During his time at Kansas State, Bruce Weber has earned a reputation for always staying right around the bubble, or as some may call it, consistent mediocrity. Personally I think mediocre is somewhat of a harsh word, but I understand the sentiment and it does get more frustrating with each passing year.
So here we are with K-State on the bubble again, so first let’s look back at why this seems so familiar, with links to Tournament posts from the last week of the season when possible. I’m not including Bruce’s first season because of course we all remember that team was pretty much always in lock status.
Last year, you probably recall K-State was in a very similar position, albeit with a better noncon and a worse conference record. The ‘Cats were sitting at 18-12 overall and 7-10 in conference, so it was pretty obvious they needed to beat Texas Tech at home then win at least one Big 12 tourney game. Fortunately, they did that (beating Baylor in KC) to snag the very last spot in the Big Dance.
Things looked considerably more grim in 2016, when I wrote my final Tournament Tuesday on Feb. 16, right before K-State’s last hopes died with a loss to KU. By the time the ‘Cats got to the final week, they were 5-12 in conference and ended up barely over .500 for the season, even missing the NIT.
2015 hopes essentially died with the infamous 58-56 loss to Texas Southern that dropped Kansas State to 7-5 before a loss to Georgia. That miserable noncon made a year of staying near .500 (I was way too optimistic in this post) meaningless, so it didn’t even matter when the ‘Cats beat No. 12 Iowa State in their second-to-last Big 12 game. They still lost their next two, including one vs. TCU in KC, and missed the NIT.
In 2014, the ‘Cats had locked up a bid a week before this point in the season, which was fortunate because they laid an egg on Senior Night to lose to a middling Baylor team and then got bounced in the first round by Iowa State at the Sprint Center. Perhaps winning one of those games would have avoided the nightmare matchup with Kentucky, allowing Bruce to pick up a win. We’ll never know.
Essentially, in four of Bruce’s six seasons, Kansas State was a legitimate bubble team in February and even into March the past two years. That’s not great, but it’s also relevant to point out things could be a lot worse. Please don’t view that as me saying this is acceptable and we shouldn’t expect better.
Current status: Right side of the bubble (barely)
Kansas State is still managing to avoid the Last Four In for most brackets, but as you might expect, it’s getting a little dicey. Fortunately, 36 teams gain an at-large bid, so the bubble is probably weaker than you think it is. I hesitate to say the ‘Cats actually deserve a spot given their resume, but neither do many of their bubble peers. Let’s see what the experts say.
Razdad’s projections have Kansas State as an 11 seed facing Houston in the first round. Kansas is a 1 seed, while West Virginia is seeded 3rd. Texas Tech is the highest 4 seed, and TCU is a 6 seed. Oklahoma keeps dropping as they would now be a 10 seed, just ahead of Baylor and Texas as 11 seeds.
Louisville, Missouri, and Middle Tennessee join OU as 10 seeds. Baylor, Alabama, St. Bonaventure, and Providence would be sent to Dayton. The first 4 teams out are Notre Dame, Syracuse, Penn State, and Maryland.
Joe Lunardi’s new bracket gives K-State a 10 seed with a tasty matchup against Creighton in Detroit. You may want to call that the Marcus Foster game, but I’m calling it the TB Tussle because of his Nebraska roots. SI’s Michael Beller decided to make me angry this (West Coast) morning by naming K-State as his first team out. Texas is in. OK.
SB Nation’s Chris Dobbertean is still my friend because he generously gave the ‘Cats a 9 seed prior to the TCU loss, with a matchup against Houston in Charlotte and Virginia as the No. 1 seed in the region.
One last look at that awful noncon schedule. Remember the * means that team is in last or second-to-last in its conference, and + means an improvement from the previous week, while - means a drop in the rankings.
