OKLAHOMA CITY –- A quick look at the two second-round games here Saturday:
Northern Iowa (9) vs. Kansas (1), 5:40 p.m.
Key to the game: As is always the case when the Panthers play, the tug-of-war over tempo will be vital. Northern Iowa, the sultans of slowdown, have not played a game with more than 64 possessions since December according to pace guru Ken Pomeroy. Kansas, by contrast, has played just one of its last 19 games with fewer than 64 possessions. UNLV did its best to pressure the Panthers into a faster pace Thursday night, but the score still wound up in the 60s. But Kansas has the better players, and if the game becomes a half-court grinder, the Jayhawks can handle that too.
“Whatever the pace is, we need to embrace it and enjoy it,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We don’t need to get frustrated because we don’t like the pace. I think we have a team that’s equipped to play fast or not so fast. The whole deal is from my standpoint we need to be patient on both ends, offensively and defensively, because there’s going to be lots of possessions that I think (the shot clock) gets under 10. And the team that executes under 10 seconds on the shot clock will probably have a great chance.”
Player to watch: Northern Iowa point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe. He only played 23 minutes Thursday against UNLV because of first-half foul trouble, but was vital in the second half running the offense and getting to the foul line. The hard-edged Ahelegbe finished with 13 points and four assists, and will have to hold his own in the matchup with Kansas All-American Sherron Collins.
Who has the edge: Kansas. The Panthers have the size to play the Jayhawks, but not the same level of athleticism –- especially on the wings. If Kansas gets its running game going it should be able to win without much of a scare.
Brigham Young (7) vs. Kansas State (2), 8:10 p.m.
Key to the game: Can BYU wear out a path to the foul line? The Cougars are the best foul-shooting team in the nation at 79 percent, and have a knack for drawing them. Meanwhile, Kansas State is foul-prone. BYU shot 32 free throws against Florida Thursday, and North Texas shot 31 against K-State.
“We foul some,” Wildcats coach Frank Martin acknowledged. “We had a moment during the season where we fouled too much because of how we play, the new players in place. It takes time for guys to understand the aggressiveness that we ask our guys to play with and where you can draw that line.
“The Kansas game (in the Big 12 tournament), we fouled too much. We put our hands on them and put them on the line a little too much, and then we kind of did that again (Thursday). That’s why I’m a little concerned about it, because we reverted. … If we foul (the Cougars), we’re in trouble. They’re not going to miss free throws.”
Player to watch: Jimmer Fredette, coming off a 37-point performance against Florida Thursday. Does he continue his Stephen Curry-style scoring spree and vault BYU to a major upset and a de facto home game in Salt Lake City in the Sweet Sixteen?
Who has the edge: Kansas State. The Wildcats are a much better defensive team than Florida, and their athleticism and ability to disrupt flow will make it hard for BYU to run its efficient offense. The Cougars have great shooters, but open looks figure to be at a premium.