After a pretty mediocre trip to the Bahamas (from a basketball perspective at least), the fighting Butler Bulldogs have returned home and will take on the undefeated Kansas State Wildcats. *Insert generic beginning diatribe about getting to know the opponent* ok, let’s get into it.
With Kansas State, the elephant in the room is Keyontae Johnson. Not just because he’s their leading scorer, averaging 17.7PPG on an incredibly efficient 54% from the field and 50% from three, but because of his incredible story.
On December 12, 2020, Keyontae Johnson and his Florida Gators are in Tallahassee to take on the Florida State Seminoles. Very early on in the game, Johnson collapsed on the floor due to a heart condition, putting him in cardiac arrest. He spent three days in a medically induced coma, before waking up and being able to respond to commands. Sixteen days later, it was announced that he had joined the Florida team as an honorary coach.
But, Johnson had always wanted to return to the floor. He wasn’t medically cleared to play a season ago, though Coach Mike White did name Johnson an honorary starter for their Senior Day Game against Kentucky. Then, it came out this summer that Johnson was medically cleared to play, and that he entered the transfer portal. He joined Coach Tang’s team and has returned to his pre-injury form, leading this Wildcat squad in scoring.
It’s just an awesome story. I didn’t know if Johnson would ever play again, let alone play at a very high level. Just awesome.
Rest of the Team:
Leading the team alongside Johnson is 5’8” PG Markquis Nowell. Nowell has been one of my absolute favorite players in the country for years now, dating back to his time at Arkansas Little Rock. I absolutely love his style of play and he truly embodies the tough, rugged New York Point Guard build that I just love.
Nowell is third in the country in assists, averaging 7.8 per game.
He’s not just a facilitator though, Nowell has in the gym range. He’s absolutely not afraid to pull up from just about anywhere on the floor.
Headphone users, your left ear will love this video
I can't watch that shot just once... if I click the video, it's getting at least ten views
Here are the two shots he hit, setting up that game-winner, too. They're insane.
Oh, and he’s still hitting big-time shots at Kansas State (no audio here).
Joining these guys is a group filled with nine other transfers, including Arkansas State transfer Desi Sills, JUCO transfer Nae’qwan Tomlin, Virginia Tech transfer David N’Guessan and Mississippi State transfer Cam Carter, amongst others.
What do they do Well?
So, we know Kansas State is undefeated. But how? It all starts with their defense. The proof is really all in their performance against LSU. Against LSU, Kansas State was down 41-33 at halftime. They came out of the second half and brought it on the defensive end, only allowing 18!!!! LSU points, en route to a 61-59 comeback win.
On average, Kansas State opponents are only getting 15 points from the three-point line, tied for twentieth nationally. Their opponents are shooting under 30% combined across the season, further proving how good they are defensively.
While that may be good, they’re they force turnovers at an elite level. On average they are forcing 19 turnovers a game, good for T14 nationally. Awesome, but, it somehow actually gets better. They are forcing an opponent turnover on 26.1% of their opponent's possessions, good for tenth in the country. Yeah, it isn’t easy to hold onto the ball against the Wildcats.
Offensively, they again are another Butler opponent that shoots it very well from three-point range. They are shooting 37.7% from the three-point line, good for 53 in the country. Despite this, they don’t shoot a ton of them, ranking inside the bottom 100 in three-point rate.
They move the ball incredibly well, averaging 17.7 assists per game, which ranks inside the Top 20 nationally. For context, that’s 25 spots higher than former Butler opponent Tennessee and 57 spots higher than another opponent NC State, who shares the exact same ranking as the Bulldogs.
Their offense is also very effective at getting to the free-throw line, generating 22.7% of their points from the free-throw line, ranking inside the Top 50. They shoot 79.4% from the free-throw line, yet again inside the Top 20. Their opponents average over 20 fouls a game, too.
Something Kansas State really struggles with is fouling. Kansas State in turn averages 18.5 fouls per game, ranking just above the bottom 100. With how well Kansas State forces fouls, and how often they foul, we could be in for a ref show. Which is a weakness for every fan that has to bare it.
This is from a K-State beat writer so they could be biased on deserved or not, but I'd tend to believe them. Refs call this crap wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy too much, but calling it on Keyontae Johnson of all people???????? COME ON!!!!
Kansas State also shoots two-point field goals just under 50% which is around the national average but considering they’ve had a couple of games against smaller school teams who should be a lot smaller than them, I would say this number is pretty low.
Most certainly saving the worst for last, much like former Butler opponent BYU, Kansas State turns the ball over a ton. Kansas State averages 15.8 turnovers per game, which ranks inside the Bottom 50. Somehow despite this number, their assist-to-turnover ratio is inside the top 100 nationally, which is really impressive, showing how well they move the ball. But still, turning the ball over this much makes a coaches hair turn grey.
