OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kansas State has more and better athletes than Brigham Young. That's an undeniable fact. What people do with that fact is up to them, but I'm not going to make this mistake: I'm not going to say that's the only reason -- the more athletes, the better athletes -- for Kansas State's 84-72 victory Saturday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
There's a cliché in there, maybe even a stereotype, and I'm not falling for it:
City kids from Kansas State beat the Mormons from BYU.
On the surface, it's true. Kansas State's city kids did beat those Mormons from Brigham Young. But this victory for Kansas State was much more thorough than that. It wasn't a surface victory -- it was a beatdown, to the bone. BYU actually led by 10 points before the first media timeout, whacking the Wildcats for a 12-2 lead, but by halftime, Kansas State had reversed that margin for a 41-31 lead of its own. That's a 20-point turnaround in less than 20 minutes. That's a beatdown.
Superior athletic ability doesn't fully explain it. If it was as easy as superior physical prowess, both teams from the Sunflower State would have advanced Saturday at the Ford Center -- because Kansas enjoyed a bigger athletic edge on Northern Iowa than Kansas State enjoyed on BYU. And Kansas lost. Why? Couple reasons, the most glaring of which I covered in this story here. Beyond the apathy from Kansas, though, another reason for the Northern Iowa win was the Northern Iowa skill. Kansas had the ranking and the seeding, and Kansas had the handful of future NBA players, but Northern Iowa had as much actual basketball skill as the Jayhawks.
Same goes for Kansas State vs. BYU. The Wildcats didn't just out-athlete BYU. That explanation would be a cliché, possibly even a racist cliché. You know what I'm talking about. I'm not going there, and not out of fear. I'm not going there because it's simply not true.
|Kansas State vs. BYU|
Recap: Kansas State 84, BYU 72
Thread: Day 3 action
Kansas State outskilled the Cougars, particularly in the backcourt -- where BYU has one of the most dangerous players in the NCAA tournament in high-scoring junior guard Jimmer Fredette. Fredette is a basketball savant, but he's the Cougars' only one. Michael Loyd Jr., the kid who electrified Florida with a career-high 26 points on Thursday, is no savant. He's more of a one-hit wonder, a guy who averaged 4.6 points in 13.4 minutes this season for a reason, that reason being he's not capable of scoring 26 points or even close to 26 points on a regular basis. Two days after destroying Florida, Loyd had two points in 14 minutes against the Wildcats.
Kansas State, as I predicted Friday, navigated the Jimmer dilemma by simply overwhelming him, and the rest of the BYU backcourt, with Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente. Pullen scored 34 points and Clemente added 19. Together they were 10-for-22 from range, which is ridiculous in the postseason, and they were 13-for-13 from the foul line, which is ridiculous at any time of year. They combined for twice as many assists-and-steals (10) as turnovers (five), and they did all of that while also clamping down on Fredette, Loyd and whoever else played guard for BYU. Fredette scored 21 points, which was pretty good but which was never going to be enough for BYU to beat Kansas State, especially not with Loyd scoring just two points. Fredette has topped 40 twice, and he had 37 in the first round against Florida. Holding him to 21 was a victory for Kansas State.
Pullen gets most of the credit for that by the way. Dominique Sutton started the game on Fredette, but around the time that BYU went ahead 12-2 -- Fredette had four points and two assists by then -- KSU coach Frank Martin put Pullen on Fredette. Pullen is every bit as strong as Fredette, neutralizing Fredette's ability to muscle his way to the rim and score in the paint with strength and also with strategy.
"A lot of people have been having problems with Jimmer, and he's been scoring 30 the last couple of games, but I sat next to Jacob during film," said KSU forward Wally Judge. "I saw the way he broke everything down and watched his moves and saw what [Fredette] does to get open. [Pullen] is really a student of the game."
After Martin put Pullen on him, Fredette was 3-for-13 the rest of the way -- and was so discombobulated by Pullen that on one drive, as he whirled to the rim, he shot from two feet and almost missed everything, his shot grazing the bottom of the rim before coming back to earth like an anvil.
Meanwhile, Clemente was using his exceptional quickness to stay in front of Loyd, who beat Florida defenders with a variety of slashing attacks on the basket. Kept in place by Clemente, Loyd was reduced to five shots, no free throws and no impact.
So don't get me wrong. Kansas State did out-athlete BYU. But the Wildcats did more than that. They were fundamentally sound, matching BYU at the foul line -- BYU leads the country's leader in free-throw percentage, and was 25-for-28 on Saturday -- by going 27-for-30 on free throws. They outshot BYU from the floor, including 50 percent accuracy in the second half. They navigated BYU's variety of defenses, which included a man-to-man, multiple zones and even a triangle-and-two junk defense designed to confuse Clemente and Pullen. Which it did not.
Kansas State wasn't going to be confused. Kansas State doesn't get confused. There's a reason the Wildcats are a No. 2 seed in this NCAA tournament two years after losing arguably the best player in program history, Michael Beasley, to the NBA after his freshman year. And that reason, or those reasons, are these: Frank Martin really knows how to coach. Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente really know how to play.
But for the record ... Kansas State has some great athletes, too.