Kansas State has become a mainstay in the NCAA tournament, and the Wildcats have reached the point where they expect to hear their name called when the brackets are unveiled. But each time Selection Sunday rolls around, the nerves are still high.
“I don’t know about you but when I saw the first two brackets go up and didn’t see our name I started getting real nervous,” K-State coach Frank Martin said.
The Wildcats, who drew the No. 8-seed and will play No. 9-seed Southern Mississippi on Thursday at 11:40 a.m. in Pittsburgh, knew they were going to be in the 68-team field, but when you don’t hear your name called early, that doubt begins to creep into your mind. It’s the type of anxiety this time of the year brings.
“It’s still a nervous feeling,” Jamar Samuels said. “I always tend to shake my leg a lot when Selection Sunday comes on.”
For the third straight season and fourth time in five years, K-State will be a part of the Big Dance. But this isn’t something the Wildcats take for granted.
“Making the NCAA Tournament is a privilege,” Samuels said.
K-State will take on a familiar face in its second-round game. The Golden Eagles are coached by Conference USA Coach of the Year Larry Eustachy, who was the head coach at Iowa State from 1998-2003. Southern Miss is 25-8 and has beaten two teams in the NCAA-tournament field — a 79-58 victory at Colorado State and a 75-72 win over Memphis.
So what does Martin know about the Golden Eagles?
“That when Larry Eustachy coached at a BCS school his teams were known as the hardest-playing teams in the country and that hasn’t changed now that he’s at Southern Miss,” he said. “I suspect it’s going to be a hard-playing, hard-rebounding, defensive-minded team.”
If K-State is able to advance into the third round, it would likely take on No. 1 seed Syracuse (31-2). And while the possibility of knocking out a 1 seed is something that generates excitement, it’s not something the Wildcats (21-10) will think about until they’re done with Thursday’s game.
“It’s one game at a time,” Samuels said.
The Wildcats have went through their ups and downs this season, and while the lows aren’t fun — going through those moments can help prepare a team for this time of year.
“I just reminded our team of that first conference game of the season where we went into Kansas and we were dysfunctional in preparations and we went in there and got embarrassed,” Martin said. “And I reminded them about going into Oklahoma and at the time we had some selfishness in the locker room. I reminded them of those two situations because it’s the two difficult moments that this team has encountered during the course of the season. I wanted to make sure that we don’t fall into that little fold of negativity again.
“Whether it be by bad preparation or bad thoughts this team has responded to adversity during the year. I know they’re excited about playing this week and I’m excited as heck about continuing to coach our team. We feel real good about our team right now.”
Three of a kind
K-State, Wichita State and Kansas all made the tournament field, marking the first time since 1988 that all three made the Big Dance.
“Not bad for the little old state of Kansas huh?” Martin said. “Some other states have a lot more people, some other states probably have schools that have bigger facilities or whatever the heck you want to say and here’s this little old state of Kansas producing three winners.
“It’s a credit to the kids and the administrations of the schools that they’re so supportive and the coaches at the schools that they’ve been able to all work in unison to represent their schools the right way. It’s an awesome thing. Last time I checked basketball has always been very important in the state of Kansas and it’s good to see the schools maintaining that level of excellence.”
K-State in rare company
K-State became just one of 15 school across the country to have its football team make a bowl game and its men’s basketball team and volleyball team make the NCAA tournament.