Barry Brown And Dean Wade Make K-State A Conference Contender
by 9 August 2018, 11:50 AM
The Wildcats’ dynamic duo looks ready to end the reign of terror atop the Big 12.
For the better part of the 21st century, Kansas has ruled the Big 12 with an iron fist. The Jayhawks have won 14 consecutive regular season titles and at least a share of 18 of the 22 regular season titles in the conference’s history. Add 11 conference tournament championships to make 29 total and you have yourself a dynasty of the highest order.
Just over an hour west of the Jayhawks’ home in Lawrence sits Manhattan, Kansas, home of the Kansas State Wildcats. And while Kansas State has had its share of success on the hardwood, the program has been dwarfed by the excellence of its in-state rival. The Wildcats have won a single conference title back in 2013, one they shared with the Jayhawks. This year, they look poised to make it two.
While Kansas is looking at a locker room of fresh faces before the start of the 2018-19 basketball season, K-State is looking at a group of familiar ones. The Wildcats return 95% of the team’s minutes last season, including all five starters and the first four players off the bench. Kansas State’s current roster accounted for 97% of its points last season, third among all teams in the six major conferences.
Among those returners are Barry Brown and Dean Wade, one of the nation’s premier guard/big man duos in the country. Wade was an All-Big 12 selection, putting up an impressive stat line of 16.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest. The 6’10 junior also shot 55% from the field and 44% from three. While Wade received national recognition, Brown flew a little more under the radar. Overshadowed by elite Big 12 point guards like Trae Young, Devonte Graham, Jevon Carter, and Keenan Evans, Brown seldom received the spotlight that a player of his caliber would normally command. With all of those guards now donning NBA uniforms, it’s Brown’s time to shine.
What makes Brown such a nightmare to face is his motor. Simply put, he’s a pest. Brown ranked second in the conference in steals, and he anchored the Wildcats’ defense, which finished sixth nationally in steal percentage (11.9%).
And while those steals often come from jumping passing lanes and picking pockets, they sometimes come as a result of flat-out lockdown defense. There was no better example of this type of defense than in Kansas State’s home victory over Trae Young and Oklahoma. Brown guarded Young for almost the entire ballgame, and Young finished with a season-high 12 turnovers. With Brown guarding him, Young shot 0-7 in the first half, and he finished 2-10 from three in the game. His 20 points felt almost insignificant.
It wasn’t just a case of shots not falling for Young, either. Brown played Young out to almost 30 feet, not giving a single inch to beat him from three, so the Sooners had to try to free up their top scorer with a series of screens, kind of like what the Warriors do with Stephen Curry. But even that didn’t work. Brown dances through screens as well as any player in college basketball, and it’s what makes him so effective as a defender.
Here in the first half against Oklahoma, Young inbounds the ball to Khadeem Lattin at the top of the key, then quickly comes off a down screen from Matt Freeman and a handoff screen from Lattin. Brown goes under Freeman’s screen and over Lattin’s so instinctually that it takes milliseconds. In fact, when Young gets the ball, Brown’s already occupying the shooting pocket. Young’s instant reaction to not having the open look is to throw the ball back inside, but Brown gets a hand on that too and forces the turnover.
Plays like this epitomize his peskiness as a defender. There’s a lot of Mike Conley in Brown’s game, particularly in the way he shoots these gaps. He did to Young what Conley has been able to do to Curry throughout his career, and it’s a big reason why a lackluster Grizzlies team has had surprising success against Golden State.
If Brown is Conley, then Wade does an excellent job filling the role of Marc Gasol. Wade is a polished defender in his own right, ranking first amongst bigs in the conference in steals per game (1.5). He knows exactly when to contain and allow Brown to recover, but also knows when to pass him off like he did against Oklahoma. The two stars also play off each other offensively in a similar manner to the Grizzlies’ tandem, working off screens and dribble handoffs to create opportunities.
Later in the game against Oklahoma, Brown receives the handoff from Wade and gets Brady Manek to sag into the paint. He then finds Wade for the open three, a shot well within the big man’s arsenal. It’s very reminiscent of Conley and Gasol’s two-man game.
And just like Conley feels comfortable finishing with both hands at the rim, so too does Brown, using that same speed that fuels him on the other end of the floor. The Kentucky Wildcats know that all too well. He could very well be a 20-point scorer on a nightly basis this season.
Led by their dynamic duo, the Wildcats have already shown that they can exceed expectations, finishing fourth in the Big 12 when they were picked to finish eighth, and then again when they reached the Elite Eight. With everyone back on board the ship in November, they’ll be ready to exceed even higher expectations.
So when you pencil in Kansas to win the Big 12 again, think about adding one more word to the end.
Edited by Emily Berman.
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