Kansas State players, coaches, trainers and on down the list will gather at Frank Martin’s house today, where they will watch the NCAA tournament selection show. They will presumably celebrate when the Wildcats’ name is called as one of the 68 teams in the tournament field, and with their body of work this season that seems like a safe bet.
For the third straight year and fourth time in five seasons, K-State will likely play in the Big Dance. Prior to 2008, K-State had played in the tournament just twice since 1990, and six times since 1980, so this marks quite a feat.
Selection Sunday is a day of jubilation and joy for those teams who make the tournament. And after 19 games against Big 12 opponents there’s even more reason for K-State to rejoice today, because by either Thursday or Friday, they will be playing a team outside of its conference.
“We play in an unbelievable league,” Martin said. “The top six teams in this league this year are real, real good. I’m ready to go play somebody else. I’m sick and tired of watching Big 12 basketball to be honest with you. It’s too good.”
With the Wildcats almost assuredly in, the question now becomes what seed they’ll receive today and where they’ll play. K-State, which has an RPI of 44, is 6-7 versus the RPI-top 50 this season. The Wildcats won six games on the road compared to just four losses, and went 3-2 in neutral-court contests. Those are key numbers to the selection committee, which places added value on road wins and neutral-court victories.
K-State has been projected to be anywhere from a seven-seed to a 10-seed in most of the proposed brackets from the “experts.” No matter what seed the Wildcats are, they know, after sweeping Missouri and winning at Baylor this year that they can beat some of the country’s top teams. But the question lies on whether or not the Wildcats can put together the consistent play needed to make a run in the tournament.
With the youth that exists on K-State’s roster, there have been inconsistent moments. That was on display against Baylor on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Championship, when K-State’s defense, which had been solid all year, allowed the Bears to shoot 57 percent in an 82-74 victory that eliminated the Wildcats in their opening game.
“Maturity is the key,” K-State freshman Angel Rodriguez said Thursday after the loss. “Hopefully when we grow up and get a little older, get more experience, hopefully we’ll be more consistent. But right now I think that’s the reason why we’re not consistent because we’re immature and we tend to be unfocused I guess.”
But at this point, an inconsistent day could lead to the end of K-State’s season. So what do the Wildcats do to survive as long as possible during March Madness?
“Just us playing the game the right way,” Martin said. “You can’t control winning. That’s kind of out there. You can control who you are and do things to the best of your abilities. That’s what we have to do. And if you do that, winning takes care of itself most of the time.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of that for five years and we’ve done a good job of that in the NCAA tournament the three times we’ve been in it before. We’ve got to make sure we do that the right way sometime next week.”
The eight potential destinations
There are eight locations for the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament. Those are: Greensboro, N.C., Columbus, Ohio, Albuquerque, Nashville, Louisville, Omaha, Portland and Pittsburgh.
If K-State would advance through its first two games, they’d play in St. Louis, Phoenix, Boston or Atlanta.
The tournament begins on Tuesday with the play-in games in Dayton, Ohio, with the rest of the action tipping off on Thursday and Friday of this week.