By Mark Billingsley
Special to The Mercury
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Spring break on the Kansas State campus starts next week. Thousands of students will seek warmer climates, often in Florida or Mexico.
The K-State men’s basketball players hope to start the spring break party early in Sacramento, where they play No. 6 seed Cincinnati Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.And maybe the No. 11 Wildcats can extend the early spring break trip into Sunday’s round of 32.
But first, some Wildcats players had to make sure they put the student in student-athlete. Six Wildcats took tests Wednesday and Thursday. Some took tests online, while others took a traditional pen and paper test from various K-State professors.
“We arrived (in Sacramento) Wednesday, and we had three guys that took tests and more guys took tests today,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “It’s that week before spring break and a lot of professors have, you know, midterms scheduled before the break.”
Weber said he’s proud of his program’s graduation rate, as every Wildcat has graduated during Weber’s tenure at K-State.
“We’re proud of what our guys have done,” he said. “Our seniors this year, Wes (Iwundu) is going to graduate in the spring. D.J. (Johnson) has already graduated and is working on his master’s. Carlbe (Evans) will graduate, Austin Budke is in chemical engineering and will be done next fall and Zach Winter will be done next fall with a degree in business. We take a lot of pride in it, and it’s important to see them graduate, and make sure they have success in the future.”
Underdogs? No sweat
A No. 11 seed already downed a No. 6 seed when Xavier beat Maryland, 76-65, on Thursday in the opening round in Orlando, Florida.
Underdogs often become to story of March Madness. So how will the Wildcats approach Friday’s game against Cincinnati?
“I feel like it’s been a mentality all year,” Iwundu said. “But we’re finally here with the rest of the teams and got an opportunity like everybody else. If you’re in this tournament you did something good to get here. We’re still considered the underdog. That’s what it is, but you just got to go out there and play every time.”
Wildcats’ sophomore guard Kamau Stokes played with Cincinnati’s all-time assists leader Troy Caupain when both were elementary students in Baltimore.
While Caupain moved to Virginia just before high school, the bond the two made while playing AAU basketball for Baltimore’s Best remains.
“We were second in the nation when we were 9 (years old),” Caupain said. “I haven’t seen him since I moved to Virginia and we were kids. But the team still communicates, and we have a great relationship with his family. Basketball is so small you see people that you played with back in the day, and it’s good to see that we’re in college now and getting this opportunity. So, it’s going to be a fun game.”
What’s in a number?
The Wildcats are 16-2 when holding opponents to 68 or fewer points, something that they’ve done in three of their last four games. But Cincinnati averages 75 points a game and has scored 80 or more points in four of their last eight games — all wins. Kansas State has held 11 teams to 40 percent shooting or less during the season. Whoever gets assigned to guard Bearcats sophomore Jacob Evans will have his hands full. Evans is a finalist for the Jerry West Shooting Guard Award after scoring in double figures in 30 of the Bearcats’ 34 games this season.
Les is more
The campus of the University of California, Davis is but a short, 20-minute drive west of the Golden 1 Center along Interstate 80. The UC Davis Aggies play Kansas today in a matchup of No. 16 versus No. 1.
A 16 seed has never beaten a one-seed in the first round of the NCAA men’s tourney. The No. 1 seeds are 128-0.
But the Aggies are led by Jim Les. Jayhawk fans may remember the former NBA player, who played five seasons for the Sacramento Kings, as the head coach for Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. Les led the Braves to the Sweet 16 in 2006, but the first game was an upset against Kansas.