A Kentucky-UMBC matchup would’ve been packed with intrigue, but instead, the Wildcats will face Kansas State in the Sweet 16 of the South Regional.
Kansas State (24-11) beat UMBC 50-43 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night, and now Kentucky and Kansas State will tip off at approximately 9:37 p.m. ET on Thursday at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
Here are five things to know about the Kansas State Wildcats:
Dean Wade’s availability
Dean Wade, a 6-foot-10 junior forward, is Kansas State’s leading scorer at 16.5 points per game. He’s shooting 55 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point range.
But the Wildcats have been without Wade for the last three games, including NCAA Tournament wins against Creighton and UMBC.
Wade is dealing with a left foot injury, but he’s “98 percent sure” he’ll play against Kentucky on Thursday.
“I don’t know if they can keep me out of this one,” Wade said Sunday night, according to the Wichita Eagle’s Kellis Robinett. “This is big time. I’m excited. It gives me another couple of days to heal. I am starting to feel a lot better. My day-by-day gets a lot better. This gives me a few more days to heal and recover.”
He does more than score for the Wildcats. Wade leads K-State with 6.3 rebounds per game, and he’s second on the team in blocks and steals.
Struggling against strength
Kansas State was 3-9 against RPI top-50 teams in the regular season compared to Kentucky’s 7-9 mark. Kansas State was 10-11 against the RPI top 100. Kentucky was 15-10.
Kansas State went 10-8 in the Big 12, but the Wildcats weren’t able to snag marquee wins. Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech — three Big 12 teams still in the NCAA Tournament — went 7-0 against Kansas State in the regular season, handing the Wildcats double-digit losses in six of those games.
Bruce Weber’s tournament résumé
Bruce Weber is in his sixth season as Kansas State’s coach. The Wildcats have secured an NCAA Tournament bid in four of those six seasons.
Weber’s head coaching career began at Southern Illinois in 1998, and he was hired at Illinois in 2003. He guided the Fighting Illini to the 2005 Final Four. Illinois was 29-0 to start the season and Weber’s squad made it to the national title game where it lost to North Carolina.
Weber was the consensus national coach of the year for the 2004-05 season.
Weber is 14-11 in the NCAA Tournament. He’s just the fifth coach in program history to take Kansas State to at least four NCAA Tournaments.
Change of pace
Kentucky’s first two tournament games were against Davidson’s 86th-ranked offense and Buffalo’s seventh-ranked offense. Buffalo shot 37 percent from 3-point range this season and Davidson was an elite 39 percent from beyond the arc.
Expect Kansas State to slow things down … quite a bit.
Weber’s squad is 242nd in the country averaging 71.6 points per game, and it’s only shooting 34 percent from 3-point land. But Kansas State plays excellent defense, surrendering just 66.9 points per game.
Kentucky and Kansas State have met nine times, and Kentucky is 9-0 in those meetings.
The programs last played in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Kentucky won that game 56-49 on its way to a loss in the national championship game.
The only other meeting between the two programs this century was a 74-72 Kentucky win in a November 2008 matchup at the Las Vegas Invitational.