Back at #10, we discussed the 1958-59 Wildcat squad which fell in the first of a series of annoying defeats to the Cincinnati Bearcats. Of course, that team was led by two guys who'd had a much happier (if not necessarily more satisfying) the year before. In 1957-58 Bob Boozer and Wally Frank, alongside Jack Parr, guided the Wildcats to #3 on our list.
Kansas State wasn't a particular favorite to do much this season; indeed, with Wilt Chamberlain down the road in Lawrence, they weren't even expected to win the conference title. They'd come up well short the previous year, finishing in second place but three games adrift of the Jayhawks, who themselves had lost in the NCAA Tournament championship game to North Carolina. Boozer and Parr were reigning all-Big Seven first-team selections, though, and if winning any sort of championship was a far-fetched idea, a respectable season was certainly expected.
The non-conference season was a breeze. Texas Western was destroyed in Manhattan. Indiana and Purdue were set down on the road, and the Wildcats debuted in the first poll of the year at #5. The Cats then crushed Iowa at home, beat Arkansas by 15 in Fayetteville, and popped California by 14 in Kansas City before heading to Seattle, where they beat Washington by seven. Ranked third in the nation, the Cats headed back to Kansas City for the Big Seven Holiday Tournament.
Missouri and Nebraska were no challenge, setting up a final against Chamberlain and the Jayhawks. In a titanic battle between the second- and third-ranked teams in the nation, Chamberlain scored 38 to lead Kansas to a 79-65 win. The loss would only drop the Wildcats to #4 in the ensuing poll, however.
A one-point squeaker over Minnesota at Manhattan would conclude the non-conference schedule. The Cats would then rip off four straight wins, a four-point win at Oklahoma being the only moment of concern, before it was time to visit Lawrence. This time, it was #2 vs #4 (or #1 vs #4, if you prefer UPI's version of events).
The Wildcats raced out of the gate, and at the half held a commanding 41-28 lead. Kansas fought back. With just under four minutes to go, the lead disappeared when Ron Loneski dropped a bucket to put the Jayhawks up 58-56. Parr scored to tie it; Loneski answered. As time ran down, Boozer scored to knot the game at 60 and send it to overtime. In the first overtime, each team managed only five points. In the second, K-State erupted for fourteen, including two early baskets from Boozer before he fouled out. Those two scores would give the Cats a lead they would not relinquish, and the Wildcats had escaped Lawrence with a 79-75 win. After dispatching Iowa State five days later in Manhattan, Kansas State laid claim to the #1 ranking, and would not relinquish it until the regular season ended.
They won the next four and clinched the Big Seven title before the absence of Jack Parr due to injury led to a stumble. The Cats lost by seven on the road to Nebraska, who the week before had also stunned Kansas. The two Husker wins were truly astonishing, as even after the wins Nebraska was below .500 both in conference and overall. Five days later, the regular season came to a close with a 61-44 stomping by the Jayhawks in Manhattan.
Still, K-State was on the way to the NCAA Tournament, and despite the appearance of perhaps having shifted into neutral once the conference crown was secure, they were one of several teams tabbed as favorites to win it all. The first test, in Lawrence, was yet another colossal clash: third-ranked K-State vs. second-ranked Cincinnati.
Boozer scored 15 points in the first ten minutes, but K-State only had a 20-19 lead to show for it. Oscar Robertson, who scored 18 in the first half, kept the game in check; at halfime, the Bearcats held a 40-39 edge. There were 11 lead changes through the second half, and when Robertson was fouled by Boozer while driving to the basket with just seconds to go and K-State leading by one, the game was entirely in Robertson's hands. He made the first free throw, but the second was off-target and overtime ensued.
One minute later, Robertson was done for the night, having fouled out with 30 points. K-State was unable to capitalize immediately, and the game extended to a second overtime, but Cincinnati finally wilted without their star threat. Boozer, who finished with 24, led the Cats to an 83-80 win.
Next up was 19th-ranked Oklahoma State, with the Midwest Regional championship on the line. The game was never really in doubt, as Boozer tallied 26 and the Cats breezed past the Cowboys 69-57 to move on to the Final Four at Freedom Hall in Louisville.
And that's when the heavily-favored Wildcats ran into the unranked Seattle Chieftains and Elgin Baylor.
Baylor completely undressed the Cats, scoring 23 and hauling in 22 rebounds. Staking the Chieftains to a 50-41 lead, Baylor spearheaded a ball-control game which kept K-State from scoring for nine minutes; that stretch ended with seven minutes to play and Seattle leading 59-42.
Dejected, K-State then fell 67-57 to fifth-ranked Temple in the consolation game, settling for fourth place in the nation. Still, in a season marked by what may be the greatest regular-season clash in K-State history and an NCAA Tournament game only rivaled by the 2010 Xavier contest for sheer excitement, both of which involved getting over on one of the greatest players in history, there's little to complain about in a historical perspective.
Boozer, the Big Seven Player of the Year, was named a consensus first-team All-American, gaining first-team nods from NABC and Look and second-team honors from UPI, AP, and INS. Parr earned a third-team notice from NABC, and both players were named to the Big Seven first team. Roy DeWitz was named second-team all-Big Seven, and Tex Winter was not only honored as the Big Seven Coach of the Year but also received UPI's national Coach of the Year award. And we know what happened next.
Next, for us: another fourth-place finish.