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Tournament Thursday: Heading for disaster

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A home loss to TCU put K-State in a huge hole halfway through the Big 12 schedule.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Tennessee
Time is running out for Kansas State to make a solid case that it deserves inclusion in this year’s NCAA tournament.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

I almost didn’t write this, but then I decided to drink a couple more beers and just go for it. It’s still Wednesday night (on the West Coast anyway) and like you, dear reader, I am very upset right now. It feels like Kansas State’s season is over.

NCAA tournament teams do not lose at home to TCU. The Horned Frogs last pulled off an upset on the road against an eventual tourney team in December 2014 against Ole Miss, who went to Dayton for a play-in game. Before that, the last team to lose at home to TCU and still make the NCAA tournament was the 1998-99 Southwest Missouri State Bears. Yes, this is the school’s best Big 12 team yet, but that doesn’t change the fact they’ve won just 3 Big 12 road games in five seasons. Three.

Bruce Weber deserves plenty of blame here, and if he doesn’t pull off a miraculous recovery, his tenure at Kansas State should end in March. But let’s not give up just yet and I certainly don’t think he should be fired midseason. There are no good alternatives here. I also think it was terribly harsh of the Blues to fire Ken Hitchcock on Wednesday instead of letting him finish out his last season. I’m not entirely sure that’s relevant. I just needed to type it.

As promised, since it’s February, let’s go ahead and take a look at the RPI numbers for K-State’s noncon opponents. Longtime readers will know the depths of my hatred for the RPI, although I still begrudgingly realize its importance to the Selection committee. As a way of making myself feel a little better, then, I’m also including each team’s KenPom rankings. Even if those rankings favor awful-to-watch teams like Virginia and Wisconsin. That’s an entirely different post for another day.

Western Illinois (7-14) ESPN RPI 312/KenPom 299
Nebraska-Omaha (12-11) 168/190
Hampton (12-11) 337/329
Robert Morris 295/282
Boston College (9-14) 186/144
Maryland (20-2) 18/38
UW Green Bay (13-9) 151/180
Saint Louis (7-15) 236/297
Prairie View A&M (8-15) 299/311
Washington State (11-11) 139/200
Colorado State (14-9) 126/118
Gardner-Webb (13-11) 231/201
Tennessee (13-9) 34/33

If it’s any consolation, at least there are some opponents who are overachieving right now. Most notably, Maryland looks like the best team in the Big 10, Tennessee appears to have hit its stride with a 4-game win streak, and even Washington State is in the middle of the Pac-12 rather than at the bottom, as predicted. Green Bay is second in the Horizon League and Colorado State is a game out of first place in the Mountain West. So that’s something.

Current Status: Wrong side of the bubble

Most bracketologists haven’t adjusted for the TCU game yet, but rest assured, when they do it won’t go well. Just look at Joe Lunardi, who dropped KSU from a 9-seed to one of his Last Four In and a play-in game vs. Miami as a 12-seed in Thursday’s bracket.

On Tuesday, SB Nation’s Chris Dobbertean had already put K-State down as an 11-seed vs. South Carolina, which feels sort of like a troll job. SI’s Michael Beller had the ‘Cats as a 9-seed against USC and The Bracket Project currently has Kansas State as a 10-seed and in the field for 79 of 89 brackets.

Last week: Well, basically, it really sucked. The Tennessee matchup certainly looked a lot tougher after the Vols beat Kentucky, but it still felt very winnable right up until tipoff. TCU, well, we’ve covered that already.

However, limited efforts from DJ Johnson and Dean Wade left K-State at a significant disadvantage on the boards against the athletic Vols, and horrible shooting in the first half made things even worse. An impressive attempt by Wesley Iwundu to put the team on his back in the second half wasn’t enough to avoid a painful 12-point loss.

Then DJ Johnson finally returned to his usual self (Dean Wade still seems off) but the rest of the team forgot to show up for the start of Wednesday’s game against TCU. A dominant run put K-State ahead before an ugly second half, then some horrible free throw shooting and careless offense let the Horned Frogs run away with the game in overtime.

