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Tournament Thursday: Safely in, probably

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Provided the bubble doesn’t get weird, it’s time to start thinking about seeding, even if things go poorly in Kansas City this morning.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Kansas State
This is what my face will look like if Kansas State somehow gets snubbed on Sunday.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State managed to accomplish something this season no Big 12 team has done since before West Virginia and TCU joined, and I’ll let you decide whether it’s good or bad. The ‘Cats managed to lose three conference games at home and still finish with a winning record, which shows you just how difficult it generally is to win on the road in this league.

Oddly, two teams pulled it off in 2011-12, the first year of round-robin scheduling before Missouri and Texas A&M left for the SEC. One of those teams was Kansas State, who was also 10-8 with a 6-3 home record, and Baylor improbably went 12-6 by winning 6 of 9 games both home and away (K-State won in Waco and lost to the Bears in Manhattan). We may not see that again for a long time, if ever.

Back then, Baylor earned a 3 seed and went all the way to the Elite 8 while Kansas State (with a better noncon resume and a first round Big 12 tourney loss) settled for an 8 seed, beating Southern Miss before the infamous Jamar Samuels receipt from the trash derailed any hope of beating No. 1 seed Syracuse. It would be Bruce’s best performance since year one if the Wildcats could repeat that this season and I would absolutely take it — minus the ineligible player, of course,

All that is to illustrate just one of the ways this has been a very unique season for Kansas State basketball in terms of its tournament resume, one of the many things we delved into far more deeply on our podcast with SB Nation bracketologist Chris Dobbertean earlier this week. I’m not sure what it all means, but I do think it’s encouraging for postseason play that K-State went 7-7 in road/neutral games, the third-best record in the Big 12 behind only West Virginia and Kansas.

Current Status: Right side of the bubble

A lot of brackets now have Kansas State solidly in the tourney, either among the last four byes or better. But enough still put the ‘Cats in the play-in games that I’m not willing to say they’re totally off the bubble just yet. That almost certainly changes with a win over TCU.

Razdad’s projections have Kansas State Wildcats as a 9 seed facing Texas A&M in the first round. Kansas would currently be the last number 1 seed, while Texas Tech and West Virginia would be seeded 3rd. TCU would be a 6 seed and Oklahoma is barely a 10 seed along with Texas. Baylor would be an 11 seed and Oklahoma State is now in the first 4 out.

Florida State, St. Mary’s, and Rhode Island join the Wildcats as a 9 seed and Butler, Virginia Tech, and Missouri are the other 8 seeds. Arizona State, Notre Dame, USC, and St. Bonaventure would be sent to Dayton and Marquette, Providence, and Penn State are the other first 4 teams out.

K-State is a 10 seed and in 85 of 96 brackets on The Bracket Project, which is fewer than all the other 10 seeds and even fewer than 11 seed UCLA. Curiously, Texas is two spots behind the ‘Cats on the S curve but in all 96 brackets. The Longhorns have much less variance, it seems.

Joe Lunardi bumped K-State up to a 9 seed Wednesday night, giving the ‘Cats a first-round matchup against Rhode Island in Pittsburgh for the right to play Villanova. SI’s Michael Beller doesn’t hate Kansas State quite as much as he did last week, but he still has them as an 11 seed facing Miami with a second-round matchup against No. 3 seed Tennessee looming. That actually wouldn’t be so bad.

Ryan Fagan of The Sporting News slotted the ‘Cats into a 10 seed and our friend Chris Dobbertean of SB Nation put K-State as a 9 seed against Rhode Island with Villanova up next in Pittsburgh, just like Lunardi.

Nonconference

We’re going to skip over the detailed nonconference section you’ve seen in past editions of this feature (here’s last week) although I do want to note Arizona State might miss the tourney after a first-round exit in Las Vegas and sadly, UC Irvine lost to UC Davis in a game that decided sole possession of the Big West regular season title.

Also, Vanderbilt is officially eliminated and Georgia might as well be, since the Bulldogs face Missouri with Michael Porter Jr. expected to come off the bench in St. Louis. That’s the game I’m most excited about today. Sorry, K-State.

American, Northern Arizona, Oral Roberts, South Carolina Upstate, Southeast Missouri and Washington State have all concluded their seasons. UMKC, UC Irvine, George Washington and Tulsa are all still alive in their conference tournaments.

Last Week

Kansas State held serve at home on Senior Day, beating Baylor rather comfortably to complete another valuable sweep over a fellow Big 12 bubble team. Dean Wade was great again, Barry Brown added an efficient 18 points, and the point guard play was encouraging, though not spectacular by any means. We all know what happens this week and what the implications are, so let’s skip past that to...

Big 12 bubble teams

Kansas is probably looking at a 2 seed with the potential to move up to a 1, Texas Tech appears destined for a 3 or 4 seed depending how this week goes, West Virginia is in more or less the same situation but a 5 seed is still in play, and TCU sits at around a 6 or 7 with a chance to move up a couple spots.

