Kansas State will be at decided size disadvantage going into Friday’s second round game with Kentucky.
The Wildcats boast three 6-foot-6 guards in the Harrison twins Andrew and Aaron along with James Young. Julius Randle, a surefire lottery pick, stands at 6-foot-9. Then down low the Wildcats trot out two seven-footers in sophomore and Kansas native Willie Cauley-Stein and freshman Dakari Johnson.
Junior forward Thomas Gipson will be the tallest Wildcat starter at 6-foot-7. Shane Southwell and Wesley Iwundu also stand at 6-foot-7 with DJ Johnson topping the K-State roster at 6-foot-9.
To combat the disadvantage, the Wildcats will have to rely on their calling card and try to be more physical and tough than Kentucky.
“You say "smaller," but they're physical. They play a physical game. Their guard play, you know, they're not going to beat themselves. They run good stuff,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “And defensively, they're coming at you. I mean, there's no -- they're not giving up an inch so yes, they may not be 7-foot tall, but there aren't many teams in college basketball 7-foot tall.”
Being undersized is not new to Kansas State and it is a shortcoming they prepare for in practice all season long.
“We get beat up in practice just because we have to stay tough. We do a lot of war rebounding, just going against each other, trying to get the boards since we are small and undersized. That helps a lot,” Gipson said.
Recently, Calipari has taken to playing his two seven-footers at the same time going with a very big line-up which Kansas State will assuredly see at points tomorrow.
“It changed the whole game (having) Two 7-footers. Willie plays like a 4-3 and Dakari is a moose. I liked it, I really did,” Calipari said. “It is something we'll go to now because they played so well defensively together against an unbelievable team in Florida.”
Gipson will be the focus down low in defending the towering Kentucky frontline, but he will have to rely on team defense to keep Kentucky from going off.
“It is a tough challenge, but I am kind of used to going against players that are taller than me. I just have to be smarter than them. My footwork has to be better,” Gipson said. “I am also going to need my guys back like D.J., Nino and Shane. And they will need my help at one point in the game, so it's going to take a team effort.”
Kansas State tips off against Kentucky at 8:40 p.m. tomorrow evening in St. Louis.