To keep its season alive past Wednesday night, Kansas State will have to accomplish something it hasn’t in nearly four months: win back-to-back games.
K-State ended a 10-game losing streak with a 79-63 victory over Iowa State on senior day at Bramlage Coliseum last weekend. Now, it will go for two in a row at 8 p.m. Wednesday, when it faces TCU in the first round of the Big 12 tournament at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
And make no mistake — the Wildcats believe Saturday’s win meant far more than snapping the longest skid of head coach Bruce Weber’s eight-year tenure.
“Just to get back in the win column, just to get that momentum going and get some good energy, positive vibes that we have in the locker room, we have to keep that going,” said senior wing Xavier Sneed, who scored a career- and game-high 31 points in Saturday’s win, “and hopefully we can get four in a row.”
“I think it’s a real positive,” he said. “Instead of (it being like), ‘Oh, drudgery, we got another one,’ now, you feel good about it, you feel good about yourself.”
Given that the Wildcats have no hope for a postseason berth of any sort — other than winning the Big 12 tournament, which would give them the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament — Weber wants his team entering the event loose.
“I just told them, ‘You never know,’” Weber said. “All you can worry about is to get the first one and then you get a chance to play a second one.”
Weber shared the story of his 2007-08 Illinois team, a squad that featured Chester Frazier, a former K-State assistant coach. That year, the Illini went just 5-13 in conference play during the regular season. When they got to the conference tournament, they beat No. 7 seed Penn State in the first round and upset Purdue, the No. 2 seed, in the quarterfinals. Illinois kept it going in the semifinals, topping No. 6 seed Minnesota.
The Illini’s Cinderella run came to an end in the title game, when top-seeded Wisconsin — ranked among the top 10 teams in the country entering the tournament — walked away with a 61-48 victory.
Weber wasn’t content just to point to his past, however. He noted more recent events that took place across the border in Missouri, at another conference tournament.
“Just watch the (Missouri) Valley (Conference tournament last Friday),” Weber said. “Northern Iowa beat Drake by 20 at Drake and then Drake beats them in St. Louis.”
As it pertains to Wednesday’s matchup, TCU swept the regular-season series with K-State, escaping with a 59-57 win in Manhattan in January before using a 3-point barrage to bury the Wildcats 68-57 in Fort Worth, Texas, last month.
Not that TCU head coach Jamie Dixon believes those games have any bearing Wednesday.
“I told our guys — and I’m sure Kansas State is telling their guys — that it’s starting over,” Dixon said during his time on the Big 12 coaches teleconference on Monday. “Anybody can win it. I’m sure they’re going in with the same mentality we are. I don’t put too much into the two games we played against them earlier and a while ago. Teams change so much during the season. I think we’re all looking at it — we are, at least — as just an opportunity.”
The Horned Frogs, unlike the Wildcats, still hold out hope of receiving a bid to a postseason tournament. An NIT berth, for instance, might hinge on TCU dispatching K-State Wednesday for the third time this season. But Dixon said he hasn’t “looked at the numbers” and is more focused on the same thing as the Wildcats: winning the league tournament so they can pencil their name into the Big Dance.
“We would never stop learning or going through experiences to get us better, so we’re looking at that and seeing what it is,” he said. “ Certainly, all the tournaments and how they play out is a factor in (where the Horned Frogs might go for the postseason). To speculate would just be an imprecise science.”
While TCU will be a decided favorite, Weber liked what he saw from his club last weekend.
“If we play this hard, like we’ve played the last week, 10 days, and defend like we have — obviously it helps to make a few shots — I think we can compete,” Weber said. “Now, hopefully (we’ll have) a good mindset, worry about the right things, focus on the right things and maybe some good things will happen.”