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Tournament Thursday: Searching for road wins

Kansas State will have to pull off a surprise somewhere outside of Manhattan to get off the bubble and definitively into the Big Dance.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State stayed firmly on the bubble path, notching an easy win at home and falling just short of "stealing" a win on the road, as coaches and players love to say. As such, times will continue to be stressful, though 14-5 overall with a winning record in the nation's toughest conference still feels pretty good, especially with this team.

Unless you want to be really bold and count Stillwater, the ‘Cats have three decent chances remaining to fix the biggest hole on their resume and notch a quality road win. One of them comes this week, and the other two are both still quite far away. It's no coincidence the top two teams in the league standings for the moment (KU and OU by tiebreaker) are the only ones to notch a quality conference road win.

The good news is tough road losses won't much lessen the perception of this team, either in the eyes of the (presumably) rational humans on the selection committee or even the irrational computers that decide the all-important RPI. The bad news, of course, is when you don't win tough road games, you end up on the bubble, which means you'll quickly play an NCAA tourney game that is basically a tough road game see the problem here.

Anyhow, you guys seemed to like the abbreviated version of the RPI watch, so let's take a look at those updated numbers before we move on.

Northern Colorado: 11-4 (5-1 Big Sky, T-1st) ESPN RPI 167
Oral Roberts: 10-8 (4-1 Southland, 4th) ESPN RPI 134
Long Beach State (twice): 6-12 (2-2 Big West, T-4th) ESPN RPI 156
Charlotte: 12-5 (3-1 C-USA, T-2nd) ESPN RPI 110
Georgetown: 11-7 (3-4 Big East, 6th) ESPN RPI 70
Central Arkansas: 4-12 (1-4 Southland, T-11th) ESPN RPI 346
Ole Miss: 13-5 (4-1 SEC, T-3rd) ESPN RPI 62
South Dakota: 8-9 (3-0 Summit, 1st) ESPN RPI 190
Troy: 7-11 (2-4 Sun Belt, 8th) ESPN RPI 234
Gonzaga: 16-3 (6-1 WCC, 1st) ESPN RPI 27
Tulane: 10-9 (2-2 C-USA, T-8th) ESPN RPI 255
George Washington: 15-3 (3-1 A-10, T-2nd) ESPN RPI 23

For me the most exciting thing here is that Central Arkansas is making a legitimate run to be the worst team in the country, needing to drop just 5 spots to get to 351st. Sadly, Northern Colorado suffered a conference loss, and Georgetown had a pretty embarrassing week with home losses to Seton Hall and Marquette. At least Gonzaga, GW and Ole Miss kept winning.

Current status: Good side of bubble

It's unfortunate K-State is now 0-2 in its first game after getting into the Top 25, since as Bruce Weber noted in a podcast it is a nice honor and advertisement for the program. Outside of that, though, I'm not too concerned about the trend, since that's been 2 of the 3 toughest conference games.

In my humble opinion, the Wildcats have generally looked the part of an NCAA tourney team, even if the individual talent isn't there. I like the team effort, the leadership, and dare I say it, the coaching from Bruce Weber, all of which becomes even more important in February and March.

Lunardi has Kansas State as a #9 seed matched up with UConn in Anaheim, which is a way worse destination than last week's projection of San Diego. Texas is now comfortably in as an 8 seed, making the Big 12 the only conference with 7 teams in the bracket. Baylor has dropped all the way down to a 10 seed.

Before the game in Austin, Michael Beller of SI put K-State as a 9 seed and it's worth noting Georgetown was his second-to-last team in. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports also made his bracket before the game in Austin, and he had K-State as an 8 seed facing Minnesota, which would either be a dream or nightmare matchup for wildcat00.

The Bracket Project now has Kansas State as the highest 9 seed, which probably seems about right. By the way, how awesome would it be if Wichita State went undefeated, got a #1 seed, and played K-State in the second round? I'd totally go through all the stress of the bubble to see that matchup happen.

Last week:

K-State cruised to another easy home win against a West Virginia team that is at least a year away from being a serious contender in the Big 12. Poor Bob Hug--nope, I can't finish that thought. He definitely deserves this. You dug your own hole, Huggy Bear.

