort will be the minimum that’s required to give the Jayhawks a chance to change the outcome.

“I’m excited to play it,” Self said. “It was a fun game, even though the wrong team won the first time we played them. Great atmosphere, hotly contested and very competitive and I certainly expect the same in this game.”

2. Brace for another big

Kansas State’s starting center has returned to the Wildcats’ lineup since the Jayhawks last faced them, and that fact was not lost on Self and his coaching staff.

David N’Guessan, a 6-foot-9, 215-pound junior and former 3-star prospect, transferred to K-State from Virginia Tech in the offseason.

After starting 11 of the Wildcats’ first 12 games — averaging 23 minutes per game during that time — N’Guessan played his first game in a month in the Wildcats’ home win over Texas Tech on Jan. 21.

He played just 4 minutes off the bench in that one but followed it up with one of his better showings of the year in a home victory over Florida last weekend.

The transfer big man is shooting 68.9% from the floor (42-of-61) but just 44.1% (15-of-34) at the free throw line.

“He’s an athlete,” Self said of N’Guessan. “He’s a great rim runner and can catch lobs and all that stuff.”

His presence for the Wildcats merely adds to something that Self said was a little more surprising to him in person than what he saw while studying K-State on film before the first match-up.

“The one thing that probably impressed me more in person was how long and how fast and athletic they actually are,” Self said.

“He’s good,” Self added of N’Guessan. “And he’s ridiculously long. He certainly adds an element that I believe they didn’t have as much of the first time we played them.”

3. Proper execution, not payback

This matchup is the rare game where it’s Kansas State, and not perennial contender Kansas, that is ranked higher in the polls.

After reaching as high as No. 5 in the Associated Press Top 25 a week ago, the Wildcats dropped two spots to seventh this week, while Kansas, which has peaked at No. 2 so far this season, moved up a spot to No. 8.

While the rankings are always good for debate and water-cooler conversation, the Jayhawks enter this one far more concerned about playing well and getting better than where K-State or anyone else is ranked.

“We really don’t look at the rankings or anything like that,” freshman forward Ernest Udeh Jr. said on Monday. “You can say, quote-unquote, revenge mode, but at the end of the day we need to go in there and do what we need to do to pull out wins and we’ll see the end product.”

Every season, Self talks about his group coming together and becoming a true team, be it through overcoming adversity or winning tough games or responding in a tough spot. This team’s still looking to do that, and this game seems like it has the potential to be the start of that transformation.

In some ways, the win at Kentucky last weekend was the start. But heading into that one, Self made no secret of the fact that Big 12 games mean far more than nonconference tilts at this time of the season.

“It helps with mojo a little bit (and) I think it was important that we (won),” he said of last Saturday’s victory. “I always say don’t let one (loss) become two or two become three. Well, we did. So now we couldn’t let three become four. So hopefully it’ll be good for our confidence.”

The Kentucky win, which he played a key role in, was huge for Udeh’s confidence, but the freshman said Monday that it was still team above everything for him.

“It’s really tough to go into (Tuesday’s) game with any personal goals for myself, especially since they beat us the last time we met,” Udeh said. “This game is really important for us, and it’s really tough for me to look at (Tuesday) and try to find any individual things I can do for myself.”

Marquee Matchup

KU point guards Dajuan Harris Jr. and Bobby Pettiford vs. K-State guard Markquis Nowell

It’s the same marquee match-up in the second game as it was in the first and there probably aren’t too many people on the planet who would argue its importance.

Nowell did not light the world on fire on the stat sheet in the first game with Kansas, but he controlled the game in a lot of ways and made some of the game’s biggest plays late.

Any time you’re looking at a guard who Self said can score 30 points against anyone, while recording 10 assists at the same time, it’s probably best to keep a close eye on him. That starts with Harris, Pettiford and even Joe Yesufu in whatever minutes he plays.

It also addressed what Self said Monday was one of the biggest issues in the game two weeks ago — one-on-one defense.

Both Nowell and transfer wing Keyontae Johnson were named this week to the Wooden Award’s late-season watch list — KU’s Jalen Wilson was on the 20-man list, too — and those two, along with their supporting cast, have shown that they’re all capable of going off.

“If you add (Cam) Carter and (Desi) Sills and Nowell, they probably got what they were averaging (in the first meeting),” Self said Monday. “It just came from a different area. Sills was unbelievable. He may have been the best player in the game.”

Self added: “Nowell had a nice floor game. We just didn’t let him get numbers, but that’s obviously got to be a big key. We can’t let him control the game. Even though I thought we did a decent job on him last time, we obviously didn’t do a good enough job on the other guys.”

Jayhawk Pulse

They don’t make them much bigger than this in January.

With a win, the Jayhawks can pull even with the Wildcats in the Big 12 race, bringing them even more into the thick of the chase for the regular season title, with nine games to play.

A loss would put Kansas two full games behind the Wildcats, not to mention wherever they sit in relation to Top-15 teams Iowa State, Texas, Baylor and TCU, who are all vying for the Big 12 title.

After snapping their three-game losing skid with a tough win at Kentucky over the weekend, the Jayhawks got some of their swagger back.

They played really well in large stretches of that UK game, particularly on the glass and in terms of effort and physicality. They’ll need to do the same in this one — as well as throughout the rest of the Big 12 gauntlet — to stave off the Wildcats, who have shown that they can beat anybody anywhere and certainly aren’t likely to be intimidated coming into Allen Fieldhouse given the way they played in the first meeting.

It will be different, of course. The Kansas fans will be more than a little fired up. And there’s still the Big 12 losing streak that the Jayhawks want and need to address.

While KU’s win at Kentucky helped KU avoid its first four-game losing streak since the 1988-89 season, now the Jayhawks are trying not to drop their fourth straight conference game. Coincidentally, it was also during the 1988-89 season that they hit — and surpassed — that slide. In early 1989, between Jan. 28 and Feb. 22, KU lost seven consecutive Big Eight games, including one in Lawrence to K-State that started the skid.

Kansas leads the overall series with K-State, 203-95. That includes a record of 52-18 in Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks have won 16 straight over the Wildcats, dating back to 2007. lists the Jayhawks as 7-point favorites in this one, with a win probability of 71%. As of today, that’s the second-highest win percentage for the Jayhawks on the rest of their schedule.

Probable Starters

No. 8 Kansas

G – Dajuan Harris Jr., 6-1, 175, Jr.

G – Kevin McCullar Jr., 6-6, 210, Sr.

G – Gradey Dick, 6-8, 205, Fr.

F – Jalen Wilson, 6-8, 225, Jr.

F – KJ Adams, 6-7, 225, Soph.

No. 7 Kansas State

G – Markquis Nowell, 5-8, 160, Sr.

G – Cam Carter, 6-3, 190, Soph.

F – Keyontae Johnson, 6-6, 230, Sr.

F – Nae’Qwan Tomlin, 6-10, 210, Jr.

C – David N’Guessan, 6-9, 215, Jr.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.