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Tournament Thursday: Seeking a turnaround

It’s getting harder and harder to see Kansas State earning a bid — or Bruce Weber deserving to keep his job.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at West Virginia
This would be a great time for Wesley Iwundu to play to his full potential and make sure his Kansas State career doesn’t end with the Wildcats not playing their best.
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start by making one thing clear. I would almost certainly not be writing this post if the NCAA tournament only accepted 64 teams or college basketball wasn’t down around the country this year, especially among mid-major conferences and the Big Ten. But since K-State still has a realistic chance thanks to those factors, this post needs to be written.

Barring a miraculous run to a Big 12 title or the second weekend of the Big Dance, at the end of this season John Currie needs to take a serious look at whether Bruce Weber needs to be fired. Unless behind the scenes he’s helping his players earn straight A’s, bringing in thousands of dollars in research funds, and curing cancer in small children, I have to believe the answer to any objective review would be yes, it’s time for him to go.

Most of the time this season, I’ve found myself defending Bruce from what I felt to be hyperbole about the poor job he’s doing. Perhaps this is because as a Mizzou grad who came of age as a Kansas State fan during the Asbury-Woolridge years, let me tell you, this is nowhere near rock bottom. But I also understand it’s not where we want to be and we’re trending the wrong direction.

When I saw people on Twitter comparing Bruce’s final season at Illinois to this season at Kansas State, I figured it was an exaggeration. We all remember how terrible that Illini team was. No way the ‘Cats are that bad, right?

Well, what I had forgotten is just how good that Illinois team looked when it was 15-3 coming off of a stunning upset win at home over No. 5 Ohio State. Then, against all odds, Bruce Weber’s team lost 12 of 14 to finish the season 17-15 and miss the postseason entirely. Sound familiar? (Here’s a very enlightening tweet proving I’m not the first one to notice this.)

Kansas State was sailing along and improved to 15-4 with a home win over No. 7 West Virginia. Then a close loss at Iowa State started a downward spiral. If the ‘Cats don’t win another game (for the record, I think they will) then they would finish 17-15 with 11 losses in their last 13. Bruce’s press conference if K-State loses to Texas Tech would probably look something like this. That’s not something anyone should want to see.

Anyway, on to the noncon numbers.

Western Illinois (8-17) 320/295
Nebraska-Omaha (15-13) 155/192
Hampton (12-14) 312/310
Robert Morris (11-18) 258/266
Boston College (9-19) 203/152
Maryland (22-6) 21/37
UW Green Bay (17-11) 125/166
Saint Louis (10-18) 244/288 (9-19)
Prairie View A&M (8-18) 313/314
Washington State (12-15) T-159/199
Colorado State (19-9) 85/89
Gardner-Webb (16-13) 220/198
Tennessee (15-13) T-61/47

If you’re looking for some positives, both Green Bay and Colorado State keep winning, including a somewhat impressive win by the Rams at New Mexico. Colorado State remains atop the weaker-than-usual Mountain West (but is still nowhere near the bubble) and Green Bay sits in third place, two games out of first in the Horizon.

Maryland lost two more in the Big Ten, notably at home to Minnesota, so that loss looks a little worse now.

Current status: Wrong side of the bubble

Most brackets put Kansas State in after the Texas win, but a missed opportunity to notch one more impressive win against a surging Oklahoma State team could knock the ‘Cats out of a lot of brackets. Joe Lunardi, for instance, has K-State as his first team out this morning. Interestingly, TCU is his last team in.

Earlier this week, SB Nation’s Chris Dobbertean gave Kansas State a 10-seed against Xavier and came on the podcast Tuesday night to speak highly of the ‘Cats’ chances. Then Wednesday night happened and he tweeted this:

SI’s Michael Beller gave the ‘Cats a 10-seed and a game against Saint Mary’s, and Ryan Fagan at The Sporting News gave K-State dropped K-State to an 11-seed. The Bracket Project shows the Wildcats as a 10-seed and in 111 of 116 brackets, but again that’s all before the OSU game.

