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Tournament Thursday: We can all breathe again

Kansas State's best two-game win streak of the season puts it in quite a favorable position heading into the stretch run.

If you think this guy's getting love now, just wait until the rest of the country really sees him in the NCAA tourney.
If you think this guy's getting love now, just wait until the rest of the country really sees him in the NCAA tourney.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, it's amazing how much can change in three days. Last Friday, Kansas State appeared to be on the verge of getting thrown right into the middle of the bubble fray, with two troubling matchups on the horizon.

But when the buzzer sounded at Bramlage Monday night, all of that was forgotten. Suddenly, it's possible to imagine this team avoiding an elite team in the first two rounds and making the second weekend, though we should still be careful not to re-adjust our expectations too much.

What we can do is remove any doubts about Will Spradling as a senior leader, or Marcus Foster as a special scorer capable of a very bright future. We can forget about questioning Shane Southwell's effort, even if he is still prone to make some inexplicably bad decisions.

Thomas Gipson has continued to show himself as a rock inside, and maybe most importantly, the offense appears to be getting much better at jump shots. Much of this is simply shot selection, and it will greatly enhance Kansas State's chances of an upset come March.

Believe it or not, in Big 12 play K-State is at 7th in scoring offense (still 1st in scoring defense tied with Texas Tech), 2nd (not a typo) behind Kansas in field goal percentage, and 4th in 3-point percentage. I don't have access to the advanced stats at KenPom, but I'd imagine they're even more favorable.

Even K-State's free throw percentage has gotten better in conference play, all the way up to.......66.7%. OK, that's still terrible. Anyway, moving on to the abbreviated RPI watch, to which I'm adding TCU to provide some perspective on how terrible that team is.

Northern Colorado: 13-8 (7-5 Big Sky, T-2nd) ESPN RPI 193
Oral Roberts: 12-12 (6-5 Southland, T-7th) ESPN RPI 192
Long Beach State (twice): 10-13 (6-3 Big West, 3rd) ESPN RPI 130
Charlotte: 14-9 (5-5 C-USA, 8th) ESPN RPI 113
Georgetown: 13-9 (6-6 Big East, T-5th) ESPN RPI 54
Central Arkansas: 6-16 (3-8 Southland, 12th) ESPN RPI 339
Ole Miss: 16-8 (7-4 SEC, 3rd) ESPN RPI 61
South Dakota: 9-14 (3-5 Summit, 6th) ESPN RPI 258
Troy: 8-14 (3-7 Sun Belt, T-8th) ESPN RPI 275
Gonzaga: 21-4 (11-1 WCC, 1st) ESPN RPI 23
Tulane: 13-11 (5-4 C-USA, T-5th) ESPN RPI 222
George Washington: 19-5 (7-3 A-10, 3rd) ESPN RPI 27
TCU: 9-14 (0-11 Big 12, 196)

Northern Colorado's unfortunate slide continued with two more losses to Idaho State and Big Sky leaders Weber State, who do not have Damien Lillard on their team anymore. Still NCU's RPI is better than that of TCU, whose best win this season came against RPI #123 Tulsa, a team they actually beat twice. How embarrassing for the Golden Hurricane.

Current status: Almost Lock

I was ready to move K-State into lock status after the win against KU, and my mind still hadn't really changed 24 hours later when we recorded this week's podcast. But that lack of anything resembling a quality road win has been gnawing at me and eventually convinced me this is where K-State belongs until that happens.

Part of the problem, admittedly, is Kansas, Texas, Iowa State and (gasp!) West Virginia have all proven very tough places to play this season (combined record of home teams: 45-9) in the country's best conference. The good news is K-State gets some considerably better chances to win in Waco, Lubbock and potentially both Oklahoma schools, depending how they recover from current troubles.

On Wednesday, USA Today's Shelby Mast gave Kansas State a 7-seed in Milwaukee against Xavier, which would certainly bring back some good memories. The second round matchup vs. Michigan State is considerably less appealing.

Joe Lunardi has Kansas State as a 7 seed taking on Stanford with a chance to face 2 seed Duke in Raleigh, which wouldn't be awful. The Bracket Project somehow has Kansas State as its last 8 seed, which I can only assume means a lot of brackets were last updated on Monday prior to the Kansas game.

