After a couple of tough losses to finish Big 5 play with a 0-3 record, the Villanova Wildcats are preparing for a road trip to Manhattan... Kansas.
‘Nova is coming off of stinging losses to Saint Joseph’s and Drexel and will look to improve on their 6-3 record and put an end to their recent skid, as the next three games on their schedule will provide a steep jump in toughness, with Kansas State, UCLA and Creighton approaching.
Kansas State enters Tuesday with a 6-2 record and a three-game winning streak. However, they were sweating it out in their last two outings, staving off the likes of Oral Roberts (88-78) and North Alabama (75-74) in overtime.
Villanova and Kansas State are set to tip-off at Bramlage Coliseum on Tuesday night, at 7 p.m. ET. The game will be on ESPN2, for those watching from home.
Here’s a preview of Tuesday’s matchup:
A familiar face, and many new ones mixed in
Kansas State enjoyed a deep run to the Elite Eight last season behind Jerome Tang in his first year coaching there. Last year’s Kansas State team played with a lot of swagger behind the likes of Markquis Nowell, Keyontae Johnson and Ismael Massoud. They had a lot of transfer portal magic that helped them go far, and they hope to accomplish the same this year.
A lot of the catalysts in last year’s Elite Eight run have either graduated, moved on to the next level, or transferred.
Tang has reloaded the roster with a bunch more transfers, including former Creighton two-year starter Arthur Kaluma.
Kaluma has played well against ‘Nova over the last two years, averaging 11.7 points and 7.0 rebounds over six career contests against the blue and white ‘Cats.
Last season, he stepped things up as a sophomore, especially on the scoring end, averaging 15.0 points and 5.3 rebounds, while shooting a combined 11-for-27 (40.7%) overall and 6-for-16 (37.5%) from deep.
He’s seamlessly fit in well at Kansas State, averaging 15.1 points and 8.4 rebounds to start his junior season. He’s one of Kansas State’s big three, a trio that includes fellow transfers Tylor Perry (North Texas) and Cam Carter (Mississippi State).
Perry is looking like the next Markquis Nowell, filling in as the leading man as an undersized guard. He’s 5-foot-11, but his game is much bigger than that. He’s a do-it-all guard that can score from anywhere and impact the game in a variety of ways. He’s averaging 17.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.1 steals per game.
As for Carter, he’s taken a massive leap in his second season with K-State, more than doubling his scoring numbers from last year, and he’s currently on pace to set career-highs in nearly every statistical category. Carter averages 16.5 points, 5.5 boards, 2.6 assists and 2.5 steals per game.
Also keep an eye out for David N’Guessan and Will McNair Jr., who anchor the frontcourt. N’Guessan is a 6-foot-9 forward, who averages 7.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. The former Virginia Tech big man has become more physical and tenacious, especially when it comes to rebounding, than in years past. At the rate he is playing, he will have more rebounds at the end of this season than his first three years of playing college basketball combined (86 games).
Meanwhile, McNair is the tallest player in their rotation and averages 7.9 points per game, while shooting an efficient 65.8% overall. The Philadelphia native stands in at 6-foot-11.
Villanova’s defense will be tested once again and not just by Kansas State’s top-three contributors.
An emphasis has to be placed on rebounding and eliminating second-chance opportunities.
Kansas State has an offensive rebounding rate of 40.4%, the seventh-highest mark in the nation. It averages 16 offensive rebounds per game as a team, with N’Guessan (3.4 offensive boards per game) and Kaluma (2.7 offensive boards per game) leading the pack, but the tenacity on the glass is contagious among the rest of the team.
K-State also likes to move and spread the ball around and shoot a high volume at threes, almost similar to Saint Joseph’s. It’s not nearly at the same level or volume, but still fairly high, ranking in the top 80 for three-point attempts and in the top 60 for assist rate.
(For reference: Saint Joseph’s enters Tuesday with half of its shots coming from three-point range, stepping in at No. 5, and the 10th-highest assist rate in the country.)
However, Kansas State shoots just 31.6% (221st) from three-point range, but it doesn’t seem to be fazed by taking the volume scoring approach from deep.
Will the real Wildcats please stand up?
It’ll be Wildcats vs. Wildcats, but let’s look internally at Villanova.
There are obvious inconsistencies, and while the recent two-game losing skid may be frustrating, Villanova has recently shown a tendency to play up or down to its competition.
Dating back to last season and keeping injuries in mind, there were various instances, like topping Xavier and Creighton. Even in a few of those losses, the ‘Cats played well to the final buzzer and just fell short, like they did against Michigan State, Iowa State and Marquette at home on New Year’s Eve.
There were also the head-scratching losses, such as Portland, Temple and DePaul, or the first-half scare against Delaware State.
So far this season, the ‘Cats have soared high and demonstrated their potential with an impressive four-game winning streak that started with a defensive dismantling of Maryland, followed by three solid wins at Battle 4 Atlantis, where they clamped down on Texas Tech and Memphis, and willed their way past North Carolina.
Now, there’s the winless showing in the Big 5 and losing back-to-back games entering Tuesday.
Can Villanova rise to the challenge and turn things back around?