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Tournament Thursday: On the right path

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Two Top 25 road wins should go a long way towards securing an NCAA tournament spot, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Oklahoma
A healthy and dangerous Dean Wade should make Kansas State an obvious NCAA tournament team.
Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the conversation sure has changed since a week ago, when things still looked fairly grim.

Perhaps it could be said K-State caught a few breaks in a one-point win at Iowa State sponsored by Barry Brown last Saturday. But the ‘Cats left absolutely no doubt they’re capable of taking down just about anyone in this league with a comfortable 13-point win at Oklahoma on Wednesday.

We knew a resurgence from Dean Wade could drastically change the fortunes of this team, and he took a huge step in the right direction with 20 points on 8-14 shooting. Brown has reached 23 points in three straight games for the first time in his career and K-State even shot almost 81 percent from the free throw line over the last week. These are crazy times.

The ‘Cats jumped all the way up to 181st in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings, which is, you know, slightly less terrible. Overall, they’re 41st and jumped from 51 to 37th with last night’s win at Oklahoma. Those are NCAA tournament numbers.

As you may have heard, it’s the first time since 2012 Kansas State has won back-to-back road games against ranked opponents. It also gives Bruce an impressive 10 Big 12 road wins over the past three seasons, which is better than everyone except Kansas, Remember when we complained his teams couldn’t win on the road?

Current status: Solidly in

Feel free to dispute this if you want and definitely don’t misconstrue it as me suggesting Kansas State is anything close to a lock. But the way I see it, as long as the Wildcats are above .500 in the Big 12, they’re in the tournament without question.

As for the projections, we’ll keep this short again since it’s still early. The Bracket Project shows K-State in 68 of 76 brackets but still stuck at an 11 seed and Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology, updated Tuesday, gives the ‘Cats an 11 seed with a play-in game against Temple for the right to play Purdue, because apparently Joe is determined to cause conflict for Drew.

Esteemed BotC commenter Razdad’s projections give Kansas State Wildcats 10 seed against North Carolina State in the first round. Other Big 12 teams in the field include KU and Texas Tech as 2 seeds, OU as a 4 seed, Iowa State as a 7 seed, TCU as an 8 and Texas as a 10.

If you’re wondering about his credentials, last year RazDad correctly projected 65 of the 68 teams and all correct projections were within 2 seed lines.

Nonconference play

In case you missed it on this week’s podcast, Kansas State’s nonconference SOS rating is a fairly respectable 69th according to the NCAA’s rankings, which is much better than the 203rd ranking given by KenPom. In case you need a reminder, here’s an explainer on what the NET rankings are.

You’ll see the movement from last week reflected in the results below. Remember, a + means improvement from the previous week while a - means a drop in the rankings.

56-41 vs. Kennesaw State (3-15) NET 341 (-21) KenPom 345 (-2)
64-56 vs. Denver (6-14) NET 322 (+16) KenPom 304 (+12)
95-68 vs. Eastern Kentucky (7-10) in Virgin Islands NET 226 (-14) KenPom 243 (+3)
64-48 vs. Penn (10-5) in Virgin Islands NET 127 (-14) KenPom 139 (-12)
82-67 vs. Missouri (9-4) in Virgin Islands NET 87 (-10) KenPom 102 (-15)
77-58 vs. Lehigh (10-4) NET 151 (-6) KenPom 152 (-9)
71-83 at Marquette (15-3) NET 21 (+0) KenPom 35 (-2)
46-47 at Tulsa (12-6) NET 111 (-27) KenPom 135 (-6)
59-71 vs. Georgia State (13-4) NET 103 (+1) KenPom 107 (+3)
55-51 vs. Southern Miss (10-7) NET 138 (-8) KenPom 146 (+0)
69-58 vs. Vanderbilt (9-7) in KC NET 76 (-13) KenPom 93 (-13)
59-58 vs. George Mason (10-8) NET 142 (+13) KenPom 114 (+18)

There were certainly quite a few winless weeks (Kennesaw, Eastern Kentucky, Penn, Mizzou, Vandy) but most of the better teams continued to look solid. Georgia State stayed unbeaten in the Sun Belt and Marquette picked up a big win at Georgetown despite losing Markus Howard early to back soreness, which is definitely something to keep an eye on going forward.

Meanwhile, Mizzou might be terrible again after 10-point losses at South Carolina and home to Alabama. Tulsa fell to Cincinnati and SMU, likely proving it’s destined to hang around in the middle of the pack in the AAC.

Last week

As noted above, Kansas State picked up a pair of huge road wins by knocking off Iowa State 58-57 and then soundly beating Oklahoma 74-61. The Wildcats kept playing great defense and showed some impressive offense without their typical droughts in Norman.

Dean Wade looked a little out of sorts in his first game back, but still grabbed a team-high 9 rebounds. Then when he found his rhythm offensively to score 20 points he grabbed just one rebound in 25 minutes. Go figure.

Xavier Sneed scored just 10 points, which is somewhat troubling. Hopefully he’ll get things figured out soon.

This week

It doesn’t really get much easier in terms of opponents, but a return to Bramlage should provide some benefits before four of five on the road. TCU visits Manhattan Saturday fresh off a 98-67 rout of floundering West Virginia, and the matchup with Texas Tech next Tuesday looks considerably more winnable after the Red Raiders stumbled at home Wednesday against Iowa State.

Big 12 bubble competition

Not a lot has changed here and it’s still too early to take a deep dive. Kansas won a couple more games, so they’re back atop the conference with Texas Tech and both teams are in great shape.

Oklahoma should start to worry if it can’t pick up its first road win at Texas or Oklahoma State, but for now the Sooners, Cyclones and Horned Frogs look just fine. The Longhorns came awfully close to a stunner in Lawrence and instead settled for a third straight loss, meaning they could really use a win over OU at home or at TCU in the next seven days.

Baylor could make a very serious claim to bubble status with a home win over Texas Tech on Saturday, which doesn’t seem out of the question.

What K-State needs to do to make the NCAAs

Last week we basically concluded winning at either Iowa State or Oklahoma would be a nice bonus, which means it’s time to do some serious recalculating. Road wins are always extra valuable in March so those should be crucial pieces of K-State’s resume barring collapses from the Sooners or Cyclones.

If we want to keep things really simple, the ‘Cats could probably feel pretty good about themselves if they just win seven of their last eight home games along with the road trip to Texas A&M. The Aggies have a losing record despite a stunning win at Alabama last Saturday, making it one Kansas State really should not lose.

Road trips to Morgantown and Stillwater look even more winnable than before, given West Virginia’s ongoing collapse and the dismissal of three players at Oklahoma State. Vandalizing cars is always a bad idea, though I suppose shooting BB guns through windows is very on brand for Boone Pickens U. Presumably they tried to drown out the shots by blaring red dirt country music.

Anyway, that’s a fairly reasonable path to 11 wins, which would of course be Bruce’s best season since capturing a Big 12 title. It’s nice to have some margin for error, particularly with a friendly February schedule.

That could of course disappear quickly if things go wrong this week. Then again, if K-State shows out in front of (hopefully) rejuvenated crowds at Bramlage, successful trips to Texas and Baylor in early February could end up solidifying a trip to the tourney well ahead of schedule.