Cats set for first ranked opponent

By Cole Manbeck

Kansas State will see its toughest test to date when it plays No. 23 Alabama in Kansas City, Mo., at Sprint Center on Saturday at 9 p.m.

The Crimson Tide enter Saturday’s contest at 8-2, with wins over teams such as Maryland, Wichita State and Purdue. At one point they were on the verge of cracking the top 10 in the rankings before a two-point loss to Georgetown and a road loss to Dayton.

Alabama ranks 11th in the country in scoring defense, limiting teams to 55.3 points per game, and holds opponents to just 35.6 percent shooting, which ranks ninth nationally. K-State (6-1) ranks 17th in field-goal percentage defense, holding teams to 36.6 percent accuracy.

“I see a team that kind of resembles our team the way they play,” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “They attack you, they change defenses a little bit more than us but every defense they go into is aggressive. They utilize that athleticism and that length that they have to make it real difficult for you to pass the ball around the perimeter, let alone shoot it. If you can’t pass it’s hard to get good shots.”

Alabama is led by a pair of forwards in JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. Green and Mitchell average 15.4 points apiece while combining for more than 14 rebounds per game.

The two teams played two years ago in Alabama, a game K-State won. One of the areas Alabama has changed is at point guard, where sophomore Trevor Releford has now taken over. Releford is third on the team with 10.5 points per game and has dished out 30 assists on the season compared to 18 turnovers.

“They’ve got a point guard now,” Martin said.

But where Alabama has improved the most is that Anthony Grant, the third-year head coach, has put his stamp on the program.

“Anthony Grant’s culture is now in place in that program,” said Martin, who is a close friend of Grant’s. “It took a year-and-change to fight and fight and fight to create the culture they wanted. That started taking shape at the end of last season and it continued into the way they started this year.

“When you take over a program that’s the most important part. Your ability to create your culture in that locker room and the ability of those players to buy into that culture — to go out there and fight and protect for that culture. They’ve done that now and that’s the thing that’s as clear as daylight.”

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