K-State merely continued to prove its tournament worthiness that was established for good last week and avoided hurting its chances for a low seed with a nice win against Iowa St. Unfortunately for the Big 12, all three of its bubble teams suffered some costly losses that are making this look more and more like a 5-bid league.
We're surely all hoping for Colorado to get to K-State to not only keep their tournament hopes alive, but also give the Wildcats a chance for some revenge. I'd like to think that in Kansas City the red-hot Wildcats wouldn't have too much trouble knocking off the only team that stands between K-State and a nine-game winning streak.
Plus, there's no altitude at the Sprint Center, which Jordan Henriquez-Roberts said was an issue for K-State in Boulder. In what is perhaps the K-State quote of the year, he added, "Me being 7 feet tall I was a little bit higher than everybody else." Sometimes I wonder if JO is higher than his teammates in more than one sense.
Current Status: Lock
Just as "pulling a Pullen" has come to mean playing tough and rallying back from adversity, Kansas State has become the perfect example of how to get off the early February bubble. The Wildcats started moving into the role with the win against Kansas, and then they apparently decided to just ditch that whole losing thing altogether. Not a bad idea.
Now K-State is 22-9 with a 10-6 conference record and starting to talk about a four or five seed pending a good run in Kansas City. Even if K-State were to be one and done, it seems like the Wildcats probably wouldn't drop further than a seven-seed, helping them avoid a #1 seed in the first two rounds.
In the Bracket Project matrix, K-State averages a six seed, and is in as a five seed in several of the 81 brackets. Lunardi also has the Wildcats as a six seed in his bracket that he updated today. I'm obviously biased, but I'd take K-State head-to-head against most of the teams also on the five and six seed lines right now — Vanderbilt, UConn, Georgetown, West Virginia, A&M, Arizona — particularly if you give some added weight to the results of the last month and a half. Honestly, I'm surprised that K-State's realtime RPI of 19 is only better than three of those six teams.
It wasn't quite a perfect Senior Day as K-State's energy level waned at times and the Wildcats committed 19 turnovers (9 from the seniors), and I have to admit I was a little uncomfortable even early in the second half. But in the end, it was a lot better than last year, and it was nice to see Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly lead the way in scoring (yes, Will Spradling matched Kelly's 13) on their last day at Bramlage.
Additionally, Kansas players who plan on giving long, annoying speeches on their Senior Day should take a page out of Jacob Pullen's book. When asked to speak in front of an adoring crowd after the game, he thanked those who needed to be thanked, and said three wins in Kansas City would be a great way to pay back the fans. Well said, Jake, Well said.
With how bad things were at the beginning of February for this team, it's a lot harder to think about what could have been than it is for, say, UConn, Tennessee or Virginia Tech. But I would say if there are two games I look back on with regret, it would be the two losses to Colorado. That's why I'm really hoping K-State gets to avenge its only home loss (although UNLV in KC probably should count) and easily the most heartbreaking loss of the season.
But beating Colorado won't be easy. The Buffs are going to be desperate and Alec Burks is as explosive a scorer as K-State has faced all season. However, he has had two of his worst games against the Wildcats, thanks to Shane Southwell and Jacob Pullen.
Any wins the Wildcats can get after that would just be gravy, particularly against a Kansas team that has looked pretty scary since losing in Manhattan a little less than a month ago. But it sure would be nice to beat that annoying crimson and blue team in the Big 12 tourney in our eighth (!) and final try.
The fifth Big 12 spot:
Now that K-State has moved clearly and definitively past Missouri, I can officially take the Wildcats out of these rankings while keeping the same section title from previous weeks. Despite what some KU blogs might tell you, the Tigers are still in the tournament no matter what they do, barring the most upset-filled conference tourney week ever or some crazy NCAA conspiracy theory. So as long as the people who choose teams for bowl games aren't on the selection committee, Tiger fans can rest easy even if the Red Raiders pull off a stunner tomorrow.
The teams below Missouri, though, all have lots of work to do. Colorado is probably the only one of the three who doesn't need to at least make it to Saturday after a bad week for the Buffs, Huskers and Bears. Colorado lost at ISU, Baylor continued to look awful against OSU and Texas, and Nebraska pretty much played like Nebraska, meaning a nice win at home and a costly loss in Boulder.
In case the fact that San Diego State at #3 isn't enough evidence that the RPI is questionable at best, consider this: Oklahoma State (#63) is ranked at least 13 spots ahead of the three Big 12 teams actually competing for a bubble spot. Does that make sense to anyone? It must be those big road wins against mighty Tulsa and LaSalle, plus the neutral court squeaker over the Big East's whipping boy, DePaul.
1. Missouri (22-9, 8-8, RPI #33)
Quality wins: 3 (vs. Vanderbilt RPI # 26, vs. Illinois in STL RPI #40, vs. Old Dominion RPI #24, vs. Kansas St. RPI #19)
Bad losses: 0
Strength of Schedule: 41
Road/neutral wins: 4 (vs. Wyoming in Mexico, vs. LaSalle in Mexico, @ Oregon, @ Iowa St.)