83-45 vs. American* (6-24) RPI 334 (-2) KenPom 328 (-1)
72-51 vs. UMKC* (10-20) RPI 228 (+25) KenPom 270 (+17)
71-49 vs. UC Irvine (16-15) RPI 142 (-10) KenPom 125 (+10)
80-58 vs. Northern Arizona* (5-24) RPI 314 (-4) KenPom 327 (+3)
90-92 (N) vs. Arizona State (19-9) RPI 40 (-12) KenPom 38 (-5)
67-59 (N)vs. George Washington (14-16) RPI 189 (-9) RPI KenPom 187 (+3)
77-68 vs. Oral Roberts (11-20) RPI 243 (+9) KenPom 231 (+7)
84-79 at Vanderbilt* (11-19) RPI 125 (-14) KenPom 91 (-5)
86-49 vs. South Carolina Upstate* (7-25) RPI 346 (-1) KenPom 338 (+0)
54-61 vs. Tulsa (17-11) RPI 75 (-3) KenPom 110 (+3)
89-71 vs. Southeast Missouri State (14-17) RPI 256 (-21) KenPom 255 (-11)
68-65 at Washington State* (11-17) RPI 169 (+8) KenPom 181 (+4)
56-51 vs. Georgia (16-13) RPI 80 (-10) KenPom 71 (+0)
UC Irvine picked up a couple wins to move to first place in the Big West, so at least Kansas State played one quality mid-major this year. It would be nice to see the Anteaters earn the auto bid.
Unfortunately, everyone else except Oral Roberts (who only played once) lost a game this week, and many, including Arizona State and Vandy, lost twice. Southeast Missouri State’s season ended with a couple duds, so they missed the OVC tournament.
Kansas State suffered a couple of road losses to teams ranked in the RPI top 30, which doesn’t seem so bad when you say it that way. But if you’re actually familiar with Oklahoma’s recent struggles and saw the way the ‘Cats lost at TCU, well, it’s hard not to be disappointed.
Let’s start by actually giving OU and Trae Young a little bit of credit, because they came up big and he shot well when they desperately needed it. But obviously the Sooners’ lack of success scoring against other teams, including K-State in Manhattan, raises a lot questions about the defense. Not to mention the fact 77 points is one of the lowest totals OU has allowed in Big 12 play.
This may sound crazy, given the fact TCU is probably the better opponent right now, but the loss in Fort Worth felt like more of a letdown thanks to all the uncharacteristic mistakes. The season-high 19 turnovers were just brutal to watch, not least because five of them happened as TCU pulled away from the 4:00 mark to the 1:30 mark. Honestly, given the point guard play and poor finishing inside, it felt like K-State could have easily lost by 20, so the fact that it was so close made losing all the more painful.
Kansas State gets Baylor at home Saturday, which definitely won’t be an easy matchup but is still one the ‘Cats can win. They’ll need to make some jump shots, which is a concern considering they haven’t hit more than four threes in the last three games. Curiously, K-State shot a season-low 9 threes at TCU. Hopefully that doesn’t signal a lack of confidence.
Defending the paint and limiting second-chance opportunities should also be critical. Baylor is the only team in the conference with fewer than 200 made 3-pointers this season, so clearly they’re looking to take advantage of their size, attack the basket, and get some free throws. The Bears shot 21-of-24 from the line in Manhattan.
Regardless of Saturday’s results, K-State will almost certainly get a rematch against very beatable TCU and then maybe get another shot at Kansas in KC. That could be fun. The only way this won’t happen is if TCU wins at Texas Tech and Baylor wins in Manhattan, since the Bears would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over KSU but Baylor would finish last in a 3-way tie because they got swept by TCU.
To recap, if Kansas State loses to Baylor, you should be rooting hard for Texas Tech because if TCU wins that game, KSU drops to the 6 seed and plays the Red Raiders in the first round. I don’t need to tell you why that would be bad.
Big 12 bubble teams
TCU locked up its spot with wins over Baylor and Kansas State, while Oklahoma State dropped out of contention by losing to Texas. Sorry, Pokes, not even a win over Kansas can save your at-large hopes now.
