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November 25, 2008
Wildcats get ready to roll to Vegas
Not only does what happens in Vegas basketball tournaments not stay there, it doesn't always take place there. Much like the first game of the Nevada-based tournament, Kansas State's second game of the Las Vegas invitational will take place in Manhattan on Tuesday, when the senior forward Darren Kent and the Wildcats welcome Oakland to the Little Apple.
Tuesday's showdown with the Golden Grizzlies will serve as the second preliminary game of the Las Vegas Invitational, which will reach its crescendo this Friday and Saturday in Sin City.
"It's more of a round-robin thing than anything else," Kansas State head coach Frank Martin said. "The four top seeds in this tournament: West Virginia, us, Kentucky and Iowa, are all guaranteed two home games, so we don't determine who we play. They tell you who you play. Then, you go to Vegas, and the four top seeds play each other."
Win or lose, Tuesday's game against Oakland will have no impact on K-State's scheduled game with Kentucky inside Las Vegas' Orleans Arena this Friday, but its a tournament game nonetheless, and one against a opponent picked to win its conference.
From here on out, nothing will be easy. "They're all great shooters," said K-State sophomore Jamar Samuels of Tuesday's opponent. "Oakland guard (Blake Cushingberry) can really shoot the ball. They have good guards coming off the dribble, and all their big men can finish around the rim. We just have to box out and get rebounds."
Working in K-State's favor is the fact that Oakland, 1-3, on the year, will be without senior forward Derick Nelson, a preseason All-Summit League selection and the team's leading scorer from a year ago.
Of course the loss of Nelson, a legitimate Summit League Player of the Year candidate, is a costly one, but even still, it would serve the Wildcats' best interest to hold off on putting their fifth game of the year in the win column prematurely.
"You don't want to play guys when they're hurt, unless you want to try to cheat for wins," Martin said. "We want to win good games. We want our team to be challenged. They're good without (Nelson). I mean, you don't go into Oregon and win unless you're a good basketball team."
So aside from sharp shooting guards and some physical big men, what should K-state expect from the Grizzlies on Tuesday night? Well, they'll get a look a defense they have yet to see.
Oakland will come out in the amoeba zone, a defense made famous by former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian in the '80s and '90s.
The unique defense is designed to stop offensive players from getting into gaps and to deny cross-court passes, making attacking such a look will definitely be a challenge for Martin and his relatively inexperienced Wildcats.
"It's something completely different," Martin said. "We haven't played against that in my two-and-a-half years here. It will be a first for our team as far as having to deal with that kind of zone."
Finding a way to solve Oakland's zone and claim a win over the Grizzlies Tuesday would reward K-State with just its third 5-0 start since the 1997-1998 season.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: K-State has been spreading the wealth when it comes to the score sheet as of late. The Wildcats have five different players averaging double-figure scoring totals this season, and if Martin gets his way, the point distribution will continue at its current pace. Samuels and Kent, as well as guards Denis Clemente, Fred Brown and Jacob Pullen have all shown the ability to go on a scoring spree, making keying on just one or two K-State players next to impossible.
But while K-State's scoring has been a group effort, Oakland's seems to be more of a two-man attack.
The Golden Grizzly guard tandem of Jonathan Jones and Erik Kangas is averaging a combined 34.7 points per game, and will have to carry the load once again if Oakland is to steal a win on the road.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: Kent, K-State's lone senior, collected his second double-double in three games against Cleveland State on Sunday, and while nobody is going to mistake him for Mike Beasley, he's certainly showing himself to be among the most improved players on the roster. The Minnesota native is shooting better than 53 percent from the floor in 2008, and is becoming a bigger presence on the glass with each passing game.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE GRIZZLIES: Jones, the reigning Summit League Player of the Week, is as hot as anyone in the nation right now. The junior scorched Oregon to the tune of 32 points in the Grizzlies last game, an 82-79 win over the Ducks, and is leading Oakland in scoring through four contests.