Making Sense of Kansas State

Over the last few weeks, Kansas State climbed into the Top 25 and amassed an 11-1 record before losing at Kansas last night.  Their best wins have come on the road against Virginia Tech, on a semi-neutral floor against Alabama, and in Hawaii against Long Beach State to win the Diamond Head Classic.  Their loss came in double overtime against West Virginia, again on a semi-neutral floor.

So even before the Kansas game, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this team, and last night’s loss didn’t exactly help me figure it out.  The Jayhawks jumped out to a 23-5 lead nearly 12 minutes into the game, but the Wildcats fought back to get within three points with 12:27 left.  A 21-7 run by KU put the game away though, leaving me as confused as ever about how good K-State is or is not.


At the risk of upsetting Frank Martin, I thought it best to take a deeper look at some of their stats this year.

Through the first eight games of the season, Kansas State’s offensive efficiency was typically between 0.96 and 1.03 points per possession, which won’t get anyone too excited.  Starting with the three games in Hawaii, the Wildcats reeled off four straight games with at least 1.20 ppp but were held to just 0.77 ppp against the Jayhawks. 

K-State’s eFG% was a dismal 36.0% versus KU, and that’s the one thing that has been most volatile for them offensively.  They have five games with an eFG% below 45% but three games over 60%, all of which came against some of the worst teams on their schedule.  Of the four players who have taken the most three-pointers on the team, only one of them (Will Spradling) has made over 33.3 percent. 

The Jayhawks also did a terrific job of keeping the Wildcats off the glass, holding them to just a 27.9 OReb% compared to their ninth-rated 40.6% for the year.  However, four of their five worst performances on the glass have come against major conference foes, so again, competition appears to be a factor.

The Wildcats also posted a 28.1 FT Rate, which was also a large dropoff from their 48.3 mark for the season.  In fact, their previous low was 38.2 in the loss to West Virginia, and it was just the third time they have been under 40.0 for the season.  Unfortunately, the team ranks 278th in free throw shooting, which prevents them from taking full advantage of this area of strength.

So in the end, the reality of how good Kansas State is on offense lies somewhere in the middle of their most recent games.  They have played eight games against teams ranked 144th or lower in the Pomeroy Ratings, so it’s fair to say some of their numbers are a bit inflated by their competition. 

But defensive efficiency has been where the team has really excelled, so are those numbers legit?  They rank 7th in defensive eFG% , 38th in TO%, and 17th in overall adjusted efficiency according to Pomeroy.  They are in the Top 25 in both two- and three-point defense and also are 44th in block percentage.  Interestingly, they are outside the Top 225 in both OReb% against and defensive FT Rate.

With 1.05 ppp on Wednesday night, Kansas became just the fourth team to score over 0.90 ppp against the Wildcats and only the second to tally over 1.02.  The Jayhawks are averaging 1.09 ppp for the season, so I am relatively comfortable in saying this team is above average defensively.

In terms of shooting, Kansas State has held eight of their 13 opponents to an eFG% of 42.1 or less.  Not coincidentally, two of the top three shooting performances against them resulted in their two losses.

From a turnover perspective, the Wildcats have forced opponents into a TO% of 26.1 or higher seven times and have posted a TO% of at least 18.3 in every game.  It also should not come as a surprise that Kansas’ 31.2% mark is the highest they have forced this year.  I like to refer to that as the Tyshawn Taylor Effect.

One continued area of concern on the defensive end is an ability to limit offensive boards.  Kansas exploited this to grab 17 of their 30 misses, led surprisingly by Travis Releford with six and not surprisingly by Thomas Robinson with five.  So while you can’t expect opponents to post a 57.6 OReb% like the Jayhawks did, the Wildcats have allowed six opponents to grab at least 37.5 percent of their misses.

I’m less concerned with their ranking for defensive FT Rate, because a couple outliers are playing a factor.  UTEP posted a crazy 79.1 percent, and Loyola (IL) was at 61.7 percent, but most of their opponents have been under the national average of 36.6, including Kansas who wound up at 29.1.

Individually, Martin has eight players averaging at least 18.5 minutes with seven of them scoring at least 6.3 points.

Rodney McGruder leads the team in scoring despite having the fourth highest usage rate on the team, although his shot percentage is second.  He’s doing a decent job on the glass on both ends of the floor, rarely turns the ball over, and is shooting just over 55 percent from two-point range.  His 29.4 percent shooting on 53 attempts beyond the arc suggests he would be well-served to settle for fewer long jumpers. 


Senior forward Jamar Samuels leads the team in rebounding and is second in scoring after reaching double figures in 10 of 11 games.  He is drawing fouls at a ridiculous rate, which he has parlayed into a 98.7 FT Rate.  Samuels also has solid rebounding percentages on both ends, although he could stand to cut back on his own fouling. 

Big man Jordan Henriquez has also shown flashes, including a 17-point outburst against Alabama.  Like Samuels, he is solid on the glass, and his 12.7 block percentage ranks within the nation’s Top 20.  Henriquez also has a high FT Rate, but he is brutal from the line and actually shoots better from the field than the stripe.

The enigma right now is freshman forward Thomas Gipson.  Over one six-game stretch he averaged 16.0 points and 9.5 rebounds with three double-doubles, but in the six games since he has posted just 4.5 points and 5.2 boards.  He gives Martin another able rebounder, and he was drawing 7.3 fouls per 40 minutes heading into the Kansas game.  However, his 50.8 percent shooting the free throw line is the worst on the team.

Will Spradling’s sophomore season is off to a good start.  His 122.1 ORtg is the best on the team, fueled largely by his 43.6 percent shooting from three-point range.  For someone who shoots a lot of threes, his 41.4 FT Rate is relatively surprising.

Martin is also getting contributions from guys like Martavious Irving, Angel Rodriguez, and Shane Southwell, all of whom are among the team leaders in assist rate.

The early portion of their Big 12 schedule doesn’t get any easier after leaving Lawrence with home games against Missouri and Baylor coming up next.  Thanks to a balanced schedule though, that will even itself out eventually. 

For now, I’m considering the Wildcats to be the fourth best team in the league, a step below their first three opponents.  Their defense will keep them in most games, and the pieces are there to become more consistent on the offensive end.  That should be enough to keep them as a fringe Top 25 team for the balance of the year.

Follow me on Twitter (@AndyBottoms) for more of my thoughts on college basketball.