Big 12 Basketball

Three Thoughts on Kansas State’s 75-69 NCAA Tournament Win over Kentucky

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Kansas State

The Kansas State Wildcats beat the Kentucky Wildcats, 75-69, in the second round of the 2023 NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Greensboro, NC. Here are three thoughts on the game.

Kansas State (24-9) reaches the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018, when it went all the way to the Elite Eight.

Kentucky (22-12) saw its season end in the second round of the tournament.


How Kansas State Won

Let’s start with Markquis Nowell because, more than anyone else, he was the game-changer for K-State. At 5-foot-8, Kentucky had players that could block his shots but no one that could truly match up with him. That included his quickness and his play-making ability. Some of the passes Nowell made were high-level, no-look passes that are not for the faint of heart.

By game’s end, Nowell had 27 points and nine assists and made some of the most incredible rainbow 3-pointers over taller players you’ll see.

Kansas State’s game plan was to let Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe get his and then take care of everyone else. Overall, it worked … enough. Kentucky only shot about 40 percent from the floor. Kentucky didn’t get a lot of transition, which is what it likes. Most importantly, Kansas State was great at turning Kentucky over. Kentucky normally turns the ball over 11 times a game. On Sunday it was 16. Those missed possessions hurt.

The Kansas State role players helped, too. Several of them had to take runs at defending Tshiebwe and the refs definitely let them play. But Nae’Qwan Tomlin had 12 points and Desi Sills had 10 points, the latter of which did so after missing a few minutes due to an injury.

As for Keyontae Johnson, Kentucky focused on him intently on defense, and he only scored 13 points and grabbed four rebounds. He made just one 3-pointer. But that one 3-pointer was HUGE. Johnson drained one from the elbow with 1:20 left to give Kansas State a 67-62 lead. Kentucky couldn’t get any closer.


How Kentucky Lost

The turnovers really hurt. Kentucky is so good at possessing the ball and not making mistakes. Kansas State’s defensive quickness was troublesome. Nowell may not be tall, but he’s quick and so are his hands. Sills and Tomlin had solid games defensively, too.

Kentucky’s 3-point shooting was way off, as it was under 20 percent and made just three 3-pointers. Now, Kansas State wasn’t great from there, either, but at least it ended up with five of them.

Tshiebwe got his, as expected (25 points, 18 rebounds). He had a huge game, in spite of everything Kansas State ran at him.

But Cason Wallace had 21 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals. He had a fine game. But as for a third offensive weapon, the best Kentucky could come up with was Chris Livingston, who has 11 points and seven rebounds. Guard Antonio Reeves was 1-for-15 and had five points. He normally averages 14 points.

But the turnovers and the shooting percentage, especially from distance, really hurt Kentucky.


The Oscar Question

The biggest question going into the game was how the Wildcats would handle Tshiebwe. It’s not like you need a scouting report to know what he does best — rebound. And Tang knew him well from his seasons at West Virginia.

So how did Kansas State handle it? Steady contact and physicality from the start. David N’Guessan, Ishmal Massoud and Tomlin all drew turns dealing with him down low, and blocking out was key.

By halftime Tshiebwe had 11 points and 11 rebounds, the eighth time in his career he had a first-half double-double.

But the Wildcats were up 11-3 on the offensive glass and Tshiebwe only had five of them. So others were pitching in.

And that was the OTHER key for Kansas State — to limit Kentucky’s work on the offensive glass overall. Tshiebwe was not the only good rebounder Kentucky had. So Kansas State had to cut down on second chances overall.

For the game, Kentucky outrebounded Kansas State, 45-25. That’s a huge disparity. So was the 19-4 edge on the offensive glass.

But Tshiebwe had nine of those 19 offensive rebounds. Livingston had five more. So 14 of Kentucky’s 19 offensive boards were concentrated between two players.

I see that as a win for Kansas State, which managed to overcome the inherent disadvantage of defending Tshiebwe with a combination of taking it to him and not letting others hurt them too much.

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard

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