Tournament Thursday: Keeping Pace

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Despite its disastrous early start, Kansas State has managed to work its way back into a favorable position for March. Still, the margin for error remains small.

A year ago, the first Tournament Tuesday (day changed for convenience purposes) noted it was a little surprising to think of K-State even possibly missing the tournament after a great start to the season and soild beginning to Big 12 play. This year, it's the complete opposite.

After that disastrous loss to the leaders of the Big Sky Conference (Northern Colorado has won 8 of its last 9) and some more stumbles in Puerto Rico, I figured this feature might go dormant for the wrong reasons this winter. Instead, K-State bounced back to win 10 in a row, and here we are talking about the Wildcats possibly getting off the bubble on the good side.

The best part about being in the nation's best conference (according to the RPI and me) is you get plenty of chances for quality wins and your own RPI gets a huge boost after you've played a mediocre noncon schedule. Well, not that mediocre, but not ideal considering how heavily road games and matchup vs. the RPI top 100-250 (as opposed to 250-35) can factor into your own ranking.

In fact, since I know you all miss Bracket's RPI watch as much as I do, let's take a quick look at how K-State's opponents are doing.

Northern Colorado: 10-3 (4-0 Big Sky, 1st) ESPN RPI 180
Oral Roberts: 8-8 (2-1 Southland, 6th) ESPN RPI 141
Long Beach State (twice): 5-11 (1-1 Big West, 2nd) ESPN RPI 147
Charlotte: 10-5 (1-1 C-USA, T-6th) ESPN RPI 124
Georgetown: 11-5 (3-2 Big East, 4th) ESPN RPI 46
Central Arkansas: 4-10 (1-2 Southland, 9th) ESPN RPI 332
Ole Miss: 11-5 (2-1 SEC, T-3rd) ESPN RPI 67
South Dakota: 6-9 (1-0 Summit, T-2nd) ESPN RPI 208
Troy: 7-9 (2-2 Sun Belt, 6th) ESPN RPI 209
Gonzaga: 14-3 (4-1 WCC, 1st) ESPN RPI 28
Tulane: 9-8 (1-1 C-USA, T-6th) ESPN RPI 251
George Washington: 14-3 (2-1 A-10, T-4th) ESPN RPI 26

Last year was much worse, to be sure, and it's nice to see only one team up above 251. Still, K-State's RPI has risen considerably with the tougher schedule (and of course, winning) in Big 12 play. More on that in a moment.

Current Status: Good side of the bubble

K-State is no longer getting recognized as a top 25 team, so that's one of several signs the 'Cats still have a lot of work to do to end up where they need to be. It's also worth noting the end the brutal end of the regular season (@OU, @TTU, vs.ISU, @OSU, @BU) means it might be in KSU's best interests to create some breathing room now.

That really hasn't been done yet, despite high-quality wins against Gonzaga (how did they lose to Portland last week), George Washington, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Sadly, the black marks of home losses to Northern Colorado and even a neutral loss to Charlotte aren't going away.

For now, Joe Lunardi has K-State as a 9-seed matched up against Florida State in San Diego, which wouldn't be a terrible spot. In case you were wondering, he's got 6 Big 12 teams in his bracket and Texas is the first team out.

Michael Beller of SI has Kansas State as an 8-seed against North Carolina, which would be either awesome or terrifying, depending on which Tar Heels team shows up. It would also give me a chance to write a hate piece on Roy Williams, so that wold be fun.

The Bracket Project, an aggregation of brackets all around the Internets, doesn't like K-State as much. They have the 'Cats as a 10 seed, albeit the best one.

Last week:

We've talked about this already, but K-State really didn't hurt much besides its pride with 86-60 loss at Kansas. The bigger game was the nice come-from-behind 72-66 victory over #25 Oklahoma, a team that could be fighting for a spot right alongside Kansas State come Selection Sunday.

This week:

The worst part about playing in the Big 12 is you can't really afford to have an off night if you want to win, except maybe when you're playing TCU. Baylor learned the hard way last night, and K-State will have two interesting tests as a likely favorite in both over the next seven days.

