No. 23 Oklahoma State hosts improving Kansas State

·3 min read

It seems strange to say a team that has lost 11 straight might be finding its form, but two close losses to ranked teams has Kansas State feeling better about itself.

The Wildcats travel to Stillwater, Okla., Saturday to face No. 23 Oklahoma State. It will be the first home game as a ranked team since 2015 for the Cowboys.

The Wildcats (5-16, 1-11 Big 12) lost 80-77 Tuesday night to No. 13 Texas, as Mike McGuirl's three-point attempt caromed off the rim at the buzzer. But the Wildcats came back from a 17-point deficit in the second half to cut the deficit to one point on two occasions.

The game before that, the Wildcats lost to Texas Tech, but kept the game close throughout, never trailing by more than 12 points.

"Our guys got refocused," coach Bruce Weber said after the Texas game. "I thought our defense in the last eight to 10 minutes was as good as it's been all year. They (have) elite guards. We stayed in front of them and made them take tough shots. We rebounded. We had a couple fast breaks. You have those opportunities, and we just didn't get them done."

Weber knows that the Cats will have to play even better to defeat Oklahoma State.

"We just gotta focus on the positive," he said. "Our guys continue to make improvements. Hopefully, we can make one more step here and find some ways to get some wins down the stretch."

The Wildcats are led by freshman Nijel Pack, who is averaging 18.5 points per game in his four games since being sidelined four games because of COVID-19. He's averaging 12.5 points per game on the season. McGuirl is second at 11.9.

Oklahoma State (12-6, 5-6 Big 12) will be trying to get back on track after falling to Kansas 78-66 Monday. The Jayhawks, who fell out of the rankings for the first time in 12 seasons earlier in the day, used a 50-point second half to pull away. David McCormack scored 23 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked two shots. He went 9-for-12 from the free-throw line.

"He kicked our butts," OSU coach Mike Boynton said. "He set a tone that we didn't have an answer for. (He) went right at us and we didn't offer much resistance at all."

The Cowboys are at their best when their pressure defense leads to transition. According to KenPom, OSU leads the Big 12 in tempo (72.9 possessions per 40 minutes) and it averages 15.9 fast-break points per game (6.7 more than its opponents).

A lot of that success hinges on the talents of Cade Cunningham. He leads the Big 12 in scoring at 18.7 points per game.

"I love our student body, and I think that we have a ridiculously bright student body," Kansas coach Bill Self said after the KU student section chanted "Overrated" at Cunningham. "That's one area that I don't think they probably scored well, because that kid is not overrated. That kid is good."

--Field Level Media