Incredibly, Oklahoma State earned its way back into the conversation by demolishing Kansas again, and 9 Big 12 teams looks like a realistic scenario. 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 (21-10, 10-8) RPI 60, KenPom 42
Quality Wins: vs. TCU (20), at Baylor (58), at Texas (47),
Road/Neutral Wins: George Washington (in Las Vegas), Vanderbilt, Washington State (in Spokane), Iowa State, Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State
Bad losses: None
Head-to-Head: 7-1

Oklahoma (18-13, 8-10) RPI 45, KenPom 48
Quality Wins: at USC (35), at Wichita State (11), at TCU (20), vs. Texas Tech (23), vs. TCU (20), vs. Kansas (6)
Bad Losses: None
Road/Neutral Wins: Oregon (in Portland), Portland (in Portland), USC, Wichita State, TCU
Head-to-Head: 3-6

Texas (19-13, 8-10) RPI 47, KenPom 39
Quality Wins: at Alabama (55), vs. Butler (N) (46), vs. TCU (20), vs. Texas Tech (23), at Oklahoma (35)
Bad Losses: None
Road/Neutral Wins: Butler (in Portland), VCU, Alabama, Iowa State, at Oklahoma, Iowa State (in KC)
Head-to-Head: 3-5

Baylor (17-13, 8-10) RPI 58, KenPom 33
Quality Wins: vs. Creighton (N) (34), vs. Kansas (6), at Texas (47)
Bad Losses: None
Road/Neutral Wins: Creighton (in KC), Wisconsin (in KC), Oklahoma State, Texas
Head-to-Head: 5-3

Oklahoma State (19-13, 8-10) RPI 87, KenPom 51
Quality Wins: at Kansas (6), at West Virginia (31), vs. Texas Tech (23), vs. Kansas (6), vs. Oklahoma (N) (45)
Bad Losses: None
Road/Neutral Wins: vs. Pittsburgh (in NYC), vs. Florida State (in Sunrise, Fla.), at Kansas, at West Virginia, at Iowa State
Head-to-head: 3-6

So, there’s obviously a lot to take in here with five bubble teams. To begin, let’s take a look at how ridiculous the RPI is, given how low OSU is ranked and how high Oklahoma is ranked. Let’s hope the committee doesn’t give that too much weight.

KenPom, meanwhile, seems about right, although Texas and Baylor are too high. Still, it has these five teams within 19 spots of each other and all in the top 51. That’s pretty impressive.

But where will everyone wind up when the brackets are released? Let’s take a look team-by-team, concluding with some thoughts on how far K-State could move up.

Many people believe OU’s quality wins in December and January should be enough for a bid. I hope that’s wrong and the committee has been watching enough lately to make the right call. If not, though, you could see the Sooners sneak into a play-in game or even a straight-up 11 seed.

Texas probably secured its spot by rallying to beat Iowa State, but a win over Texas Tech sure wouldn’t hurt. Do that and the Longhorns should be thinking about a 10-seed, otherwise an 11 and Dayton are possibilities.

Baylor presents an interesting case and would do well to beat West Virginia today. The Bears only have KU as a quality win, so with 13 losses they’re still looking at an 11 seed or a play-in game if nothing changes. Perhaps a 10 would be in play if they make a run in KC.

Remember when we thought Oklahoma State could be approaching ISU as the worst team in the Big 12? That seems like so long ago. Incredibly, they’ve got probably the best group of quality wins out of the five, so they might not even need to beat Kansas a third time. Still, it feels like the Cowboys could be the favorite in that game and who’s to say they can’t keep winning to snag a 10 seed?

The gap between 7 and 10 seed isn’t all that large, so K-State could perhaps keep moving up with some big wins. An OSU win vs. KU would actually hurt those prospects, but the ‘Cats could still pick up a signature win over West Virginia or Texas Tech in the title game. Again, it’s hard to say how the selection committee will judge this unique resume, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Other bubble teams and potential spoilers to watch

All of those Big 12 teams should be wary of teams stealing at-large bids by making an unlikely run to a title in an auto-bid league. It could still happen in the Atlantic 10, Big East, ACC, American or Pac-12, although it doesn’t seem likely in any of those. Also, it would be in all bubble team’s best interests for Middle Tennessee to win C-USA, since the Blue Raiders are good enough for at-large consideration.

Then, of course, there’s the crowded bubble, full of average to mediocre team. Virginia Tech and North Carolina State are probably still safe despite getting upset in the ACC tourney, while losses from St. Mary’s Arizona State loss moved them perilously close to the NIT. Syracuse, Nebraska and Penn State are probably all done after failing to pick up the big wins they needed in their conference tournaments.

You all should know the Big 12 schedule, but that still leaves us with a whole host of teams to keep watching as they try to keep their seasons alive. Bubble teams are in bold, and this will be edited as scores come in.

Thursday
Virginia 75, Louisville 58
Alabama 71, Texas A&M 70
Providence 72, Creighton 68 (OT)
UCLA 88, Stanford 77
Villanova 94, Marquette 70
Mississippi St. 80, LSU 77
Duke 88, Notre Dame 70
Southern Miss 71, Middle Tennessee 68
USC 61, Oregon St. 48
Utah St. 78, Boise St. 75
Butler 75, Seton Hall 74
Oregon 68, Utah 66

Friday
Rhode Island 76, VCU 67 (Rhode Island now a lock)
Alabama 81, Auburn 63
St. Bonaventure 83, Richmond 77
Providence 75, Xavier 72 (OT)
Arizona 78, UCLA 67 (OT)
Villanova 87, Butler 68
USC 74, Oregon 54

Saturday
Kentucky 86, Alabama 63
Davidson 82, St. Bonaventure 70
Villanova 76, Providence 66
Arizona 75, USC 61