McGruder loses the ball as he tries to drive past Michigan guard Trey Burke. (Photo Credit: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE)

Not-So-Wild NIT Final Between Wildcats and Wolverines


So far this season, Kansas State has survived several poor shooting performances on the back of simply being more talented than their opponents. That line was pushed yesterday when they faced a Delaware team that boasted two excellent players and in many ways were lucky to escape with a three point win. Lucky or not, the 5-0 Wildcats found themselves up against the #4 Michigan Wolverines on Friday afternoon.

It was a given that K-State needed to shoot better than the 38.2% they had managed in their last two games if they were to pull the upset and make a statement en route to winning the NIT Season Tip-Off. Unfortunately they couldn’t pull off that feat. The Wolverines were on their game and they cruised to a 71-57 victory.

Kansas State came out cold right off the bat and missed their first seven shot attempts of the game. It was a disappointing start considering they were getting clean and open looks at the basket. Five different players accounted for those seven missed shots before Will Spradling hit a three pointer five minutes in. They were fortunate at that point as it took Michigan three minutes to score and had only accrued 6 points of their own at the time Spradling drained his three.

Michigan pushed things out to a 15-5 lead before Nino Williams made the Wildcats third basket of the afternoon. His shot helped sparked the Cats. They upped their energy level, fell into a bit of a rhythm and started to hit some shots. With five minutes left in the half they were within two points and kept it close. They trailed at halftime by a score of 29-24 though it could have been just a two point margin if Spradling hadn’t missed a makeable three in the closing seconds.

The Wolverines outclassed K-State early on but as the half went played out the two teams went back and forth fairly evenly. Despite continuing to miss open looks, it appeared as though the Wildcats were getting their legs, starting to assert themselves on the offensive glass and were going to put up a fight in the second half.

Unfortunately they came out of the break cold yet again missing their first five shots while Michigan went on an 8-0 run to lead 37-24. Angel Rodriguez hit a three for the Cats before they missed their next three shots. Suddenly the Wolverines had a commanding 16 point lead and it was clear they were just too talented and too much to handle.

Kansas State looked spent after climbing back into the game the first time around but I give the Cats credit that they got punched in the mouth and got back up. The first time anyway. They never really had an answer for the second punch they took. For the 3rd straight game the Wildcats shot below 40%, this time with a season low 36.7% (22-60). That’s simply not going to get it done against upper echelon teams. It’s a cause for concern going forward, especially in this case as the offense was getting plenty of good looks against the Wolverines defense.

Rodney McGruder led Kansas State with a 16 point, seven rebound effort, but it was one of the quietest games I’ve ever seen him play. He clearly hasn’t adapted to Bruce Weber’s system just yet and disappeared for long stretches against a Wolverine team that wasn’t exactly tightening the screws with their defensive play. Angel Rodriguez was also in double figures with ten points and added six assists. Spradling was just 1-9 from the floor and finished with only that first half three pointer despite being on the court for 36 minutes of the game – more than any of his teammates. As a team they struggled with their shot but if you are looking for a silver lining they only committed six turnovers. Of course it seemed as if Michigan had little interest in forcing turnovers during the bulk of the game.

Tim Hardaway Jr. stole the show pouring in 23 points on 10-15 shooting and broke off an absolutely filthy crossover move that surely filled his father with pride. Trey Burke chipped in ten points while Glenn Robinson III had nine points and twelve rebounds in the game. As a team the Wolverines shot 51.8% and out rebounded K-State 40-28.

There’s no way to sugar coat things on this one. The end result was disappointing, but we do have to keep in perspective that Michigan is one of the upper echelon teams in the college game right now, at least offensively. They’re certainly one of the best teams I’ve watched when they have the ball in their hands. They have a trio of dynamic players in Hardaway, Robinson and Burke to rely on and that gives them a terrific sense of balance in their play.

What’s Next:

Kansas State (5-1) will travel home and will host the USC Upstate Spartans (2-4) on December 2nd. It presents a nice opportunity for the team to get healthy before they take on George Washington and Gonzaga in back to back games on the 8th and 15th respectively.

Michigan (5-0) will play host to #16 NC State (4-1) on Tuesday, November 27th.

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