Spread: Butler -2.5
From what I’ve heard, Butler isn’t expecting anyone back for this game, meaning, we’re likely seeing the same eight guys that closed out in Atlantis. I also wasn’t a huge fan of how Coach Matta managed the rotation, as the starters were worn out at the end of game three. The good thing here is that it’s not a back-to-back.
But, this also works into foul trouble. Bates got in foul trouble against both teams who attack the rim well (and the two that I actually think are good). If he gets in foul trouble, it’s a ton of Turnbull as Butler doesn’t have another frontcourt player. With how well Kansas State draws fouls, this is a real problem. Bates will have to defend very disciplined.
Also, Kansas State starts a lineup of Nowell (5’8”), Carter (6’3”), Johnson (6’6”), David N’Guessan (6’9”) and Nae’Qwan Tomlin (6’10). With Butler’s four guards, who is on Johnson? Jayden Taylor would be my guess, but Johnson has two inches and 40 pounds on him. That’s a post nightmare. Do you double?
Although I mentioned Kansas State’s three-point shooting as a strength earlier, I think it has to regress at some point. Johnson is shooting 50% from three this season, he shot 42% in his shortened season and 39% in the season before. Maybe a little regression here? Nowell is shooting 37% this season, a number he’s beaten only once in four years of college. In the last two, he shot 33 and 31% respectively, so maybe he regresses a bit. Cam Carter shot 30% (albeit a very small sample size) at Mississippi State last season, and is shooting 40% so far this season. Ismael Massoud hasn’t shot better than 33.6% from three in his last two seasons and is now shooting 50%.
There’s a reason they don’t a ton of threes, they aren't expecting to convert them at this high of a clip. They’re hitting them this season, but against a good LSU defense, they shot 4/15 from three. Against a team like Butler, I’d expect more of that than the 12/27 against UT Rio Grande Valley.
This is why I would think Butler goes zone here. Coach Matta has gone to a 2-3 zone in his career, and with the time to prep, I think that would be the right choice here. Johnson could torch you from the high post, but they’d have to change their game plan to run that. It could keep Bates out of foul trouble, and with a legit rim protector to go with four quick guards, I think a 2-3 would work very well. The roster you have fits this defensive scheme. Play smart, force TO’s and control the game.
Maybe the game isn’t as fast-paced as Butler has been at times this season, but as long as you win who gives a rat about the pace? Kansas State isn’t as good of shooters as their numbers say and a zone eliminates a lot of the matchup woes Butler has here. I think they go zone. Coach Matta is smart enough to recognize the situation and adapt. If Butler goes zone, I like their chances a whole lot here.
If they go man-to-man, quite a bit less. Pierce Thomas is the only possible matchup for Keyontae Johnson, but even then I think Johnson muscles him around down low. Thomas has the athleticism to handle him on the perimeter, and the pure leaping ability to contain him down low, but even then, a super senior on a redshirt freshman isn’t a matchup I want. Go zone and confuse these guys.
Aside from Nowell and Johnson, their offense doesn't present a ton of threats. I don’t know much about JUCO transfer Nae’Qwan Tomlin, but I’ve seen Desi Sills play enough to know he’s probably their third-best pure-scorer. Sills is a lot like their version of Lou Williams, small scoring, spark-plug guard. Sills is their only guy who I’d say is on a shooting slump, so hopefully, he doesn’t go off here but he’d be the only other guy I’m worried about potentially putting up 20+ points.
If Butler goes man, I think Kansas State can play their game and can win. Go zone, I think Butler should control this game and take over. Harris and Lukosius, all things considered, didn’t play their best basketball in Atlantis, maybe they can step it up today after a couple of days of rest. Really, aside from Jayden Taylor, I don’t think anyone had a particularly good tournament, so maybe today they can put together a more complete performance.
Kansas State with all of their new guys has actually played a Power 6 team on the road, which is an advantage in this spot. The problem for them is that the Power 6 team they played just happens to be the winless Cal Golden Bears who had a roughly 30% attendance at that game. I’m going to think Hinkle gets louder than that arena. The first true road test is always a tough spot with a completely new team.
I’m not nearly as confident as I was in the BYU game, but I think Butler gets a win here. Butler has been very good in Hinkle Fieldhouse this season (granted against lesser competition) and I think that continues here. Butler is very good at defending without fouling and a zone could really mess with Kansas State. I think with the homecourt and potential matchup advantages with a zone defense (or just general good bounceback spot vibes), Butler should be right side at -2.5.
If Butler defends without fouling and can get a rhythm back, they should win this one. I’m not too worried about fatigue in this spot, eight guys are enough to win a game, so long as you distribute the minutes well. There have been some awesome college teams that have gone just seven deep, eight is enough (though only having two frontcourt players is not it). If you want to make the NCAA Tournament, this is as close to a must-win as you can have in November, but I think Butler takes it.
Final Score Prediction: Butler 68, Kansas State 61
P.S. In hindsight, has this take aged well? Dare I say, #Iknew