Tournament Thursday: Avoid the bubble

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State faces an interesting week as it looks to stay above those middling teams unsure of their NCAA tournament status.

Wednesday night proved to be a wild night in college basketball, highlighted by a shockingly bad loss at home by the #1 team in the country. But it was also an interesting night for bubble teams, as Missouri, LSU and Oregon got some nice wins, and Utah just missed out on a huge win against Arizona.

That kind of craziness where seemingly anyone can lose on any given night 's why Kansas State (who was mentioned in that above link, though not really as a bubble team) must stay above the fray. As usual, this is not a year where you want to rely on other teams or even need a good showing in the conference tournament to earn a ticket to the Big Dance.

The good news is K-State appears to be a better team now that Will Spradling has figured things out and in a nice turn of events, D.J. Johnson and Omari Lawrence have become quite useful contributors off the bench. Kansas State's KenPom rating (37th) and road struggles are still a concern, but the 'Cats are overall in pretty good shape.

Before we get to what they need to do to stay that way, particularly in a week with some great opportunities to rise or fall, let's take a look at the abbreviated RPI. No TCU this week, because once was enough to make the point.

Now updated with movement from last week! Note the + means a team has moved down in the rankings; for example, the +1 indicates Gonzaga was 23rd last week.

Northern Colorado: 13-8 (9-5 Big Sky, 2nd) ESPN RPI 172 (-21)
Oral Roberts: 13-13 (7-6 Southland, T-6th) ESPN RPI 188 (+4)
Long Beach State (twice): 11-14 (7-4 Big West, T-3rd) ESPN RPI 152 (-22)
Charlotte: 14-10 (5-6 C-USA, T-8th) ESPN RPI 137 (+24)
Georgetown: 15-10 (6-7 Big East, 7th) ESPN RPI 59 (+5)
Central Arkansas: 6-18 (3-10 Southland, 11th) ESPN RPI 344 (+5)
Ole Miss: 16-10 (7-6 SEC, T-4th) ESPN RPI 72 (+11)
South Dakota: 10-15 (3-5 Summit, T-5th) ESPN RPI 244 (+14)
Troy: 9-15 (4-8 Sun Belt, 7th) ESPN RPI 267 (+8)
Gonzaga: 22-4 (13-1 WCC, 1st) ESPN RPI 24 (+1)
Tulane: 14-12 (6-5 C-USA, 5th) ESPN RPI 213 (+9)
George Washington: 20-6 (8-4 A-10, 3rd) ESPN RPI 32 (+5)

Northern Colorado's four-game road trip ended and so did its four-game losing streak (UNC is 2-8 on the road this season) in the Big Sky, which is nice, I guess. Meanwhile, Ole Miss' losing streak reached three games and will likely get to four with a home game against Florida coming up on Saturday.

GW dropped another game and will have a huge opportunity against A-10 leaders St. Louis Saturday, but I don't think the Billikens will get beat at home.

Current status: Almost Lock

Still no road wins of note, so still no lock status. Most brackets have K-State as a first round favorite, occasionally as low as a 6 seed.

Shelby Mast of USA Today put out a bracket this morning that has Oklahoma State as the last team in and both West Virginia and Baylor in the first five out. That would be tough on the Big 12, but of course 6 of the league's teams are still in the bracket, including K-State as a 7-seed against California in Buffalo, with Villanova waiting as the 2 seed.

Lunardi updated as well and likes Kansas State as a 7-seed against SMU in Raleigh, with Duke as the 2 seed. That sounds terrifying, even if Duke is perhaps a touch overrated.

Michael Beller of SI posted his bracket on Monday and had K-State as a 7-seed against Minnesota with Cincinnati as the 2-seed. The Bracket Project shows the 'Cats as the last 8-seed, which shows there are still many folks who are not sold yet.

Last week:

Kansas State would be a lock if it had just closed out that game Saturday by you know, maybe grabbing a defensive rebound on one of three opportunities. Or, what I think is not getting talked about enough is the fact that Marcus Foster missed a free throw that would have basically sealed it in regulation, and then missed another one that would have put K-State ahead with 30 seconds left in the first overtime. Not what you want from your go-to scorer.

But that's over and done with, so it was nice to see K-State bounce back and comfortably dispose of TCU, even if it took a little longer than it should have. That will be the last time Kansas State can play a sleepy game at home, with Iowa State and Baylor due as the last teams to visit Bramlage this season.

