How Kentucky and Kansas State match up — with a game prediction

How the NCAA Tournament East Region No. 6 seed Kentucky Wildcats (22-11) and the No. 3 seed Kansas State Wildcats (24-9) match up at each position for Sunday’s round-of-32 contest — with a game prediction:

Small forward

Kentucky freshman Chris Livingston (6.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 43% FGs, 31% treys, 75% FTs) had six points and six rebounds in UK’s 61-53 win over Providence on Friday night in the NCAA tourney round of 64. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound freshman from Akron, Ohio, has been in a late-season shooting slump, having made only 14 of 42 field-goal tries and 1 of 14 three-point tries in UK’s last six games. Livingston’s energy on the glass has not been impacted by his shooting, however, as he is averaging 7.7 boards over the past six games.

Kansas State’s Desi Sills (8.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 44.3% FGs, 22.2% treys, 75.8% FTs) is one of three guards that KSU head man Jerome Tang started in the purple Wildcats’ 77-65 victory over Montana State in the round of 64. A 6-2, 200-pound senior from Jonesboro, Ark., Sills had seven points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals vs. Montana State but also turned the ball over four times. A transfer from Arkansas State, Sills has been on a late-season uptick, averaging 11.3 points in Kansas State’s last four games.

Advantage: Even.

Kentucky freshman Chris Livingston (24) has 46 rebounds in UK’s past six games.
Kentucky freshman Chris Livingston (24) has 46 rebounds in UK’s past six games.

Power forward

Kentucky’s Jacob Toppin (12.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 47% FGs, 32% treys, 66% FTs) got the better of the power forward matchup with ex-teammate Bryce Hopkins in UK’s win over Providence. The 6-9, 205-pound Toppin had 18 points, six rebounds, two assists and a block, while Hopkins had seven points and eight rebounds on 2-for-9 shooting. A Brooklyn, N.Y., product, Toppin has been terrific down the stretch for UK, averaging 16.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in the past six games.

Kansas State’s Keyontae Johnson (17.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 51.9% FGs, 41.1% treys, 72.9% FTs) was chosen as a third-team AP All-American. A 6-6 230-pound senior, Johnson had 18 points and eight boards in the win over Montana State. The former Florida Gators star missed almost all of the previous two seasons after an inflamed heart led to his collapsing on the court in a game at Florida State. Cleared to play again by Kansas State, Johnson has started all 33 Wildcats games and scored in double figures in all but one — a nine-point performance in a loss at Texas Tech on Feb. 9. In four career games vs. UK — not counting Florida’s Senior Day in 2021-22, when he made a cameo appearance at the opening tip — Johnson has averaged 10.3 points and 6.8 rebounds but has never beaten Kentucky.

Advantage: Kansas State.

Kansas State’s Keyontae Johnson dunks the ball in the Wildcats’ 77-65 win over Montana State in the NCAA Tournament on Friday night. Johnson, a former Florida star, had 18 points and eight rebounds in the win.
Kansas State’s Keyontae Johnson dunks the ball in the Wildcats’ 77-65 win over Montana State in the NCAA Tournament on Friday night. Johnson, a former Florida star, had 18 points and eight rebounds in the win.

Center

Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe (16.2 points, 13.5 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.0 blocks, 56% FGs, 72% FTs) only added to his legend in UK’s win over Providence by grabbing 25 rebounds. It set a school record for a Wildcats player in an NCAA Tournament game, exceeding the 24 boards Jerry Bird had against Iowa in UK’s 89-77 loss to the Hawkeyes in the 1956 Midwest Region finals. Tshiebwe also contributed eight points (on 4-for-10 shooting), two assists, three steals and two blocks to the win over Providence. In UK’s past four games, Tshiebwe has made 21 of 44 shots, which is a low rate of accuracy by his normal standard.

Kansas State’s Nae’Qwan Tomlin (10.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 49.2% FGs, 28.1% treys, 75.3% FTs) made 6 of 9 shots and finished with 14 points and four rebounds in the win over Montana State. A 6-10, 210-pound product of Harlem, N.Y., Tomlin is a transfer from Florida’s Chipola College. Over KSU’s past nine games, Tomlin has been on a bit of a tear, making 38 of 59 field-goal attempts.

Advantage: Kentucky.

Shooting guard

Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves (14.6 points, 2.1 rebounds, 43% FGs, 41% treys, 78% FTs) was one of the stars of UK’s victory over Providence. The 6-5, 205-pound senior from Chicago had a game-high 22 points and was responsible for all five of the Wildcats’ made three-pointers in the game. A transfer from Illinois State, Reeves is averaging 22.0 points over UK’s last six games. Kentucky is 7-3 this season when Reeves scores at least 20 points in a game.

Kansas State’s Cam Carter (6.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 37.2% FGs, 33% treys, 71.1% FTs) hit 3 of 4 shots and had eight points in the victory over Montana State. It was a bounce-back performance for the 6-3, 190-pound sophomore from Donaldsonville, La., as Carter went 1 of 7 from the field and had only two points in 27 minutes in KSU’s 80-67 loss to TCU in the Big 12 Tournament. A transfer from Mississippi State, Carter started four games and averaged 2.2 points for the Bulldogs last season. He did not play in UK’s 82-74 overtime victory over MSU in Rupp Arena last season.

