In case you haven't gotten into basketball season yet, we have a huge game coming up Thursday night at Kansas State in the Pac 10/Big 12 Hardwood Challenge. K-State is a top-25 team with this year's version of Kevin Durant in Michael Beasley. The game is on national TV at 6 PM Pacific on ESPN2.
To get some insight on what is our most important non-conference game, we have summoned the help of TB, blogger at our excellent Kansas State affiliate, Bring on the Cats. Thanks to TB for taking the time to join us. You can also view my answers to his questions here.
Dave: We have all seen Michael Beasley's gaudy stats, but few of us have seen him play. Tell us a bit about him, and why the heck did he go to Kansas State?
TB: Beasley is fairly similar to a new NBA player up in your neck of the woods, one Kevin Durant. He's thicker than Durant--by about 20 pounds--and is just as tall. The only difference is probably quickness, as Beasley's more of a 'smooth' player, whereas Durant is more likely to bust your ankle with a wicked crossover that should be illegal for a guy who's 6'9".
Anyway, Beasley has a pretty complete game. He can shoot from the arc, he can drive and finish, pull up and hit a mid range jumper, post up a little bit, and just about anything necessary. He also has a great nose for the ball rebounding, which all adds up to him comfortably averaging a double-double right now. Most impressive to me is that he gets his points on a minimum of shots--he's only taking about 17 shots per game.
Last year, Bob Huggins hired Dalonte Hill, an assistant coach at Charlotte, who had recruited Beasley. It probably wasn't the nicest thing to do to Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz, but we're happy to have both Beasley and Hill in Manhattan.
Dave: How about the rest of the team? They were good last year, so I'm assuming that they are not a one trick pony.
TB: There is a ton of talent on the rest of the team. We returned solid senior leaders in PG Clent Stewart and SG/SF David Hoskins. Unfortunately, Hoskins is out for another month or so, recovering from surgery for a torn meniscus. That hurts, because he really is the heart of the team, an undersized but strong-as-a-bull guy who isn't afraid to take it to the rim, get hammered, and make some free throws.
For the guys that do play, the other star is obviously Bill Walker. He's a dangerous wing, but needs to improve his outside shooting. He's explosive going to the rim, and is liable to go off and score 20 points on a given night.
The rest of the team is largely newcomers. Jacob Pullen is an inexperienced but potentially exciting PG who is averaging double-figured in points, but needs to cut down the turnovers and increase the assists. Andre Gilbert has an awkward-looking shot, but went off against Rider to lead the team in points with 22. Blake Young is an athletic SG who started strong, but has disappeared over the last few games and may need a bit of an attitude adjustment right now.
Down low, we're a bit of a mystery. First-year player Ron Anderson has great hands and looks like he'll develop into a great player down low. He's averaging 6 points and 8 rebounds right now, which isn't too bad on this team. And I really hope he keeps getting more minutes, because it will mean Luis Colon--an awkward loose-cannon of a player--is not playing.
Dave: What offensive style does K-State run? How about defensively?
TB: Right now, I can't really give a great assesment of what kind of offensive style K-State plays. It's a lot like Huggins' system last year, whatever they call that. We'll set a lot of high ball screens and try to find cutters off that. We have the guards who can drive and finish or drive and dish. One thing is for sure, we'll run up the court as fast as possible, and probably throw the ball away about 20 times per game. And when all else fails, we just give it to Beasley and tell him to do whatever he wants, because he usually does something good.
On defense, we'll play man-to-man and get right up in your face. Lots of switching, which tends to be a bit of a problem early in the season because the players are still thinking about where they should be rather than just reacting to what they see. We'll get some steals and blocks and disrupt your guards sometimes, but we'll also give up some really easy looks on blown assignments.
Your assessment of Oregon as a run-and-gun team makes me wonder how many points will be scored in this game. Our guys are always in a huge rush to get the ball up the court, sometimes in such a hurry that it's easy for opposing guards to jump an inbounds pass and pick up an easy layup. I have a feeling the players are going to be exhausted when this one is over.
Dave: What is the gameday environment for basketball in Manhattan? Will home court advantage be a big factor?
TB: The gameday environment has changed massively in Manhattan. I graduate in spring 2006, and now don't live in the Manattan area anymore. When I came back for my first game under Huggins--on Big Monday against Texas Tech last year--I couldn't believe the difference. The place was nearly full, it was loud, the students were on the same page as far as trying to get under the skin of opposing players...basically, it was a 180 from what I had seen.
Oregon's players won't be intimidated, because they've played in big games and big environments before. But Bramlage will be full and it will be rocking, as this is by far the biggest home non-conference game at K-State in the last...well, it's been a while.
Dave: Did one year of Bob Huggins really change things this much? How have the expectations for basketball change over the last year?
TB: Amazing as it is to say, yes, Bob Huggins really changed everything. Back in the day, K-State used to be considered a team to be reckoned with year-in and year-out in basketball, but that all obviously died in the 1990s and early 2000s. Huggins awoke the basketball spirit in the older fans who remember the glory days, and gave the students a reason to come to Bramlage for games. Back when I was in school at K-State, we used to think "man, if we get on a little run this year, we could make the NIT and finish in the top six or seven in the Big 12." Now, the fans will probably consider this season a huge disappointment if we make the NIT, and a top four or five finish in the conference is expected.
Thanks again, TB. Here's to a great game tomorrow!