This week:

Well, I've been talking about the importance of getting a decent road win for a long time now, and this week offers quite possibly the two best opportunities of the season. It's now or never, guys, and 0-2 would put K-State in a slightly uncomfortable position with Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor to close out the regular season.

The first test will be Oklahoma, a team that has certainly been very good at times this year. But the Sooners have also been surprisingly vulnerable at home, with losses to Louisiana Tech, Kansas (duh) and Texas Tech in a building where K-State improved to 4-1 on the road last season. Those were the days.

The Wildcats won at Texas Tech to improve to 5-1 on the road (gasp!) a year ago, and it sure would be nice to get another win in Lubbock. It won't be quite as easy this season (just ask Kansas) but make no mistake, this would still be considered a bad loss by most against a team currently ranked 106 in the ESPN RPI.

Big 12 bubble competition

Once again, K-State doesn't really belong here, but this is a blog about the Wildcats so we'll keep them there. If this were an Oklahoma blog, I might include the Sooners, though their resume is a little better than Kansas State's is at this point.

Remember, a quality win is against the RPI Top 50 and a bad loss is any team worse than the RPI Top 100. Head-to-head is the team's record against the other Big 12 bubble teams listed here.

Kansas State (18-8, 8-5 RPI 37)

Quality wins: Gonzaga in Wichita, George Washington, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas

Bad losses: Northern Colorado (172), Charlotte in Puerto Rico (137)

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

Head-to-head: 2-2

Oklahoma State (16-10, 4-9 RPI 47)

Quality wins: Memphis, Colorado in Las Vegas, Texas

Bad losses: @ Texas Tech (115)

Road/neutral wins: 6

Head-to-head: 2-3

Baylor (17-9, 5-8 RPI 44)

Quality wins: Colorado, Kentucky, @ Oklahoma State, Kansas State

Bad losses: @ Texas Tech (115)

Road/neutral wins: 5

Head-to-head: 2-1

West Virginia (15-11, 7-6 RPI 68)

Quality wins: Kansas State, Oklahoma, Iowa State

Bad losses: Purdue (109), @ Virginia Tech (218)

Road/neutral wins: 6

Head-to-head: 2-3

Oklahoma State is officially on life support after seven straight losses, and I'm sure the committee will be very interested to see how the Cowboys do with Marcus Smart back in the lineup. Their schedule is really nice this week (vs. TTU, @ TCU) so of course it gets brutal in the final 3 games (vs. KU, vs. KSU, @ ISU).

West Virginia got drilled at Texas, and it seems like the Mountaineers will need to either find another good road win somewhere or make a big run in the Big 12 tourney to have a chance. They've still got games at Iowa State and Oklahoma, plus a home date vs. Kansas that would be just as good as either of those road wins, if not better.

Meanwhile, Baylor probably needs to get a win either at West Virginia or at Texas this week to stay in the hunt, even with big chances against ISU and @ KSU to end the season. Fortunately for the Bears, they're playing quite well right now.

What K-State needs to do to make the NCAAs:

Nothing has changed here, but let's not make the mistake of thinking Kansas State can afford to lose at Lubbock just because it's looked like a tough place to play the last few games. It's probably the most dangerous game on K-State's remaining schedule, but if the 'Cats can win that and protect the homecourt, they should be fine at 21-10 overall and 11-7 in league play.

To get that critical 6-seed, though, Kansas State will probably want to add in a road win against at least one of the Oklahoma teams, as well. This Saturday would be nice.

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 team is going to be a little painful for me, but I'll go ahead and grit my teeth while pointing out Missouri is overrated. The Tigers are one spot ahead of Kansas State at 36th, which maybe doesn't seem too bad at first glance for a team that is, after all, 19-7.

The thing is..... the SEC is terrible, and Mizzou just isn't that good. The back-to-back home wins over WVU and UCLA (oddly, both by an 80-71 score) are nice, but a neutral loss to Illinois, road losses at Vandy and a home loss to Georgia are pretty bad, and even the loss at LSU is kind of hard to defend.

Hopefully Mizzou will prove me wrong by winning out with a schedule that features no games tougher than @ Tennessee or @ Georgia the last five games, but I'm not counting on it.

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