Kansas State at Cincinnati Preview

Cincinnati is at a crossroads heading into the final month of the season. The Bearcats are 16-12 overall and 5-10 in the Big 12 after falling to Houston 67-59 Tuesday night.

The loss marked the Bearcats' third straight and five of its last six.

If Cincinnati is going to end their streak of seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance, they are going to have to start stringing wins together, starting with tonight's 7 pm matchup against Jerome Tang's Kansas State Wildcats (17-11,7-8 Big 12).

Speaking to the media earlier this week, Jerome Tang called tonight's game the "biggest game of the year."

"We are in the same boat that they are in, and they have an advantage because they're at home," Tang said of the Bearcats. "This is the biggest game of the year, and not just because it's the next one."

"This one's huge, and we might as well call this an NCAA Tournament game. I think whoever wins this game is going to the tournament. Not that whoever loses is not, but I think whoever wins this game is going to go to the NCAA Tournament."

Tang isn't wrong in his thinking.

Kansas State is coming off a 94-90 overtime win over West Virginia. Prior to their current two game winning streak, the Wildcats had lost seven of their previous eight games and were in a similar position as Cincinnati right now. 

Tylor Perry led Kansas State with 29 points in the win over West Virginia. He had a very similar response as Wes Miller when discussing how much the little things matter in this league on every possession.

"In this league, you've got to bring it every night because it's going to be one-possession games, and we preach that all year. We just knew what we had to do, and we've tweaked a couple of things, and I think it's always good to be playing your best basketball going into March."

The Wildcats are now back in the mix for the NCAA Tournament after consecutive home wins against BYU and West Virginia.

The key to their current turnaround has been the improvement offensively.  K-State has scored at least 80 points in back-to-back games and it has scored at least 70 points in five of the past seven.

Kansas State has struggled on the road, losing six consecutive road games and 3-of-8 on the season.

Key Stats and Notes:

- Kansas State is 7-3 in games decided by 5 points or less. Much like Cincinnati, they are battle tested in close games. Cincinnati has not had the same success. The Bearcats are 4-7 in games decided by 5 or less points.

- The Wildcats are the only team in the conference to have 3 players rank in the league's top-10 in scoring,

- Kansas State averages 72.6 points per game, while allowing 69.8 points per game. K-State makes 43.6 percent of their field goal attempts but are last in the league, making just 31.5 percent of their 3-point attempts. K-State did make 22-of-46 shots from the perimeter over the past two games against BYU and West Virginia. The Wildcats have been good from the free throw line, making 73.2 percent of their opportunities.

- Both teams rank in the top five of the league in rebounding. The Bearcats are eighth nationally, and tops in the Big 12, with an 8.9 rebounding margin, including 10th on the offensive glass. Kansas State ranks fifth in league, pulling down 37.9 rebounds per game. 

- K-State ranks last in the league in both turnover margin and assist to turnover ratio. While the Wildcats average 14 assists per game, they are also turning the ball over 14 times per game. Kansas State's last three opponents have all finished with single digit turnovers.

- UC is 13-3 when scoring 70 or more points. The loss to Oklahoma State was the first loss of the season when shooting over 50 percent. Cincinnati's top-four shooting games in Big 12 play have come at home. Simas Lukosius is shooting 39.5 percent from three in Big 12 home games compared to 28.6 in road games.

- Cincinnati is 7-1 all time vs Kansas State and have won seven consecutive meetings after defeating K-State 75-61 in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. 

Projected Starters for Kansas State

P No. Ht. Yr. PPG

F 20 Jerrell Colbert 6-10 So. 2.4

Colbert began his career at LSU but decided to transfer to Kansas State as Tang's first recruit and signee following a difficuly freshman year under Will Wade. Colbert brings a freaky athleticism to the K-State front court but hasn't done much in terms of production. He has been held under four points in nine consecutive games, while also averaging just 2.3 rebounds per game. 

G 4 Dai Dai Ames 6-1 Fr. 4.7

 Ames was a Jordan Brand Classic All American and Class 4A first team all state selection coming out of Chicago in the 2023 recruiting class. Ames has had a mixed bag of results like most freshmen this season but does not lack confidence. Ames scored 11 points against Houston on January 27th and nine in the most recent win over West Virginia. Ames has struggled from the field, shooting under 32 percent from both the field and 3-point line.

G 24 Arthur Kaluma 6-7 Jr. 14.9

A Creighton transfer, Kaluma was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week following a 28 point, 10 rebound performance in the win over BYU. Kaluma leads the team in rebounds per game (7.1) and has the versatility to score at all three levels while also getting to the free throw line.

The Arizona native was named to the preseason Julius Erving Award Watch List and was an honorable mention All Big 12 preseason selection. Kaluma ranks in the top 10 in the league in both scoring and rebounding. Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar are the only other two Big 12 players to also share that distinction. 

G 5 Cam Carter 6-3 So. 15.2

Carter started his career at Mississippi State and his quickly made the transition to Kansas State as a known scorer. Tang has asked him to be more aggressive offensively and it shows when watching the Wildcats. Carter makes 40 percent of his field goal attempts and 84.4 percent of his free throw attempts. He has struggled from deep recently, making just 2-of-18 three points attempts over the last five games.

G 2 Tylor Perry 5-11 Sr. 15.6

Perry has scored 20 or more points in nine games this season and four of the last eight. He made six 3-pointers in the win over West Virginia but is making just 32.8 percent of his attempts on the season. Keeping him out of the paint and off the free throw line will have to be a priority. Perry is second in the league in free throw percentage at 91.1 percent. Perry also leads the team with 4.6 assists per game. 

The Rest:


 6-foot-11 big man Will McNair comes off the bench and has averaged 7.7 points, 5.2 rebounds per game for the season. He scored 13 points against West Virginia and 11 points against BYU.

6-foot-9 forward David N;Guessan also averages 7.7 points per game, and is second on the team with 6.8 rebounds per game. N'Guessan was just short of a double-double with 8 points, 10 rebounds against West Virginia. Prior to that, he had scored 12 points in each game against BYU, Texas, and TCU. 

Final Thoughts:

Cincinnati has struggled at home this season and not protected home court advantage like an NCAA Tournament caliber team typically does. Jerome Tang described his team's situation right now as "desperate" after  "sense of urgency" didn't resonate with his team. The Bearcats are going to have to play with a desperate mentality over the final three games as well if they want to put themselves back on the bubble and in the NCAA Tournament conversation. Neither team is particularly good at shooting from outside and both have struggled with turnovers. Second chance points and points off turnovers, along with free throw points will likely determine which team comes out on top. 

Wes Miller liked his team's fight and intensity after a slow start against Houston. Playing with that same physicality and aggressive style that led to out-rebounding Houston 42-30 will be needed again for Cincinnati to end their current three game losing streak. 

(Photo: USA Today)

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