Game Time: 7:27 PM EST, Friday, March 17th
Location: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, California
#11 Kansas State Wildcats (21-13 overall, 8-10 Big 12)
As good as Kansas State looked at times versus Wake Forest, the Wildcats are honestly not all that good. Outside of the win in the play-in game, K-State has won only five of its last 11 games. That includes a 30 point loss to a terrible Oklahoma team and losses to virtually every good team in the Big 12. Wins over Baylor are the only thing keeping the Wildcats looking like a good team at times.
Similar to Cincinnati, the Wildcats spread the wealth on offense with four players averaging double figures on the season. DJ Johnson has the ability to be the most dangerous threat on offense for K-State. He makes the Wildcats a much tougher team when he is on his game. He shot 8-9 from the field for 18 points in the win over Wake Forest, but has the tendency to take himself out of the game with too many silly fouls.
Kansas State does have the advantage of playing recently and should be more acclimated to the situation early on. They have to build an early lead, especially if Cincinnati struggles in the early stages of the game. A fast start is the only realistic way I see the Wildcats winning this game.
#6 Cincinnati Bearcats (29-5 Overall, 16-2 AAC)
Defense, defense, defense. The Bearcats are all about making life a living hell for opposing offenses. They are a swarming group that loves to put pressure on team all game long. There is a reason they hold a +14.5 scoring margin on the season despite a rather pedestrian offense as a whole. Cincinnati will not break 100 very often at all, but they find a way to score enough to win.
The reason the Bearcats are never worried about offense is due to a group of six players that all average between 8.0 and 13.7 points per game. Everyone chips in and they play an excellent brand of team basketball. If leading scorer Jacob Evans gets in fould trouble, then a player like Jarron Cumberland or Kevin Johnson increases his output to keep Cincinnati rolling.
One thing to worry about in a close game for Cincinnati is the inability to cash in at the line on a regular basis. Only Johnson shoots above 80% from the charity strip on the year. Everyone else varies from only 50% to the mid-70% range, something that could end their time in the tournament rather abruptly.
As I stated before, it is all about the first five minutes for Kansas State. If they can ride the momentum of the play-in game win over Wake Forest, then they can hang around and possibly get the win. If Cincinnati comes out blazing, then it is curtains for the Wildcats.
Cincinnati is better than the #11 seeded Wildcats in virtually every category, but this is March and anything can happen. Cincinnati will get a challenge, but they are the better team and will pull out the win.
Cincinnati 66, Kansas State 59