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Tournament Thursday: Wildcats on the rise

With a signature win in hand, Kansas State’s tournament chances look much better than they did a week ago.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Kansas
How high will Barry’s stock rise?
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

There are no moral victories in Big 12 basketball, but Kansas State’s near-upset at Kansas last Saturday at least shows some impressive consistency when paired with a rout of Trae Young and Oklahoma on Tuesday night. We knew KSU could be competitive against anyone, and now we know this team can get over the hump and win, too.

The defense showed vast improvement, Barry Brown is on the verge of becoming a bona fide star, Cartier Diarra is filling in quite nicely for Kam Stokes, Xavier Sneed’s turning into a reliable scorer, and Dean Wade is shooting more without a drop in his field goal percentage. Other than some more bench scoring and more rebounders, everything seems to be coming together at just the right time for Kansas State.

On the other hand, though, history has taught us it’s dangerous to believe too much in momentum from game to game. I’m not going to talk about what happened after K-State’s last home win over a top 5 (No. 1, in fact) Oklahoma team because I don’t want to kill the vibe, but I’ll tell you it wasn’t good.

All I’m saying is this team is making that Tulsa game look more and more like a huge anomaly, and it’s clear the ‘Cats have NCAA tournament talent. So just in case you’d lowered your expectations, it’s time to bring them back up. Take a risk and believe in Kansas State again.

Current Status: On the Bubble

It’s still too early to spend much time here, but clearly an 18-point win over the No. 4 team in the country will turn some heads and serve as a much-needed signature win, even if it starts a tailspin back to reality for Oklahoma. The low number of above-average wins remains something of an issue, but it’s nothing to fret over in mid-January after getting back to .500 in conference play.

Kansas State is still only in 6 of 88 brackets on The Bracket Project, but let’s keep in mind many of those haven’t been updated since before the OU win. We’ll start taking a closer look at projections next week.

Nonconference play

Sorry to bring back some more bad memories, but we still need to monitor Kansas State’s awful nonconference schedule. The only positive here is it’s kind of fun to watch the overall strength of schedule rise every week, and it’s up to 111th in the KenPom rankings so that should crack the top 100 soon.

Georgia will visit Manhattan a week from Saturday to complete the slate and improve it slightly. Here are the results and some rankings of what we’ve seen so far, with how those rankings compare to last week in parenthesis.

83-45 vs. American (5-13) RPI 285 (+29) KenPom 305 (+11)
72-51 vs. UMKC (5-14) RPI 256 (+7) KenPom 285 (-6)
71-49 vs. UC Irvine (7-13) RPI 179 (-11) KenPom 181 (+8)
80-58 vs. Northern Arizona (3-15) RPI 308 (-20) KenPom 333 (+1)
90-92 (N) vs. Arizona State (14-4) RPI 27 (-14) KenPom 27 (-10)
67-59 (N)vs. George Washington (9-10) 196 (-12) RPI KenPom 204 (-3)
77-68 vs. Oral Roberts (7-14) RPI 184 (-13) KenPom 196 (-8)
84-79 at Vanderbilt (6-12) RPI 154 (+4) KenPom 107 (-18)
86-49 vs. South Carolina Upstate (5-15) RPI 340 (-8) KenPom 336 (-6)
54-61 vs. Tulsa (10-9) RPI 107 (-23) KenPom 129 (-4)
89-71 vs. Southeast Missouri State (8-11) RPI 265 (-19) KenPom 267 (-4)
68-65 at Washington State (9-8) RPI 139 (-6) KenPom 148 (+13)

Overall, it was a pretty terrible week, even with American’s unlikely win at Boston. We’re still seeing a lot of movement this early in the conference season, and I’m interested to see if things stabilize and if the RPI and KenPom rankings will find more agreement as the season goes along.

Arizona State’s sinking ship narrowly avoided total disaster on Saturday, when the Sun Devils overcame a double digit second half deficit to beat visiting Oregon State just two days after losing at home to Oregon. Sadly, the Sun Devils went back to their losing ways Wednesday night at Stanford.

Tulsa got embarrassed by Houston and then came shockingly close to an upset against Wichita State, but they followed that with a one-point loss at Temple to extend their losing streak to four games with Memphis and WSU up next. Washington State crushed California Saturday to snap a four-game losing streak and give K-State a noncon win against a team with a winning record, but I’m afraid it won’t last long.

Also, Oral Roberts lost two straight conference games after a 3-0 start and Vanderbilt still sucks.

Last week

It ended poorly, but there’s no dismissing the fact Kansas State put up a hell of a fight in Lawrence. Hopefully that leads to more confidence when KU makes the return trip, and it should give us more hope for another road win or two as conference play rolls on.

Kansas State’s surprising dominance of Lon Kruger’s teams in Manhattan continued in convincing fashion, and it’s difficult to overstate the importance of that 87-69 win. Let’s also give some credit to the student section for showing up and doing everything it could to propel the ‘Cats to exactly what they needed to get back into the tournament conversation.

This week

The Big 12 is full of golden opportunities to build your March resume, and this week is no exception. Don’t let TCU’s record fool you, this is a top 25-caliber team and it will take another solid team effort to protect the home floor once again.

It’s a very different type of test with no dominant player for the Horned Frogs, so it’ll be interesting to see how the defense reacts. You’d like to think K-State has enough experience to avoid a letdown in the wake of a big win. We’ll see.

A short turnaround makes Monday’s trip to Baylor even tougher, and the Bears bring some serious athleticism, as usual. Still, they haven’t consistently clicked yet so it’s one of the more winnable road games left on the schedule, and it would be huge if the ‘Cats could take advantage.

Big 12 bubble teams

Everyone appears to be bowing down to the Big 12 overlords in Lawrence, which means Kansas State wasn’t the only bubble team to pick up a resume-building team this week. Texas finally overcame its habit of blowing leads against top teams to knock off Texas Tech, and I’m starting to think it could be very bad that the ‘Cats don’t play the Longhorns until February.

TCU avoided potentially falling to the wrong side of the bubble by crushing Iowa State, even without Jaylen Fisher. But if he’s out for an extended period of time his absence will be felt with only eight scholarship players left on the active roster.

Baylor looks quite bubbly after losing at Iowa State on Saturday. The Bears’ schedule gets quite tricky over the next couple weeks, with road games at Kansas, Florida and Oklahoma to go along with a home game against Kansas State.

What K-State needs to do to make the NCAAs

Not a lot has changed from last week, except that now K-State would do well to win two of three home games against TCU, Kansas and Texas Tech rather than three of four. That seems very doable, and if the ‘Cats can add a road win against Baylor they’d look pretty good heading into the final stretch.

It would be really nice to create some margin for error with a four game stretch of vs. KU, @ WVU, @ Texas and vs. TTU not so far away. This week could be the chance to do it, then of course there’s the winnable game against Georgia next Saturday.