Last week: Things started out well enough, despite another worrisome second half scoring drought in Austin. I was even encouraged by the way Kansas State responded to Texas coming all the way back and how the ‘Cats finally closed out a game well. It almost felt like they had turned a corner.

The first 14 minutes against the Cowboys reinforced that belief, and then everything fell apart. Quickly. Unlike Texas, Oklahoma State is far too good to let back into a game and survive, plus the Wildcats looked as if they didn’t really want to be there once OSU pulled away around the 8-minute mark. Foul trouble for DJ didn’t help, either.

This week: Individually, games at Oklahoma and TCU both look winnable. But they won’t be easy, and can you really see Kansas State playing well enough two games in a row to start a winning streak? Me neither. Hopefully the ‘Cats can prove me wrong. It sure wouldn’t be the first time.

Big 12 bubble competition: Texas Tech missed two more chances for a signature win, so they drop off the bubble for this week. However, the Red Raiders do play in Stillwater this Saturday...also, Iowa State and Oklahoma State moved into lock status, because that’s what long winning streaks in the Big 12 will do for you.

Remember, quality wins are RPI 1-50 and bad losses are RPI 100+.

Kansas State (17-11, 6-9) RPI 60, KenPom 30

Quality Wins: Oklahoma State (28), West Virginia (30), Baylor (6)

Bad Losses: None

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

Head-to-Head: 0-1

TCU (17-11, 6-9) RPI 52, KenPom 42

Quality Wins: Illinois State (35), Iowa State (39)

Bad Losses: None

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

Head-to-Head: 1-0

Not much to say here, other than next Wednesday’s matchup in Fort Worth sure looks like an elimination game. TCU might still need to get a signature win, too, either Saturday at home against West Virginia or at the Sprint Center. It’s worth noting Texas Tech is virtually a bad loss for both Big 12 bubble teams thanks to an RPI of right at 100.

What K-State needs to do to make the NCAAs: As bad as it looks and feels right now, Kansas State’s road to the tournament really isn’t that difficult. Win the last 3 games (@OU, @TCU, vs. TTU) and the Wildcats would probably sneak in, even with an 0-1 record in KC. Beat a WVU, ISU or BU in the quarterfinals, and K-State would be a virtual lock at 21-12.

Things could get really interesting if KSU goes 2-1 to close out the regular season, so let’s take a quick look at those scenarios. Just keep in mind there are a lot of moving pieces with other bubble teams, so it’s hard to tell exactly what would happen.

Based on our bracketology conversation earlier this week, I’d guess a loss at Oklahoma would mean the ‘Cats need to make it to the Big 12 championship. The same might hold true for Texas Tech given that the Red Raiders are barely even an RPI top 100 team anymore. Plus, just from a personal perspective, a loss on Senior Night to an inferior team would leave a worse taste in my mouth than perhaps any other loss in Bruce’s tenure (yes I remember Texas Southern and Northern Colorado).

It is possible to imagine a scenario where Kansas State could go 2-1 with a loss at TCU and still make the tournament with just a quarterfinal win. Especially if the win came against Baylor and the loss was against Kansas, since both of those are top 10 RPI teams, and the Jayhawks are No. 1.

There’s been a lot of negativity online and among Kansas State fans, including much of what you just read, so I’ll leave you with this story of hope and resilience:

In the 2010-11 season, a power conference team predicted by the media to finish 10th in its league started 17-3 before things started to go downhill. First came three losses in four games, then they briefly appeared to right the ship with a two-game win streak that included beating the No. 9 team in the country. Another rough patch of four losses in five games followed to end the regular season 9-9 in league play and far closer to the bubble than anyone would have imagined in January.

Suddenly a team with an abundance of talent looked in danger of dropping to a 6 or 7 seed if it couldn’t break a five-year losing streak in its conference tournament. But just when it appeared all was lost, an incredible thing happened. Kemba Walker became unstoppable, leading Connecticut to 11 straight wins and a national title.

Go ahead and laugh, and no, I don’t need you to tell me about all the differences between K-State this season and UConn 6 years ago. Just don’t give up on the ‘Cats yet. DJ Johnson, Wesley Iwundu, Carlbe Irvin and Austin Budke deserve better than that.