clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Tournament Thursday: Proving they belong

Kansas State got another huge win to get back on track for a tournament bid.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Tennessee
This is how I feel when trying to predict what Kansas State or Xavier Sneed is going to do for the rest of the season.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Say what you will about Bruce Weber or Kansas State’s inconsistencies, there’s no doubt the Wildcats looked like a tournament team over the past week. They played with energy, made some great plays, and didn’t show any fear against No. 2 and No. 3.

Of course, it’s not news the ‘Cats can compete with anyone on any given night. After all, they’ve yet to lose a game by double digits, except for that one bizarre day in Knoxville where they forgot to show up for a half and could never figure out how to block out a confident Tennessee team.

Now, does this mean Kansas State is one of the Big 12’s best or that they could go toe-to-toe with the league’s elite or match the ‘A’ game of any top 10 or top 20 team? No, probably not. This is still a group full of flaws, notably the lack of a go-to scorer, a short, unreliable bench, and an alarming inability to guard the 3-point line, all of which we discussed in-depth on this week’s podcast.

However, in a year full of parity throughout the country and especially in the Big 12, Kansas State clearly has what it takes to make the NCAA tournament. They just need to avoid major lapses, play to their strengths, and yes, maybe catch a break or two the rest of the way. Do that, then who knows what could happen come March?

Let’s take a look at noncon RPIs.

Western Illinois (8-15) ESPN RPI 324/KenPom 302
Nebraska-Omaha (13-12) 158/197
Hampton 10-12 312/316
Robert Morris (9-16) 261/265
Boston College (9-16) 181/155
Maryland (20-4) 24/37
UW Green Bay 15-9 (126/176)
Saint Louis (8-16) 242/290
Prairie View A&M (8-16) 302/309
Washington State ( (11-12) 149/203
Colorado State (16-9) 111/102
Gardner-Webb (14-11) T-224/200
Tennessee (14-10) (13-9) 37/36

Maryland doubled its loss total by falling to Purdue and Penn State, but curiously the Terps actually improved their weak KenPom rating by one. If you can figure that out, let me know. The Vols also had a rough weekend when their four-game win streak ended at Mississippi State, but they rebounded by taking care of business at home vs. Ole Miss Wednesday.

Green Bay jumped 25 spots in the RPI thanks to a 17-point win over Horizon League leaders Valparaiso, and Colorado State took a nice leap forward by beating two teams near the bottom of the Mountain West standings, UNLV and Utah State. If the Rams can do the same against two middle-of-the-pack squads, Fresno State and Wyoming, K-State might finally have a top 100 noncon win.

Current status: Right side of the bubble

Nothing is assured with seven regular season games to go, but the ‘Cats are once again where they need to be. Joe Lunardi gave them a 9 seed in his latest bracketology for a matchup with VCU opposite No. 1 seed Gonzaga. I’d take that.

SB Nation’s Chris Dobbertean gave Kansas State a 9-seed opposite Michigan State, who just lost by 29 against a weak Michigan Team. Before the loss to Kansas, SI’s Michael Beller gave the ‘Cats a 10-seed and a game against Northwestern, while my friend Ryan Fagan at The Sporting News handed out a 9-seed. The Bracket Project currently puts K-State as a 9-seed, included in 100 of 105 brackets.

Last week: The fact Baylor nearly came back and beat Kansas State on Saturday doesn’t really matter for resume purposes, although a double-digit win might look a bit better. Still, it was encouraging to see DJ Johnson and Dean Wade both answer any questions about their health, something Wade did emphatically three days later in Manhattan.

If only Kansas State’s defense could have maintained the high level it reached in Baylor, although to be fair KU’s offense was considerably better than what the Bears brought on Saturday. Still, this one looked winnable, but some careless plays down the stretch put it out of reach.

As an added bonus, the schedule showed K-State could bring something close to its best effort for two games in three days, which would of course be required to extend the season at the NCAA tournament. I’d still love to see Xavier Sneed become a more reliable option for points off the bench, but I’m afraid we might have to wait another year and lean heavily on the starters in the postseason.

This week: The good news is things should become relatively easier the rest of the way after this week, and Kansas State’s in a position to survive a couple losses. The bad news is West Virginia in Morgantown and a visit from Iowa State present a pair of difficult matchups.

That being said, the Mountaineers haven’t really looked in tip-top shape since blowing out Kansas, even if they did manage to eke out three wins in four games. Still, K-State must make sure to be prepared from the tip, because West Virginia will be waiting to pounce and there’s no coming back from big deficits in Huggieville (unless you’re Oklahoma, weirdly).

Big 12 bubble competition: Well, things finally started to clear up after some expected results and we’re beginning to see just where teams stand in the Big 12. Nah, I’m just kidding. The league’s top three all lost at home over the weekend, giving three bubble teams huge boosts, and things are as confusing as ever.

Sadly, Kansas remains in the driver’s seat, and as so often in February, it seems like we’ll need a miracle for the streak to end this year. But maybe the Hawks will go down in Lubbock on Saturday and make things interesting they get fellow NCAA locks West Virginia and Baylor back-to-back. We can only hope.

Kansas State (16-8, 5-6) RPI 41, KenPom 28

Quality Wins: Oklahoma State (32), West Virginia (31), Baylor (1)

Bad Losses: None

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

Head-to-Head: 1-3

Iowa State (14-9, 6-5) RPI 47, KenPom 26

Quality Wins: Oklahoma State (32), Kansas State (41), Kansas (3)

Bad Losses: Texas

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

Head-to-Head: 3-1

Oklahoma State (15-9, 4-7) RPI 32, KenPom 24

Quality Wins: TCU (33), Arkansas (46), West Virginia (31)

Bad Losses: None

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

Head-to-Head: 2-2

TCU (17-7, 6-5) RPI 33, KenPom 32

Quality Wins: Illinois State (35), Iowa State (47), Kansas State (41)

Bad Losses: None

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

Head-to-Head: 3-2

Texas Tech (16-8, 4-7) RPI 71, KenPom 43

Quality Wins: West Virginia (31), Kansas State (41), TCU (33)

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

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

Head-to-Head: 2-3

Texas Tech is in serious danger of dropping off the bubble, but the Red Raiders have two huge opportunities looming with home games against Kansas and Baylor. Those will be considerably tougher than TCU’s homestand against Texas and Texas Tech, but the Horned Frogs still deserve some credit for taking care of business. Now they need to stay strong at home against Oklahoma State after a tough road trip to Waco this weekend.

The Cowboys’ win streak finally ended at home to Baylor, but this is still a team no one wants to play now that Juwan Evans has that offense rolling. They’re going to want to stay hot before ending the season with a tough stretch of @KSU, vs.TTU, @ISU, vs.KU.

Meanwhile, Iowa State is still impossible to figure out after following by far their biggest win of the season at Kansas with their worst loss of the season at Texas. The Cyclones would do well to beat Oklahoma in Ames before heading to Manhattan.

What K-State needs to do to make the NCAAs: The win at Baylor cancels out the home loss to TCU and then some, so we’re back to our original formula: Protect the home floor and win two of three road games at Texas, Oklahoma and TCU. This is not too much to ask to reach 10 wins and gain a measure of comfort for Selection Sunday.

If the ‘Cats fall one game short of that mark, they’ll be sweating quite a bit but a win on the road against a top 5 team (and current No. 1 in the RPI) will go a long ways. It’s worth noting, though, 9 conference wins could easily get K-State a No. 4 or 5 seed in KC, which would mean a chance to notch another key win against a fellow bubble team.