The more interesting game was the devastating buzzer-beating loss at Texas, made all the more painful by the fact that K-State could have won if a couple more layups or free throws had gone down. It didn't help that Marcus Foster had his worst game since at least the visit to Allen Fieldhouse, and possibly longer.

That's still just the third road game of the season, so it's far too small a sample size to really tell anything definitively about how these guys play on the road. With that being said, it does seem like there's been noticeably less energy (maybe even more than you'd expect) in every road game, even the 18-point win at TCU, the Big 12's lone winless team.

This week:

It's basically the same narrative as last week, but with a different order and probably tougher competition. A trip to Hilton Coliseum will definitely bring more adversity than a trip to the Frank Erwin Center, both because of the atmosphere and the talent on the other side. Texas Tech did beat Baylor in Lubbock, but the Red Raiders also lost at West Virginia, so it's hard to say if TTU will be a tougher test next Tuesday at Bramlage than the Mountaineers were last Tuesday.

Either way, K-State is essentially playing with house money on Saturday, then can only lose on Tuesday. Texas Tech is currently 101st in the ESPN RPI, so that's really one the 'Cats can't afford to lose.

Big 12 bubble competition

It's really tempting to drop Baylor out of this section entirely, but the Bears were still ranked before Monday's loss at Kansas, so we'll give them a chance to right the ship. They get Texas and West Virginia at home, so rest assured if the Bears aren't 3-4 in conference play next week they will not be here.

Here are the Big 12 bubble teams in the order I would rank them. Remember, a quality win is against the RPI Top 50 and a bad loss is any team worse than the RPI Top 100.

Oklahoma (15-4, 4-2 Big 12, RPI 17)

Quality wins: @Texas, vs. ISU, @ Baylor

Bad losses: vs. Louisiana Tech (RPI 102)

Road/neutral wins: 3

Head-to-head record: 3-1

Kansas State (14-5, 3-1 RPI 35)

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

Bad losses: Northern Colorado (167), Charlotte (110)

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

Head-to-head record: 1-1

Texas (13-4, 4-2 RPI 33)

Quality wins: vs. Iowa State, vs. Kansas State

Bad losses: None

Road/neutral wins: 4

Head-to-head record: 2-1

Baylor (13-5, 1-4, RPI 36)

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

Bad losses: @Texas Tech (101)

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

Head-to-head record: 0-2

That win in Manhattan against Oklahoma keeps getting better, since the Sooners are the only team on this list with a quality conference road win. In fact, they've got two of them as long as you still want to count Baylor. If the Sooners take care of business at Lubbock and beat OSU in Norman, they won't be a bubble team next week.

Texas took a huge step forward as well with a pair of impressive wins at home, something the Longhorns really needed. The home loss to OU is the only thing keeping them behind the 'Cats right now, and they've got a very interesting next two games with a trip to Baylor followed by a full week to prepare for a visit from Kansas.

Call me crazy, but right now seven bids doesn't seem out of the question. For that to remain plausible, though, Kansas will probably need to lose to a bubble team, because there just aren't enough wins to go around otherwise.

Iowa State still avoids the bubble tag by virtue of an impressive nonconference resume and a #10 RPI ranking, which seems a little high but whatever. Until the Cyclones lose another game in Ames (Saturday would be nice) they seem to be in good shape.

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

Not much has changed here. Hold serve at home in games not vs. KU (now that Iowa State doesn't look so unbeatable) and don't lost at West Virginia or at Texas Tech. Do that and you finish 11-7 with 21 wins, so really K-State could probably even afford another loss in there somewhere and still come out OK.

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 actually comes from a team slightly behind K-State who has cleverly gamed the system by scheduling a ton of road games. The problem with BYU for me is their road wins at Stanford, San Francisco and Santa Clara, along with a win over Texas in KC aren't good enough to balance out all the losses. The 12-7 Cougars are 40th (ahead of obviously better teams like VCU and Dayton) despite losses at Utah, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount, along with absolutely no impressive home wins to speak of.