I warned you that there was one post-season that would make this list that might generate some argument due to its inclusion. Well, here it is. Number fourteen on our list is a year which is a giant neon marker which clearly serves as a cutline between Kansas State's proud basketball heritage and the wasteland that was the Big 12 era until Huggs came to town. Number fourteen: 1993-94.
In 1992-93, the Cats had returned to the NCAA tournament for the twenty-first time, which was still good enough to make the top ten list among all NCAA Division I schools. Dana Altman had replaced Lon Krueger after Krueger's flight to Illinois, and after two years without an NCAA bid seemed to have things on the right track. Anthony Beane was the reigning Big Eight Newcomer of the Year, and had been a second-team all-conference selection for a Wildcat squad which finished 19-11 and still managed to haul in a six seed, although they were quickly sent home after a 2-point loss to 11th-seeded Tulane. Surely, the following season would result in a better outcome.
It did, if your viewpoint allows for alternate positive outcomes.
The season got underway on an immediate down note, as the Cats were completely outclassed in Manhattan by Southern Mississippi, eating a 14-point loss. Five straight wins followed, all at home, before a trip to the Hawai’i Nike Festival resulted in two more victories and a tournament championship. The Cats returned stateside and escaped UMKC at Kansas City, and then traveled to Hattiesburg for an uncommon in-season return game with the Golden Eagles. That trip resulted in an eight-point revenge win. After the new year began, the team travelled to Philadelphia and notched a four-point win over La Salle. There were three more non-conference games remaining sandwiched within the Big Eight regular season, but the bulk of it was complete. K-State returned home to prepare for their conference season-opener at Columbia with a 10-1 mark, and things looked promising.
Missouri destroyed the Cats by 20.
They rebounded, knocking off Wichita State at home, but then fell to Oklahoma State in Manhattan to go 0-2 in the league. Two days later, they had one of the most daunting challenges possible: a trip to Lawrence to face the Jayhawks, who on the very day of the game climbed to the top of the polls.
It was magical. Askia Jones poured in 26, and Beane added 18, as the teams battled back and forth all night. With 12 seconds to go, Beane broke a 64-all tie, and then after a defensive stop sank two from the line with under 2 seconds left. Kansas was unable to get a shot off after a time-out, and the Wildcats had shocked... well, everyone. Suddenly K-State was 12-3 with a win in pocket over a #1 team.
The Cats returned home and took care of Colorado before a road loss at Oklahoma; again at home, Iowa State was toppled and not only were the Cats 14-4, they were now at least treading water in the league. Then it all went to hell. Losses at Oklahoma State and Colorado were followed by home losses to Nebraska and Kansas. They then stepped out of conference for a road trip to Western Kentucky, where overtime was needed to break the losing streak. Back home, Oklahoma was dealt with, and in another in-season return game UMKC succumbed to the sweep. That made the overall record less offensive at 17-8, but the conference mark was still only 4-7.
They wouldn't beat another Big Eight team the rest of the year. Losses at Nebraska and Iowa State sandwiched a home loss to Missouri, with K-State's scoring leader Askia Jones only scoring eight points in the final two games combined. (This, however, did not prevent Jones from being named second-team all-conference days later.) That left the Cats 4-10 and holding the sixth seed. They drew Kansas in the first round, got throttled by 21, and awaited their fate. At 17-11, it was really all but settled: the Wildcats were destined for the NIT.
Mississippi State was the first victim, going down easily in Manhattan. The Cats got to stay home for the second round as well and escaped Gonzaga (which was making its first EVER NCAA Division I post-season appearance, believe it or not) when Jones capped his 22-point night with two free throws in the final five seconds to give the Cats the cushion they needed.
That led to a quarterfinal home game against Fresno State, and I'm pretty sure you all know what happened. Jones only played 28 minutes against the Bulldogs. Altman parked Jones on the bench midway through the second half having already scored 46 points. He went back in and added another ten before being pulled again, but with 2:20 to go Altman once again sent him back out on the floor to the protest of Fresno's bench. Jones scored five more points, and tied the NCAA record with 14 treys in one contest. This was, in fact, Altman's stated reason for putting Jones back in the game -- "...he's been here for five years and he's had four surgeries," Altman noted. Jones finished with 62 points and K-State rolled to a 115-77 win. The win got the Cats to the 20-win plateau, something that they only accomplished twice between 1988 and the arrival of Bob Huggins (the other was the 1998-99 squad). More importantly, it got the Cats a weekend trip to New York.
In the semifinals, Jones did not score 62 points. Zoning him out, Vanderbilt held him to 17, while Beane scored 19. The Cats had five point leads twice midway through the second half, but simply couldn't stop Billy McCaffrey, who finished with 28, and Ronnie McMahan, who tallied 27.
And then in the third place game, the Cats ran into Siena. More importantly, they ran into Doremus Bannerman, who was already engaged in a battle with Jones for the single-season NIT scoring record. (Both would eclipse Reggie King's old record during the course of the game.) It was a disaster. Bannerman dumped in 51 against the Cats, setting the NIT single-year record, the Madison Square Garden single-game college record, and the Siena single-game record, and snagging the NIT MVP award. "We couldn't guard him," Altman said. The worst part was that Jones himself had a fantastic night, scoring 31. His only real help offensively, however, was Deryl Cunningham, who scored 24.
It was a bittersweet end to a disappointing season, but it WAS a trip to the semifinals of a national tournament -- K-State's only such trip since 1964 -- and the stellar performance by Askia Jones fired up a K-State fanbase in a way nobody else had since the Mitch Richmond days, and nobody would again until the arrival of Bob Huggins. There are any number of NCAA Tournament appearances which I could have picked for #15, moving 1980 up to this slot. Ultimately, though, the 1993 NIT team deserved -- even required -- attention.
Alas, the very next piece of news was a deathblow to the K-State basketball program for the forseeable future, though they would stumble into an NCAA appearance three years later. Almost as soon as the final pressers at the NIT wrapped the Wildcats' season, reports surfaced that Creighton was about to throw a truckload of money at Dana Altman... and he bolted. Jones graduatated, taking his magical scoring touch with him, and K-State wouldn't have a winning conference record again until 2007.