As part of a new series we're doing here at SB Nation Dallas, we'll be conducting a back-and-forth with other SB Nation writers from around the country to preview big games for area teams.
For the Texas - Kansas State basketball game, we've brought in "Ahearn Alley", who does a great job covering Wildcats basketball for Bring On The Cats.
Head over here for a look at my responses to his questions about the Texas basketball season so far.
1) Kansas State has kind of slipped under the national radar for most of the season. What's their identity in the post Jacob Pullen era?
That's something we are still trying to figure out. We'd love to see Rodney McGruder, or maybe future Angel Rodriguez, be that Jacob Pullen type player that we can rely on any time we need to score, but that's just not happening this season, or probably next season either. As it is, we're left to deal with a team that is probably good enough to be middle-of-the-pack in the Big 12, but clearly a notch below the top 3 and capable of getting beat by a lot of teams on an off night.
Of course, Frank's teams will always be one of the toughest and hardest working in the Big 12, especially on the defensive end. They're also going to have a lot of depth and will try to wear you down over the course of a game, rather than actually outplay you. Unlike past iterations with guys like Michael Beasley, Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, this team is clearly at its best when moving well without the basketball and being unselfish. The best example of this would be the majority of the A&M game, in which K-State had 15 assists on 21 field goals.
2) Where on the bubble is Kansas State right now and what do they need to do over the next month to ensure a Tourney bid?
As of right now, everyone seems to agree Kansas State is safely in. But our upcoming schedule scares me to death. After UT, we get Kansas at home, then Baylor and Missouri on the road. I'd like to think we've got a shot at beating KU at home, but it's not completely irrational to call UT a must-win, since it could start a 4-game losing streak. In that case, Kansas State would probably need to at least win out (vs. ISU, @aTm, vs. OSU) to feel safe.
Get a win against UT and everyone else, or against any of the Big 3 while avoiding a complete collapse, and the Wildcats should be fine. Since they're probably going to inexplicably lose to OU for a third time in our first Big 12 tourney game (see Colorado last season), I really don't want see the 'Cats going to Kansas City with any work left to do.
3. The Wildcats don't seem to have the same type of All-Big 12 talent -- Beasley, Pullen, Bill Walker -- they've had over the last few years. Do you think Kansas State can consistently recruit McDonald's All-Americans going forward or has Dalonte Hill's departure changed that?
It's kind of hard to see McDonald's All-Americans lining up to come to Manhattan, but it's certainly still a lot easier at this point than it was in the Woolridge/Asbury eras. It's obvious the program is getting a lot more respect now, not just from people outside of Manhattan but from the university as well, which of course is very helpful. I don't think Frank's system will draw superstars that are just looking for a pit stop on their way to the NBA, but it could be appealing to talented players who know they need to improve and are willing to put in the work. Think Missouri, not Kentucky.
As for Hill's impact, I felt that well had pretty much dried up. He obviously brought in Beasley, Walker, Wally Judge (thanks for nothing), and even Rodney McGruder and Jamar Samuels. But after having been away from the D.C. area for a few years, he no longer seemed to be able to pull the strings quite as well. It was pretty obvious he wasn't earning his abnormally large salary on the bench, so there were really no hard feelings when he left for Maryland. That's not to say this story didn't make me laugh.
4. From an outsider's perspective, what do you think of the job Rick Barnes has done at Texas? He's gotten a lot of heat for the way things have gone in the last three years.
While he's clearly not derping it up on the level of Scott Drew and Baylor, it seems to me that Barnes has been unable to get the most out of his talent. I haven't watched enough Texas basketball to really know why that is (though I have been mystified by his game management at times) and it's not like his teams have always been unable to win big games (this season nowithstanding). In fact, it almost seems like the bigger problem is UT tends to peak in January then either stays stagnant or slowly slides back the rest of the way.
Say what you will about Frank's coaching quirks - I have my share of concerns - he always seems to get the most out of his teams come March. It can be excruciating to watch at times in November, December, and even January, but it's difficult to look at his track record and say he doesn't know what he's doing. I don't want to speak for you guys, but I wonder if you would say the same thing about Barnes.
5. What do you think the key to Saturday's game is going to be?
Obviously, Rodney McGruder was the man in Manhattan, and I'm not going to rule out the possibility he could do that again. But I think it's more likely he'll need some help this game. The biggest boost K-State can receive is outside shooting from inconsistent guys like Will Spradling, Angel Rodriguez and Martavious Irving. If any of them can get going, our chances to win go up dramatically.
Oh, and making free throws down the stretch this time would help.
6. Your prediction?
I'll say Kansas State 78-76.