Advantage: Kentucky.

Kentucky guard Antonio Reeves is averaging 22.0 points a game over UK’s past six contests.
Kentucky guard Antonio Reeves is averaging 22.0 points a game over UK’s past six contests.

Point guard

Kentucky freshman Cason Wallace (11.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.0 steals, 43% FGs, 34% treys, 75% FTs) went 39 minutes in the win over Providence and had seven points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals. The 6-4, 193-pound Dallas product did not shoot the ball accurately against the Friars, however, making only 2 of 11 shots and missing both of his three-point tries. While battling an ankle injury suffered in the final week of the regular season against Vanderbilt, Wallace has made only 7 of 28 shots in the past three games. Over Kentucky’s last nine games, Wallace is 4 of 31 on three-point attempts.

Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell (16.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 2.4 steals, 38.3% FGs, 35% treys, 88.5% FTs) joined Keyontae Johnson in being selected as an third-team AP All-American. A 5-8, 160-pound super-senior, Nowell entered the NCAA Tournament third in the country in assists. Not always a high-percentage shooter, Nowell made 7 of 12 shots and 3 of 6 three-pointers en route to a 17 point-, 14 assist-performance in the win over Montana State. A transfer from Little Rock, Nowell has eight points-assists double-doubles so far in 2022-23.

Advantage: Kansas State.

Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell celebrates after one of his three made three-pointers in the Wildcats’ 77-65 win over Montana State in Friday’s NCAA Tournament game. A 5-foot-8 senior, Nowell finished with 17 points and 14 assists.
Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell celebrates after one of his three made three-pointers in the Wildcats’ 77-65 win over Montana State in Friday’s NCAA Tournament game. A 5-foot-8 senior, Nowell finished with 17 points and 14 assists.

Bench

Kentucky senior point guard Sahvir Wheeler (7.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 42% FGs, 37% treys) did not play against Providence. The 5-9, 180-pound Wheeler has not played since Feb. 4 due to, first, an ankle injury, then an undisclosed medical procedure. … Redshirt senior shooting guard CJ Fredrick (6.2 points, 35% FGs, 32% treys) missed two three-point tries and doled out an assist in seven minutes against Providence. While playing through cracked ribs, the 6-3, 185-pound Covington Catholic product has made only two of his past 16 shot attempts. … Junior big man Lance Ware (2.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 65% FGs), a 6-9, 225-pound product of Camden, N.J., logged three minutes vs. Providence without impacting the stat sheet. … Sophomore forward Daimion Collins (2.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 42% FGs, 62% FTs) had two rebounds and a steal in seven minutes against the Friars.

Kansas State’s David N’Guessan (6.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 69.7 FGs, 50% treys, 48.3% FTs) gave the Wildcats a big lift off the bench against Montana State, scoring 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting in 18 minutes. A 6-9, 215-pound product of De Lier, The Netherlands, and a transfer from Virginia Tech, N’Guessan has made 18 of 23 field-goal tries over the past six games. … At 6-10 and 220 pounds, senior big man Abayomi Iyiola (3.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 55.2% FGs, 76.9% FTs) gives the Wildcats five fouls to throw at Oscar Tshiebwe. A transfer from Hofstra, Iyiola has four double-digit scoring games this season. … A 6-9, 225-pound junior who transferred from Wake Forest, Ismael Massoud (5.2 points, 1.8 rebounds) scored nine points in 17 minutes vs. TCU in the Big 12 Tournament. … A 6-4, 205-pound senior who transferred from Stony Brook, Tykei Greene (2.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, 44.3% FGs, 21.4% treys, 34.5% free throws) is KSU’s primary backcourt reserve.

Advantage: Kansas State.

Intangibles and history

Kentucky leads the all-time series with Kansas State 9-1.

This will be the fourth NCAA Tournament matchup between UK and KSU. In the 1951 NCAA championship game, Kentucky defeated Kansas State 68-58. UK also beat KSU in the 2014 round of 64, a 56-49 grinder. However, the purple Wildcats finally got the upper hand on the blue Cats in the 2018 Sweet 16 with a 61-58 victory.

Kentucky and Kansas State also played in the 1976 NIT, an 81-78 UK win.

In the NCAA Tournament, John Calipari is 32-9 as UK coach. In his first five NCAA tourney trips as top Cat, Calipari went 22-4. He is 10-5 since 2016. At Kentucky, Calipari is 8-1 in NCAA tourney round of 32 contests.

Kansas State Coach Jerome Tang, formerly a longtime assistant (2003 through 2022) to Scott Drew at Baylor, is 1-0 as a head coach in the NCAA tourney.

Coming off its victory over Providence (Big East) and facing Kansas State (Big 12), Kentucky is seeking back-to-back NCAA Tournament wins over power conference foes for the first time since beating West Virginia and Notre Dame in consecutive games in the 2015 NCAA tourney Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, respectively.

Advantage: Kentucky.

Prediction

Kentucky 67, Kansas State 64.

Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe (34) had eight points, 25 rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocked shots in UK’s 61-53 victory over Providence on Friday.
Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe (34) had eight points, 25 rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocked shots in UK’s 61-53 victory over Providence on Friday.

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