For a minute, just a brief one, think back to Kansas State’s winless two-game run at the Fort Myers Tip-Off last week.
The Wildcats were outplayed by Pittsburgh and Bradley in back-to-back losses. Their offense was roughshod in both outings, but particularly against the Braves, when they managed just 23 points in the second half. K-State’s leading scorer was Xavier Sneed, who needed 12 shots to tally 15 points.
Things seemed, well, bleak for K-State.
Now consider what the Wildcats did five nights later.
K-State ran away with a 76-58 shellacking of Florida A&M, a win that made the Wildcats’ offense look smooth in set plays and electric in transition. The Model-T offense K-State drove out of Florida looked like a Ferrari in Manhattan.
“Slowly but surely,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said, “making progress.”
K-State shot 54% from the field, including a 9-for-26 mark from beyond the 3-point arc. The Wildcats dished out 21 assists, including seven from point guard Cartier Diarra, who totaled 11 points.
All told, three Wildcats scored in double figures: Sneed (18), Mike McGuirl (16), and Diarra (11). Not far behind were Antonio Gordon and Makol Mawien, who logged nine and eight points, respectively.
Let’s preface all this, though: K-State’s usually slow offense looked phenomenal against a Florida A&M club that entered the game at No. 341 in KenPom’s national rankings — out of 353 teams. The Rattlers, picked to finish ninth in the MEAC preseason poll, also ranked No. 345 in adjusted offense and No. 295 in adjusted defense. In other words, part of the reason K-State played so well on offense was because Florida A&M owns one of the nation’s worst defenses. That matters here. It would be easy to chalk the 76 points K-State scored — its most this season — to a revamped offense, or some kind of new offense, but that may not have been the case.
But the point is this: For one night at least, the Wildcats made sharp passes, correct reads, timely 3-pointers, easy drives and essentially played the kind of offense that they very rarely have this season.
That was true nearly regardless of the defense they faced. When Florida A&M forced K-State to run half-court sets, the Wildcats obliged and sprung shooters open or drove right past their defenders. When the Rattlers missed shots, the Wildcats got out in transition, and they faced little to no resistance on those chances.
“It helps a lot,” said K-State guard Mike McGuirl, who tallied his 16 points on four made treys. “That’s where we get a lot of easy buckets. We’ve got a lot of athleticism, speed and that’s where we can really use it to our advantage.”
The proof was in the numbers, at least mostly. K-State’s starters shot a combined 8-for-17 from distance, a sizzling 47% clip. The Wildcats also registered 21 fastbreak points.
That’s good news for the Wildcats because Sneed, a senior who figured to assume a sizeable chunk of the scoring load this season, was coming off two forgettable offensive nights in Fort Myers.
“We knew what we had to do with the task at hand,” Sneed said. “We had to get back on track, so we were locked in, focused at practice when we got back here. Took it as another game.”
Here’s the other caveat, though: K-State’s offense was far from perfect. The Wildcats committed 20 turnovers, a number of them sloppy, avoidable mistakes.
On one occasion, they threw away one inbound pass that immediately turned into two Rattler points. Shaun Williams uncorked an airball, and Levi Stockard threw what looked like an alley-oop pass a foot over the backboard. Also didn’t help K-State that Florida A&M rolled out a near full-court press in the second half.
“Just carelessness with the ball,” Sneed said. “We’ve got to tighten up, value the ball. They pressured us a little bit, and they went into a press. We’ve just got to take care of the ball. I had too many turnovers.”
For his part, Sneed only had one turnover. But you get his point.
For K-State, this game always figured to be a tune-up for Saturday’s home matchup with Marquette and spaceship point guard Markus Howard. It’s one of the most anticipated non-conference games the Wildcats have played in something like six years, and they’ll have to lean on a defense that entered Monday night No. 15 in KenPom’s rankings.
Wouldn’t hurt K-State to get an offensive outing like Monday’s, either.
“Just moving the ball and really executing on offense and sharing the juices,” McGuirl said. “That’s been big for us, and that really worked for us tonight.”