Last week:

On Saturday, Kansas State played a nearly flawless first half and cruised to a blowout victory to end Texas' 7-game win streak. Marcus Foster was basically supernatural, and it was just one of those days when everything was going right for the Wildcats.

Monday was even more impressive not just because it was Kansas, but because K-State actually made a lot of mistakes and faced adversity. The 'Cats missed some chances to take an even larger lead early, numerous guys cramped up or got hurt, and of course the final 2 minutes happened.

Nonetheless, the 'Cats earned their best victory of the year against the RPI's top team and built up plenty of confidence just at the right time. Basically, this has become a typical February.

This week:

Baylor deserves the full and undivided attention of not only the team (duh) but also the coaches and fans. True, the Bears haven't been the same since Kenny Chery suffered an injury, but they still have a ton of talent.

Kansas State will likely need to win the effort battle in this game, which has been somewhat of a problem on the road. But if the 'Cats do win, I can assure you they will be a lock in this post next Thursday barring disaster at Bramlage vs. TCU, which is next Wednesday's game deserving of only this many words.

Big 12 bubble competition

All things considered, K-State doesn't really belong here. But I'm going to go ahead and keep them in because this is a Kansas State blog, and also because it's instructive to see how much better the Wildcat resume is than the others.

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 (17-7, 7-4 RPI 30)

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

Bad losses: Northern Colorado (183), Charlotte (113)

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

Head-to-head: 2-1

Oklahoma State (16-8, 4-7 RPI 36

Quality wins: Memphis, Colorado in Las Vegas, Texas

Bad losses: @ Texas Tech (115)

Road/neutral wins: 6

Head-to-head: 2-2

Baylor (15-9, 3-8 RPI 59)

Quality wins: Colorado, Kentucky, @ Oklahoma State

Bad losses: @ Texas Tech (115)

Road/neutral wins: 5

Head-to-head: 1-1

West Virginia (15-10, 7-5 RPI 64)

Quality wins: Kansas State, Oklahoma, Iowa State

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

Road/neutral wins: 6

Head-to-head: 2-3

West Virginia took another big jump in the RPI, which is what happens when you beat the #11 team at home and then lose to the #1 team on the road. The Mountaineers' schedule the rest of the way is still hell, but that could be seen as a positive considering they are still in need of some big wins.

Baylor, on the other hand, probably has the easiest schedule remaining of this group. The Bears do have 3 tough road games left at Texas, West Virginia and K-State, but they've also got some interesting matchups at home with K-State, Oklahoma State and Iowa State.

Oh, yeah, it's time to start pressing the panic button in Stillwater. The Cowboys are hanging on by the thread of their nonconference success, but they really need to close out February strong with Kansas and Kansas State at GIA plus a trip to Hilton for Senior Day on tap for March.

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

At this point, it's pretty much just avoid bad losses. That means beat TCU at home, win at Lubbock (tougher than it seemed a month ago) and beat Baylor on Senior Day.

Those 3 wins should probably get us in, so let's take a quick look at what should be the next goal: a top 6 seed. That would probably require wins over Iowa State at home along with a victory at Baylor and at least one of the Oklahoma schools. Difficult, but certainly manageable.

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 at the very top, where we still find the Kansas Jayhawks. Obviously, this is a very good team, almost certainly one of the ten best in the nation.

But you would be hard-pressed to find anyone without seriously crimson-and-blue glasses who thinks they are the very best, or that their results should give them that title. Kansas has now reached 6 losses, which of course is 6 more than Syracuse, but also 4 more than Villanova and Florida, two teams who just so happened to beat KU earlier this year.

Of course, a big part of the RPI overrating the Jayhawks (#10 Kenpom, one ahead of WSU) is just how good the Big 12 is, so I'm not going to argue that too much. But it's also because Kansas played Duke, Villanova and New Mexico on neutral courts and traveled to Colorado and Florida for losses.

That's all quite admirable, but the RPI clearly gives those games far too much weight. Typically toward the top is where you'll see the Selection Committee deviate the most from the RPI in a situation like this, because we've all seen Kansas and those other teams, but if the circumstances don't change and the Jayhawks get a 1 seed, it will be a problem.