Trouble with a capital “T”, and that rhymes with “B”, and that stands for “buckets”.
The squad from River City had an almost supernatural ability to make those buckets in the first half, as the 16th-ranked and sixth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats fired out of the gate by sinking their first eight attempts from the floor. Kansas State (21-14) was never able to close the gap after that, and eventually fell 75-61 in a first-round NCAA Tournament contest at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif.
The Bearcats (30-4) used that opening salvo to push to an 11-point lead at halftime, and K-State was unable to get any closer than six points back the rest of the way. Despite the deficit, the Wildcat defense was mostly blameless. Cincinnati’s 62.8% clip from the floor looks bad, but the Bearcats made an absurd number of well-contested shots; senior guard Troy Caupain in particular seemed to be able to find the basket from anywhere even with a black jersey in his face. Caupain led the Bearcats with 23 points, grabbing seven rebounds in the process.
The Wildcat defense also had seven steals on the night, and forced a total of 11 turnovers. Cincinnati’s assist-to-turnover ratio was actually underwater, at 10-11.
The issue, more than anything, was K-State’s offense. Far too often, the Wildcats found themselves dispossessed after getting the ball into the post and suddenly facing a one-on-three situation. That directly led to four steals and four blocked shots. K-State shot 38.9% from the floor — bad, but not atrociously so.
In the face of Cincinnati’s sorcery, however, it was far too little.
Compounding the problem for the Wildcats was Wesley Iwundu’s foul trouble. The senior took two fouls early, and then took a seat. But as Cincinnati’s lead continued to swell, Bruce Weber rolled the dice and put Iwundu back in. The move backfired, as Iwundu was quickly whistled for number three, and K-State had to play out the final seven minutes of the first half without him.
In the end, that was key, as it was Iwundu who tried his best to put the team on his back in the second half. In his final game as a Wildcat, Iwundu scored 19 points — the only Wildcat in double figures, and one of two who managed to shoot 50% from the floor. Iwundu also led K-State in rebounds with four, and assists with three.
The other was senior D.J. Johnson, who had eight points. Johnson played valiantly, but Cincinnati was able to exploit his few vulnerabilities; notably, Johnson only had two rebounds the entire game, and had none on the offensive side.
It was a disappointing end to a season, moreso in the wake of the other three 11-seeds advancing to the second round. But the score belies the effort. If Cincinnati had just shot at a reasonable percentage in the opening minutes, K-State would have been in position to at least try to make a game of it at the other end. Had Cincinnati merely shot 50% from the field, the game would have come to the final possession.
And that, sadly, is both testament to effort and condemnation of results.
With that, we say farewell to Zach Winter (who made the game’s final basket), Austin Budke, and Carlbe Ervin. And more painful goodbyes to D.J. Johnson and Wesley Iwundu, who gave the K-State program everything they had, including loyalty above and beyond. That they were able to go out on the biggest stage is some solace, but it will always be bittersweet.