This is the week we’ll almost certainly look back on as the two games when everything began to go wrong. Disturbingly, it’s the second straight year Kansas State got its biggest win of the season (No. 1 OU last year, No. 7 West Virginia this year) and immediately things went downhill fast. Go ahead and draw your own conclusions for that.

This week: More bad news. K-State starts its most difficult three-game stretch of the season by traveling to Waco to face No. 2 Baylor before coming home for a game against No. 3 Kansas for Big Monday. On the plus side, the ‘Cats played KU very tough in Lawrence and (theoretically) will see some better refs, but then again that was probably the best game K-State played all year and a repeat performance seems unlikely.

Big 12 bubble competition: I saw a formula this week that gave only four Big 12 teams an NCAA bid, the last being Oklahoma State. That seems low, but it’s not crazy. All the teams on the bubble seem to keep shooting themselves in the foot every time they get close to putting themselves in a good position.

At the same time, you’ve got Oklahoma State making a strong move to get back into contention with a four-game win streak, helped by the best noncon resume of a Big 12 team not in the top 10 nationally. TCU is also making a move, thanks in part to K-State, and the Horned Frogs could really get on the right side of the bubble by holding serve at home in their next two games at home against Texas and Texas Tech.

All that leaves us with five legit bubble teams, so let’s go ahead and take look at the resumes. Remember, quality wins are against RPI top 50 teams, bad losses are against teams outside the top 100, and head-to-head means against the other Big 12 teams listed.

Kansas State (15-7, 4-5) RPI 43, KenPom 29

Quality Wins: Oklahoma State (32), West Virginia (23)

Bad Losses: None

Road/Neutral Wins: Boston College (in Brooklyn), Saint Louis, Oklahoma State

Head-to-Head: 1-3

Iowa State (13-8, 5-4) RPI 50, KenPom 27

Quality Wins: Oklahoma State (32), Kansas State (43)

Bad Losses: None

Road/Neutral Wins: Indiana State (in Lake Buena Vista), Miami (in Lake Buena Vista), Oklahoma State, Oklahoma

Head-to-Head: 3-1

Oklahoma State (14-8, 3-6) RPI 32, KenPom 24

Quality Wins: TCU (49), Arkansas (29)

Bad Losses: None

Road/Neutral Wins: UConn (in Maui), Georgetown (in Maui), Tulsa, Wichita State (at Intrust Bank Arena), Texas Tech, Oklahoma

Head-to-Head: 2-2

TCU (15-7, 4-5) RPI 49, KenPom 35

Quality Wins: Illinois State (37), Iowa State (50), Kansas State (43)

Bad Losses: None

Road/Neutral Wins: UNLV, Washington (in Las Vegas), Texas, Kansas State

Head-to-Head: 2-2

Texas Tech (15-7, 3-6) RPI 71, KenPom 43

Quality Wins: West Virginia (23), Kansas State (43), TCU (49)

Bad Losses: Oklahoma (138), Texas (132)

Road/Neutral Wins: Utah State (in Cancun), Richmond

Head-to-Head: 2-2

A couple of things stand out here. First of all, every Big 12 bubble team is ranked higher by KenPom than RPI, often by quite a bit, so that could be an interesting case study come Selection Sunday. Secondly, the fact that K-State is the only team below .500 in the head-to-head category is a little troubling despite the small sample size. If that doesn’t change, the ‘Cats are NIT-bound at best.

What K-State needs to do to make the NCAAs: Obviously, a win in any of the next three games would be huge. One would put K-State back in contention, and two would make me feel great about this team again.

In the somewhat likely scenario that the ‘Cats lose at West Virginia, vs. Kansas and at Baylor to extend this losing streak to six games, things get quite dicey. Six straight wins to end the season might well be enough to recover, otherwise the ‘Cats would likely need 5 of 6 plus a win over one of the top three in Kansas City. Maybe two wins.

I will not be writing this next week if Kansas State hasn’t found another win, although you can at least look forward an in-depth discussion of the Wildcats with Eric Rubottom and Greg Woods on next week’s podcast. It should be interesting, and there will almost certainly be some more anger and frustration. More beer will probably be involved then, except for Greg, since he’s underage and we respect the law here at BotC.