On Friday night, Kentucky went into an NCAA Tournament game against Providence having not won a game in the tournament since March 2019. After a rollercoaster of an evening, Coach John Calipari’s team prevailed with a 61-53 victory against those Providence Friars. Oscar Tshiebwe, Jacob Toppin, and Antonio Reeves really carried the Wildcats into the Round of 32 and set up a battle with third-seeded Kansas State on Sunday afternoon with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.
The Wildcats from Kansas State are led by star forward Keyontae Johnson and point guard Markquis Nowell. Both score around 17 points per game and can put the ball in the basket from all levels of the floor. Both are always lethal scorers, but have well-rounded games to go along with said scoring ability. Johnson shoots the ball at a 41.1% clip from three and averages seven rebounds per night. Nowell is one of the best point guards in the nation, as he averages almost eight assists per night alongside those 17 points.
Jacob Toppin versus Keyontae Johnson and Cason Wallace against Markquis Nowell are the two primary matchups in this game. The game will revolve around the one-on-one bouts between those four gentlemen, but the real X-factor for Kentucky is center Oscar Tshiebwe.
In just two seasons at Kentucky, Oscar Tshiebwe now ranks in the top 10 in rebounds (934), top 25 in blocks (87), top 30 in steals (110), top 50 in points (1,092), is one of two national players of the year and one of nine two-time consensus All-Americans.
— Chris Fisher (@ChrisFisher247) March 18, 2023
Tshiebwe provided an insane 25 rebounds on Friday night against Providence, including 11 on the offensive end. Kentucky simply would not have won that game without Tshiebwe dominating on the boards against an inferior rebounding team, and Kentucky must do the same against a similar foe on Sunday.
Kansas State has one player that averages more than 5.8 rebounds per night and only two players that snag over 3.7 boards. A lot of that has to do with the size disadvantage that Kansas State faces. They are a shorter team at most positions on the floor, and Kentucky can really take advantage of it. Oscar Tshiebwe, Jacob Toppin, and Chris Livingston crashing the glass could take an otherwise 50-50, toss-up game and make it a 60-40 lean in Kentucky’s favor. I would expect another masterful rebounding performance from the Big O on Sunday afternoon.
All of Kansas State's players at the podium were asked about the challenges of Kentucky's style of basketball.
Forward Nae'Qwan Tomlin's answer: "I don't think it will be something that will be much of a challenge besides Oscar."
— Aaron Gershon (@agershon99) March 18, 2023
In conclusion, Kansas State is a good basketball team with two elite players leading the way. Coach Jerome Tang has done a wonderful job in his first season in Manhattan. The Wildcats are a top 20 defensive team in the nation but struggle a bit offensively according to kenpom. Kentucky is virtually the exact opposite. This is a game that could go either way, but I expect Oscar Tshiebwe and the rest of the Cats to use their size to their advantage and out-rebound K-State en route to their ninth Sweet 16 under Coach Calipari.
Prediction: Kentucky: 69, Kansas State: 63