(8) Kansas State vs. (9) Southern Mississippi: East Region
Kansas State 21-10, 10-8 Big 12 (At large)
Southern Miss 25-8, 11-5 Conference USA (At large)
Time: 12:40 p.m. Thursday
Location: Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Winner will face: (1) Syracuse or (16) North Carolina-Asheville, Saturday
Kansas State No. 37 AP; No. 32 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Kansas State 41
Southern Miss 21
Line: Kansas State -6½ (O/U 133½)
Players to Watch
Kansas State: G Rodney McGruder, 6-4 Jr. (15.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.4 apg); F Jamar Samuels, 6-7 Sr. (10.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1 spg); C Jordan Henriquez, 6-11 Jr. (7.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.4 bpg). Henriquez has been inconsistent but came on strong in the end. In K-State’s last two games, the junior scored 38 points, had 22 rebounds and blocked six shots while hitting 16 of 21 shots from the field.
Southern Miss: G Darnell Dodson, 6-7 Sr. (11.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 45.3% FG); G Neil Watson, 5-11 So. (12.2 ppg, 4.5 apg, 1.2 spg); F Jonathan Mills, 6-6 Jr. (9.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 50.5% FG). Watson was the C-USA Newcomer of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year and was named Second-Team All-Conference following his first full college basketball season.
Why Each Team is Dangerous
Kansas State: The Wildcats surprisingly played the fastest pace in the Big 12, averaging 67.9 offensive possessions per game. The Wildcats are big and strong. They rebound well (plus-4.9 per game) and they get to the free throw line 24 times per game. If Samuels is hitting from the outside, he’s almost unstoppable and could be a matchup nightmare for the Eagles. K-State should have the more athletic team and Southern Miss has struggled against really athletic teams at times.
Southern Miss: Southern Miss is an excellent free throw shooting team at 73.6 percent, which could be a factor in what should be a close game. Only 21 teams in the country get to the foul line as often as the Eagles. K-State appears to have an advantage on the boards, but the Eagles rebound well, too. They out-rebounded opponents by 4.6 boards per game. Led by Watson, the Eagles are very protective of the basketball, only turning it over 11 times per game. USM gives up only 8.8 offensive boards per game.
Why Each Team is Vulnerable
Kansas State: The Wildcats were wildly inconsistent. They looked brilliant in easy wins over Missouri and lost in home losses to Oklahoma and Iowa State. Youth in the backcourt has contributed. With its young backcourt, K-State turns the ball over a lot (14.5 times per game) and the Eagles force over 14. While K-State gets to the foul line often, it doesn’t hit them at a very high rate.
Southern Miss: The Eagles have no tournament experience. In fact, Southern Miss hadn’t sent a team to the tournament since 1991. USM split it last 10 games and couldn’t overcome a Marshall team that was coming off a triple-overtime game in the Conference USA Tournament. This may be a bad matchup for Southern Miss with its slow pace playing into the hands of the bigger, stronger Wildcats.
The Bottom Line: A slow, grind-it-out game probably gives Kansas State an advantage, but neither team will score enough for the game to be decided by more than six points.
The Pick: Kansas State 61, Southern Miss 56
Greg Against the Spread This Season: 198-148-6 (Through Sunday, March 11)