Things went pretty well for Kansas State the last time the Wildcats opened the NCAA Championship in Kansas City.
It was 1964 and Lyndon Johnson was president, the first-ever Mustang was rolled off the assembly line, the Beatles made their U.S. television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Wildcats played in the Final Four.
K-State (27-7) will go back to Kansas City again this week, returning for the NCAA tournament for the first time in 49 years in search of a six-game run that would end in the national championship game.
The Wildcats, who lost to Kansas on Saturday in the Big 12 championship, will open the NCAA tournament Friday at 2:10 p.m. from the Sprint Center as a No. 4 seed and face the winner of Boise State (21-10) and La Salle (21-9). Boise and La Salle will meet in a play-in game Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
K-State coach Bruce Weber said it was a perfect situation for his team that just spent three days in Kansas City this past weekend.
“You can’t be more pleased to be in Kansas City, and then my wish list was to play Friday, because it just gives us another day to kind of rest, get treatment, and relax,” he said Sunday. “That was a tough time to play three nights in a row. We were tested and it took a toll on our guys.”
The Wildcats, who are making their fifth NCAA tournament in six seasons, are in the West region, headlined by No. 1-seed Gonzaga, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 New Mexico. The regional semifinal and final will be played in Los Angeles.
Junior forward Shane Southwell said the advantage of playing close to home is huge for the Wildcats.
“It’s really rewarding,” he said. “We get the chance to play in front of a pro-K-State crowd — we’re hoping there will be a lot of fans there. It’s just a great experience and a great opportunity for us.”
There was some question about what seed the Wildcats would earn, and whether they would be good enough to climb up to a No. 3, or even No. 2 seed, had they defeated the Jayhawks.
But Rodney McGruder said they have to be content with what they are, and focus on playing the games.
“I’m just happy that we get to play close to (Manhattan),” he said. “We’re fortunate that we made the tournament. You can’t really think about ‘man we should have been a 2 seed or 3 seed.’ You just got to be happy with what you get and make the best out of it.”
Joining the Wildcats in Kansas City will be No. 5-seed Wisconsin, facing off with 12-seed Ole Miss — the winner potentially playing K-State Sunday. The Badgers have knocked the Wildcats from the tournament twice since 2008, while Ole Miss is coached by longtime Bob Huggins assistant Andy Kennedy.
But the first challenge for the Wildcats will be scouting their unknown Friday opponent.
Weber said from time to time the teams coming out of the play-in games can be very good. Case in point, VCU.
“You go back to VCU with the play-in game, they went and beat Purdue and then went on to the Final Four,” he said. “Last year, some of the teams barely got to the place, they were tired and it wore them down. This time of year, if you want to keep playing, you’ve got find that extra energy.”
Essentially, the Wildcats will prepare for any the four teams. Southwell said no matter which team the Wildcats face, they’re ready to play against someone new.
“We’re sick of playing against Big 12 teams because it’s like practice almost — you know everything everybody’s going to do,” he said. “Now it’s more exciting, more spontaneous I guess.”