March Madness officially starts on Tuesday night with the First Four. Kansas State and Wake Forest face off in the late Game after both barely made it into the Tournament after likely sealing their fates with one win apiece in their Conference Tournament. As expected, nothing much separates them as it was released as a pick ‘em at 5Dimes Sportsbook on Sunday.
Kansas State is arguably playing its best basketball of the season having won three straight against decent teams before losing a big lead against West Virginia in the Big 12 semis. But the same can be said for Wake Forest, who had won Four straight before falling to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament. The problem for the Demon Deacons all season has been on the defensive end and that’s where we’ll start. They don’t force turnovers and allow good percentages from everywhere on the cOurt. The reason the Wildcats can have success in this Game is because they’re balanced with Four guys averaging between 11 and 12.5 points per Game with another player at 9.4 per Game.
K State can go down low through D.J. Johnson, who not many can match physically, while the other Four guys stretch the cOurt. Dean Wade provides a lengthy presence as a stretch-Four, while Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown and Wesley Iwundu can all handle the ball and shoot fairly well. Kansas State probably won’t have trouble putting the ball in the hoop, but stopping Wake Forest from scoring more will be tough.
K State is balanced offensively and defensively, but there have been Games in which they’ve given up loads of points against better teams. The Demon Deacons are led by one of the best players in the ACC, John Collins, who averaged 18.9 points and 9.8 boards per Game. It’ll be a fun matchup to watch between him and Johnson and it’ll be far from easy for Collins. Johnson has dealt with a number of bigs in the Big 12 this season and has the athleticism and strength to deal with Collins. But stopping Wake also means limiting the easy looks from guys on the perimeter like Bryant Crawford, Austin Arians and Keyshawn Woods.
The interesting thing is that both of these teams are extremely similar based on how each team is built. They both have bigs that control the paint, stretch-Fours and a trio of guys that can shoot and create shots on their own. While Collins could have an edge offensively, Iwundu could have an edge for the Wildcats on the other end due to his length as he could give guys like Woods and Arians some problems.
Both of these teams have been playing solid basketball in the last couple weeks, but it’ll be hard to count on Wake’s defense going forward. The Deacons were on the bubble because they allow almost 78 points per Game. While K State isn’t that explosive, its defense could be the final decider if this Game comes down to the wire. This is the first time Wake has been in the Tourney since 2010 (and first under Danny Manning) while Kansas State made it every year from 2011-2014, but hasn’t won in its last two appearances.
Our Pick – Kansas State pk