Size has always been a point of emphasis for Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber against Kansas, and that is once again the case this season.
But he’s new to this vantage point.
After years of trying to beat the Jayhawks and their gigantic frontcourts with small, quick lineups, the Wildcats will look to reverse course and create mismatches with their own big men at 8 p.m. on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas predominantly uses a four-guard lineup with center Landen Lucas in the paint. Weber wants K-State forwards D.J. Johnson and Dean Wade to take advantage.
“They don’t have that backstop,” Weber said. “They don’t have those big guys in the paint. They probably don’t have the size they have had at the other positions ... Hopefully, we can get the ball inside.”
That sounds good to Johnson, a 6-foot-9 senior who is averaging 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds.
“I have a mindset for every game: whatever it takes to get the win,” Johnson said. “If that means feeding the ball to me a little bit more than that is what we have got to do. I know traps will be coming. That means I am going to be getting the ball a lot and kicking it right back out to my teammates, which I like because I know they are going to make shots.”
Johnson has found success in past games against Kansas, but never with an offense that entered the game with an inside-out approach and never on the road.
K-State hasn’t won in Lawrence since 2006. Weber has lost his four trips there by an average of 19 points.
But the Wildcats didn’t have a height advantage in any of those games. With redshirt freshman forward Isaiah Maurice expected to play after serving a three-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of departmental policy, K-State should be the bigger team this time around.
“They are a different team from what I’ve played in the past,” Johnson said. “They don’t have a (7)-footer. They normally have a big guy in there blocking shots like Jeff Withey, who I played against my freshman year.”
Johnson is up for the challenge. He has been at his best this season away from Bramlage Coliseum, scoring 26 points against Maryland, 21 points and Saint Louis and 19 points against Colorado State. He also grabbed a total of 28 rebounds in those games.
Wade has also played well lately. He has reached double figures in seven of K-State’s past 10 games and led the Wildcats to a 65-62 victory over Texas on Friday by scoring 18 points.
Weber hopes both players maintain their form, but he also realizes it will take a complete effort to beat the nation’s third-ranked team at a venue where it rarely loses.
KU freshman Josh Jackson against K-State senior Wesley Iwundu could become a key matchup on the wing. Both players can go inside, and the Wildcats want to win that area.
“I live for these types of games,” Iwundu said. “It will be an exciting matchup, I look forward to matching up with these types of guys. They are great players. These games bring out your competitive spirit. It’s a game I am looking forward to and I will take pride in.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett