Kansas State spent much of the season battling to position itself for an NCAA Tournament berth, and the Wildcats insist they aren’t done fighting that fight.
Even though most experts believe K-State’s postseason prospects are relatively secure following Saturday’s 77-67 win against Baylor, the Wildcats view this week’s Big 12 Tournament as important because it’s an opportunity to improve their standing for the NCAA field. The quest begins at 11:30 a.m. Thursday when the No. 4 seed Wildcats (21-10, 10-8 Big 12) play No. 5 TCU (21-10, 9-9) at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
“Trying to get that win, it’ll be huge for us,” junior guard Barry Brown said. “Then trying to get two and then three, trying to come out on top, that’ll put us in a great spot when tournament time comes.”
While the Wildcats are projected to make the NCAA’s 68-team bracket, few would consider their current position great. Bracketmatrix.com, the composite NCAA seeding website, still lists K-State as a 10-seed. That aligns with the latest brackets released by Jerry Palm of CBS Sports and Joe Lunardi of ESPN, both of whom list K-State as a No. 10 playing No. 7 Seton Hall, although Palm lists the Wildcats in the Midwest Region and Lunardi has them in the South.
Brown noted that he has studied some of the bracketology, but he also was well aware of another key fact — that TCU has the second-highest RPI ranking in the Big 12, behind only Kansas (5). The Horned Frogs enter their quarterfinal clash against K-State with a RPI of 20.
In other words, a win against the Horned Frogs would carry significant weight with the NCAA selection committee because it was would be K-State’s fourth Quadrant 1 victory of the season. A semifinal win would prove even more impactful provided the Wildcats face top-seeded KU, which must first survive the Oklahoma State-Oklahoma winner.
“If you win a few games or win the whole thing, obviously it’s got to help you a little bit,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “I don’t know if it can jump you astronomical spots, but we’re playing TCU, the second-best RPI team in our league. Then what happens that next night you might have another high-RPI game. It could jump (you) and solidify a little bit with committee members that, hey, we are good.”
Junior forward Dean Wade echoed many of the thoughts shared by Brown and Weber, saying wins this week would be “huge” in helping the team polish its postseason resume. But Wade also said success is important for a simpler reason.
“This is the biggest tournament we’re playing in right now,” he said. “I don’t think a K-State team has won a Big 12 Tournament championship, so it would be a great honor if we could do that.”
The 6-foot-10 forward from St. John clearly has done his homework. Not only have the Wildcats never won the Big 12 tourney, they haven’t experienced a great deal of success in the championship.
The Wildcats are 13-21 at the event and have advanced to the championship game only twice, losing to rival KU both times (2010 and 2013). The only other time K-State won multiple tournament games came in 1999 when their run again was stopped by the Jayhawks, that time in the semifinal round.
Recent history also would appear to work against K-State. While the Wildcats placed alone in fourth this conference season, they failed to beat any of the teams that finished above them, going 0-2 against KU, No. 2 Texas Tech and No. 3 West Virginia. The Wildcats split with TCU and Oklahoma.
Whether history is on his side or not, Weber believes his squad is more than capable of making a strong run, especially considering K-State features the Big 12′s second-best defense (67.5 points per game) and two of the league’s top six scorers in Wade (16.7 points) and Brown (16.6).
“One, we have some pretty good players,” Weber said. “Two, we have a coaching staff that has put a lot of time in and got the guys to buy into scouting reports and things. I think our defense makes a difference, gives you a chance.
“Balance is probably one of the biggest keys for us. When they’re all cooking and playing, we’re pretty good.”