They'll start off this Saturday against West Virginia, a team that hasn't actually beaten anyone good since joining the Big 12 at the start of last season. That means the Mountaineers (RPI 79) would qualify as a bad loss, especially at home, but it's worth noting they lost to Wisconsin, Gonzaga and Oklahoma State (all at home) by an average of 4 points.

Next Tuesday provides a game Kansas State could perhaps afford to lose on the road against a suddenly hot Texas team, who will find out just how good it is in its next four games vs.ISU, vs.KSU, @BU and @KU. If KSU wants to finish above .500 in conference, it's going to need to win one or two challenging road games like the one in Austin.

Big 12 bubble competition

The committee doesn't like to admit to matching up conference foes against one another when it comes to the bubble, but it's a safe bet it happens on occasion. After all, what better way to differentiate two otherwise equal teams than how they fared in games on each other's homecourts?

At this point, KU and ISU are solidly in, and O-State proved to me for now they've figured out how to play without Michael Cobbins by absolutely thrashing TCU. The Cowboys could be featured in this space later in they falter during a three-game gauntlet of Oklahoma, Baylor, and Iowa State around the end of January, but for now we're looking at four teams, in the order I would rank them.

Quality wins are against anyone in the RPI Top 50, bad losses are RPI 100+ and head-to-head is against the other Big 12 bubble teams.

Oklahoma (13-4, 2-2 Big 12, RPI 22)

Quality wins: @Texas, vs. ISU

Bad losses: vs. Louisiana Tech (RPI 102)

Road/neutral wins: 3

Head-to-head record: 2-1

Kansas State (13-4, 2-1 RPI 33)

Quality wins: Gonzaga, George Washington, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State

Bad losses: Northern Colorado (180), Charlotte (124)

Road/neutral wins: 3.5 (Gonzaga in Wichita was more like a home game)

Head-to-head record: 1-0

Baylor (13-3, 1-2, RPI 17)

Quality wins: vs. Colorado in Dallas, vs. Dayton in Maui, vs. Kentucky in Dallas

Bad losses: @Texas Tech (108)

Road/neutral wins: 3 (2 games in Dallas count as 1)

Head-to-head record: 0-0

Texas (13-4, 2-2)

Quality wins: None

Bad losses: None

Road/neutral wins: 4

Head-to-head record: 0-1

I might not even have put Baylor on this list before its shocking blowout loss at Texas Tech last night, which proved Scott Drew still hasn't figured out how to prevent his players from taking a night off every once in a while. The Bears do, however, have the advantage of likely the best nonconference resume, so that could play a factor down the road.

Texas has a very interesting resume, as they've basically done what you would expect them to do, outside of maybe that win at North Carolina, the most schizophrenic team in America. K-State and Oklahoma look solid for now, but one bad loss somewhere could easily put them in hot water.

It's pretty hard to imagine a scenario where all four of these teams get in, considering how many good teams there are in the conference and how often they have to play each other. But I suppose if some of these bubble teams could snag wins against ISU, KU or OSU, or maybe someone makes a run in the Big 12 tourney, 7 bids isn't out of the question.

What K-State needs to do to make the NCAAs

At this point, it's relatively simple. 10-8 or 9-9 with a Big 12 tourney win would make me feel pretty comfortable, so that means don't lose to the bottom 3 and defend the homecourt against the bubble teams.

Do that, and you're 9-9 even if you get swept by Kansas and the two teams currently ranked in the AP Top 10. No shame in that, though it wouldn't hurt to get a win against one of those teams and maybe even steal a road win in Austin, Norman or Waco.

Why the RPI sucks

You'll see me referencing the RPI a lot in these posts, but rest assured it's not because I'm a fan. Rather, it's because the outdated rankings system still plays a huge role on Selection Sunday, so each week I'm going to highlight an absurdity in the week's rankings. Feel free to make suggestions!

This week's example comes near the top in the form of the RPI's 5th best team in the country, the Massachusetts Minutemen. Yes, they're 15-1, but their best win came against a so-so New Mexico team in South Carolina, and UMass (32nd in KenPom, 15/16 in the human polls) lost by 5 to Florida State, a team squarely on the bubble.

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