Head-to-head record: 3-2
2. Colorado (19-12, 8-8, RPI #76)
Quality wins: 4 (vs. Missouri RPI #33, @ Kansas St. RPI #19, vs. Kansas St., vs. Texas RPI #14
Bad losses: 3 (@ San Francisco #122, @ Oklahoma RPI #133, @ Iowa St. #127)
Strength of Schedule: 73
Road/neutral wins: 4 (vs. Indiana in Las Vegas, @ Cal State Bakersfield, @ Kansas St., @ Texas Tech)
Head-to-head record: 2-3
3. Baylor (17-12, 7-9, RPI #84)
Quality wins: 2 (vs. Texas A&M RPI #30, @ Texas A&M
Bad losses: 3 (@ Iowa St. RPI #127, @ Oklahoma RPI #133, vs. Texas Tech RPI #158)
Strength of Schedule: 39
Road/neutral wins: 3 (San Diego in Honolulu, @ Texas Tech, @ Texas A&M)
Head-to-head record: 2-1
4. Nebraska (19-11, 7-9, RPI #78)
Quality wins: 2 (vs. Texas A&M RPI #30, vs. Texas RPI #14)
Bad losses: 2 (vs. Davidson in San Juan RPI #154, @ Texas Tech RPI #159, @ Iowa St. RPI #127)
Strength of Schedule: 65
Road/neutral wins: 2 (vs. Hofstra in San Juan, @ Oklahoma)
Head-to-head record: 2-3
It's hard to believe that a team that went 8-8 and doesn't have a decent win since mid-January can be a lock, but it's a weak bubble and the Tigers have one of the most impressive nonconference resumes in the conference. Plus, Missouri can be very proud of that 0 in the 'Bad losses' column. I would bet few unranked teams can say that.
Baylor let me and the conference down by not only blowing a great shot at a quality win against Texas, but also failing to win at Oklahoma St. Now the Bears need to find some inspiration rather quickly, or they'll be NIT-bound following a loss to Texas, if not Oklahoma. Meanwhile, I think Nebraska has overachieved this season, and I'd almost be surprised if it doesn't lose to Oklahoma St. As for their chances of beating Kansas, well, I suppose they did get within 3 at Lawrence somehow. Dream big, Huskers.
What K-State needs to do to
make the NCAAs get a 3 seed
OK, this seems unlikely, but the fact that it's not out of reach is reason to celebrate considering the season we've all been through. The Wildcats probably need to win the Big 12 tournament to make this happen, and then also hope some other teams lose. Then again, if the committee really buys into the theory that K-State is a changed team with a new offense, new attitude and new leadership capabilities, maybe the Wildcats could even afford a loss Saturday.
Either way, here's a quick rundown of the teams you should be cheering against in the conference tournaments this week, and, on a scale of 1-10, the chances of them being upset in their first or second game:
Florida: The Gators are nearly as hot as K-State and UNC right now, but they do have a potential matchup with Tennessee in their first game. The Vols can beat anyone and in fact lost in OT and by one point in their two previous meetings with the Gators. Upset possibility: 7.
San Diego St.: In my mind, the Aztecs are the most overrated team in the NCAAs. Sadly, they're projected by most as a 3 or 4 seed, and no one other than BYU has really challenged them all year in the MWC. Their first round matchup is against Utah, a team SDSU beat by 32 one month ago. Upset possibility: 2
Louisville: Louisville got one of the coveted double byes in the Big East, so we'd really need them to lose their first game. Unfortunately, that would probably be against West Virginia, who could likely keep its spot just ahead of K-State with a win over the Cardinals. So what we need is for Marquette to make a run to the semis. Ha. Upset possibility: 4.
Kentucky: Kentucky got a huge road win at Tennessee that will likely keep it out in front of K-State for good, particularly since their likely first game in the conference tourney will be against lowly Mississippi. Then again, the Rebels did upset UK earlier this year in Oxford. Upset possibility: 5
Xavier: The Musketeers finished A-10 play 15-1, with an inexplicable loss to Charlotte, who got just one other conference win and won't even get to play in the tourney. Dayton did get within five of Xavier twice, but I don't see them beating the top seed one day after a matchup with UMass. Upset possibility: 3.
St. John's: The Red Storm finally fell back to reality last week with a painful 14-point loss at Seton Hall. Could the Pirates do it again at Madison Square Garden, where the Johnnies are so good the referees don't even call out of bounds? Upset possibility: 4.
Wisconsin: The Big Ten this year has been Ohio St., Purdue, Wisconsin, and everyone else, so there's not much reason to believe Penn St. or Indiana can notch an upset. But we can hope. Upset possibility: 3.
Arizona: Arizona has surely enjoyed watching everyone else in the Pac-10 falter, lifting the Wildcats to the regular season title. The conference is awful, but hey, Arizona's not that great, either. Upset possibility: 4.