Joe Camporeale-US PRESSWIRE
Following a close win over Delaware Wednesday night, Kansas State returns to Madison Square Garden Friday afternoon to take on #4 Michigan in the championship game of the NIT Season Tip Off. The Wildcats survived a squeaker that should have been a blow out, relying on four Will Spradling free throws down the stretch to prevail 66-63. Despite its size advantage, K-State failed to dominate the boards with only a 38-32 advantage. Rather than pound the ball in the paint all night, the Wildcats largely relied on jump shots – evidenced by Will Spradling leading the team in rebounds at six as the reserve guard chased down shots ricocheting off the rim. Spradling also came off the bench to lead the team in points, assists, and blocks. His 33 minutes tied Angel Rodriguez for most on the team, though Rodriguez was instrumental in running the offense throughout the night.
In the second semifinal game Wednesday, Michigan engaged in a defensive battle of its own, beating Pitt 67-62. The Wolverines are led by guard Trey Burke, who averages 18 points and 7.5 assists per game. Guard play should be the premier match up Friday, as Kansas State did an excellent job of passing the ball while finding open players for several midrange shots. While both teams excel at the position, the game will be decided by the play of Rodney McGruder. The senior was expected to play a dominant role this year, but is only scoring 10 points per game on 38.9 percent shooting this season. If McGruder can provide a consistent threat that draws Michigan into foul trouble while pushing the tempo, K-State will create problems similar to the up-tempo game Pitt played en route to a top five win while moving up from ‘others receiving votes’ to a top 20 ranking.