That leaves us with four teams, which is actually a lot to have on March 1. Keep in mind Quality wins are now Quadrant 1 wins and Bad Losses are now Quadrant 3 and Quadrant 4 games. Here’s a handy explainer if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
Kansas State (20-10, 9-8) RPI 62, KenPom 47
Quality Wins: vs. TCU (19), at Baylor (56), at Texas (61),
Road/Neutral Wins: George Washington (in Las Vegas), Vanderbilt, Washington State (in Spokane), Iowa State, Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State
Bad losses: None
Oklahoma (17-12, 7-10) RPI 36, KenPom 46
Quality Wins: at USC (31), at Wichita State (12), at TCU (19), vs. Texas Tech (22), vs. TCU (19), vs. Kansas (5)
Bad Losses: None
Road/Neutral Wins: Oregon (in Portland), Portland (in Portland), USC, Wichita State, TCU
Texas (17-13, 7-10) RPI 61, KenPom 43
Quality Wins: at Alabama (59), vs. Butler (N) (41), vs. TCU (19), vs. Texas Tech (22), at Oklahoma (36)
Bad Losses: None
Road/Neutral Wins: Butler (in Portland), VCU, Alabama, Iowa State, at Oklahoma
Baylor (17-12, 8-9) RPI 56, KenPom 29
Quality Wins: vs. Creighton (N) (33), vs. Kansas (10), at Texas (61)
Bad Losses: None
Road/Neutral Wins: Creighton (in KC), Wisconsin (in KC), Oklahoma State, Texas
Tulsa moved up to No. 75 in the RPI, the upper boundary of a Quadrant 2 game. So that’s no longer a Quadrant 2 loss, which is kind of cool but not really all that meaningful. It’s still going to stick out to the committee.
Oklahoma’s KenPom rating dipped by 16 points, which tells you a lot about how awful the Sooners played at Baylor. One bit of good news for Oklahoma is the wins over USC, Wichita State and TCU are all looking even better in recent weeks.
Texas, on the other hand, is hurt by Alabama’s four-game losing streak and could really use a win over West Virginia in Austin on Saturday. It would be really interesting to see the so-called experts try to defend Oklahoma after a loss at home to Iowa State. Both the Longhorns and Sooners need to win to avoid becoming the first teams to go 7-11 in conference while still finishing with an overall record above .500. Either would be an interesting test case.
Meanwhile, Baylor fans should be feeling pretty good, and I would think a win in Manhattan or against (probably) Texas Tech in Kansas City would guarantee a bid. Full credit to the Bears for recovering so well from a 2-7 start in league play.
Other Bubble teams to watch
We’ve reached the point in the season where you might want to start paying attention to other bubble teams. Here’s a list of upcoming games to keep an eye on, with K-State’s bubble competition in bold. I’m being fairly liberal with my definition of bubble teams but you’ll notice I didn’t include Missouri because I’m in full denial mode when it comes to the Tigers’ bubble status. MPJ is going to play in the SEC tournament and instantly turn Mizzou into a Sweet 16 team. Maybe Final Four.
North Carolina State at Georgia Tech, 7 p.m.
Virginia at Louisville, 7 p.m.
California at Arizona State, 8 p.m.
Oregon State at Washington, 10 p.m.
Western Kentucky at Middle Tennessee State, 7 p.m.
St. John’s at Providence, 11 a.m.
West Virginia at Texas, 11 a.m.
Mississippi State at LSU, noon
Clemson at Syracuse, 1 p.m.
Boston College at Florida State, 1 p.m.
Alabama at Texas A&M, 1 p.m.
Stanford at Arizona State, 1:30 p.m.
Creighton at Marquette, 1:30 p.m.
Oregon at Washington, 3:30 p.m.
Louisville at North Carolina State, 5 p.m.
Marshall at Middle Tennessee State, 6 p.m.
Western Kentucky at UAB, 7 p.m.
St. Bonaventure at Saint Louis, 7 p.m.
UCLA at USC, 9:15 p.m.
Saint Mary’s vs. TBD in West Coast semifinal, 11 p.m.
Temple at Tulsa, noon
You’ll also want to watch Nebraska and other potential bid stealers in the Big Ten, or in the West Coast, for that matter. Hopefully none of this will be relevant, but you never know.
What K-State needs to do to make the NCAAs
Same as last week. Win a game. It’s really that simple. Probably.