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Tournament Thursday: Finding the right matchup

Today we discuss what kind of teams could give K-State trouble and what opponent weaknesses would play to the strength of Bruce Weber’s veteran squad.

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NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at West Virginia
A healthy Dean Wade could cause sleepless nights for a lot of opponents trying to come up with a defensive gameplan for the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year.
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most annoying yet at least partially true clichés we always hear in March is “it’s all about matchups.”

Obviously, in a winner-take-all format this logic is somewhat flawed, because a great shooting team might have an off-night or vice versa, foul trouble could eliminate a critical weapon that might have exposed another team’s weakness, and any number of random things can happen when we’re talking about 18-22-year-olds playing one game. But other times whether a team can counter its opponents strengths can be meaningful.

With that in mind, let’s take a moment to think about what kind of opponent might give K-State problems, and what style might play right into KSU’s hands. We’re not talking about teams with obviously superior talent and athleticism (i.e. Duke, Kentucky, Gonzaga) because that caliber of opponent will give everyone trouble.

We’ll start with what we know about the Wildcats. This is an experienced, elite defensive team with the ability to slow games down, force turnovers and rebound defensively at a very high level. However, they also struggle shooting from the outside and lack depth, especially in the frontcourt.

So, we’ve seen if a team can play zone and successfully keep the ‘Cats from moving the ball to the middle, it can generally be effective. Similarly, a team with an elite rim protector could cause problems, although the mid-range games of Dean Wade and especially Barry Brown tend to negate that weakness to a certain degree.

I think the nightmare opponent for Kansas State’s defense would be a team with a big, physical post player (not unlike West Virginia’s Derek Culver) and some good 3-point shooters (very much unlike West Virginia’s backcourt) capable of making you pay for collapsing in on one player too much. Potential tournament teams that fit that mold include Maryland, Wisconsin and Utah State.

On the flip side, it seems like a team reliant on guards who play fast and force turnovers well would fare poorly against K-State’s veteran perimeter players, who do a great job of stopping easy transition offense. Also, a smaller team might struggle to match up with Dean and even Makol Mawien, assuming he remembers how to properly dunk a basketball. Potential opponents matching this description include Buffalo, Temple and to a somewhat lesser degree, Auburn.

Time will tell if any of this holds true, but it seems to me to be worth thinking about since we don’t need to worry about K-State’s tournament bid. Perhaps this will help give you some guidance on what to hope for come Selection Sunday.

Current status: Lock

No matter what Sports Illustrated’s Michael Beller thinks, Kansas State is absolutely a lock for the NCAA tournament with 20 wins and a guaranteed winning record in the Big 12. Everyone knows The Athletic’s Eamon Brennan writes the real Bubble Watch, anyway.

Kansas State is the top 6 seed on the bracket project, still one spot ahead of Virginia Tech and now one behind Florida State. Iowa State remains a 4 seed, well ahead of the Wildcats, which is a little confusing to me, but whatever.

Esteemed commenter RazDad lists Kansas State as a 6 seed with a matchup against the winner of a Florida-Minnesota play-in game. KU nabs a 3 seed, Iowa State and Texas Tech are 4 seeds, Baylor and Texas get 8 seeds, and TCU falls to a 10, where they’re joined by Oklahoma.

Joe Lunardi’s Monday Joe Lunardi’s Monday bracketology gives K-State a 6 seed and a matchup with Minnesota, which might present something of a conundrum for Wildcat00. Beller’s Monday bracket is a little more generous, listing the ‘Cats as a 6 seed against Lipscomb, though that was before the Bison suffered a crushing loss at Florida Gulf Coast on Wednesday.

Our friend Chris Dobbertean still likes Kansas State as much as anyone, giving the Wildcats the final 4 seed in Wednesday morning’s seed list. CBS bracketology expert Jerry Palm is slightly less generous, putting KSU as a 5 seed with a first-round matchup against North Carolina State.

Nonconference play

It was another not-so-great week, but there were definitely some positives. Most notably, of course, Marquette knocked off Villanova to stay in contention for the Big East title. Also, Mizzou beat Mike Anderson and Arkansas, which always makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

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. We’ve also added a new feature with a nice graphic representation of the NET rankings, thanks to an assist from our own jeffp171.

56-41 vs. Kennesaw State (5-23) NET 343 (-3) KenPom 340 (-1)
64-56 vs. Denver (7-20) NET 320 (-8) KenPom 315 (-14)
95-68 vs. Eastern Kentucky (11-16) in Virgin Islands NET 270 (-20) KenPom 249 (-8)
64-48 vs. Penn (15-9) in Virgin Islands NET 115 (-23) KenPom 135 (-12)
82-67 vs. Missouri (12-13) in Virgin Islands NET 92 (-4) KenPom 98 (-4)
77-58 vs. Lehigh (18-8) NET 152 (+1) KenPom 156 (+2)
71-83 at Marquette (22-4) NET 19 (+0) KenPom 25 (+1)
46-47 at Tulsa (16-11) NET 93 (-12) KenPom 122 (-12)
59-71 vs. Georgia State (18-8) NET 134 (+1) KenPom 131 (-1)
55-51 vs. Southern Miss (17-9) NET 102 (+19) KenPom 113 (+15)
69-58 vs. Vanderbilt (9-17) in KC NET 131 (-6) KenPom 125 (+4)
59-58 vs. George Mason (15-11) NET 148 (-11) KenPom 147 (-10)
53-65 at Texas A&M (11-14) NET 78 (+4) KenPom 94 (+1)


Not a whole lot of good things happened this past week, although Marquette moved into first place in the Big East all alone thanks to two Villanova losses. Southern Miss picked up a couple wins since we last checked in, so I guess that’s cool.

Sadly, Tulsa’s 21-point home loss to Wichita State basically ensures that won’t become a Q1 loss for K-State. Texas A&M, however, still has a chance to crack the top 75 thanks to a home win over Alabama, although it would might take a road win at LSU next Tuesday or Mississippi State in the season finale.

Last week

Kansas State suffered a disappointing but by no means crippling home loss to Iowa State, the only other team besides the Wildcats to lose fewer than three conference road games so far. The Cyclones showed off their full array of offensive weapons and didn’t miss much while getting revenge for what felt like K-State’s most fortunate win of the season.

Monday was pretty ugly most of the night, so I really don’t want to talk about it a lot. The important takeaways are Kansas State won by a sizeable margin in the end and Bob Huggins was complaining about the officials, which is always amusing with the way his team plays basketball.

This week

We’ll have a much better idea of what the Big 12 race is going to look like this time next week, and not just because of who Kansas State is playing. KU makes a huge trip to fellow second-place team Texas Tech Saturday, so the ‘Cats are guaranteed to move to two games ahead of third place provided they don’t lay a massive egg in Bramlage against shorthanded, outgunned Oklahoma State. As a reminder, the Pokes are 1-8 on the road this season with their only win coming at West Virginia more than a month ago.

Monday, of course, is the pivotal second edition of the Sunflower Showdown. Not only would a win be massive for K-State’s quest to win the Big 12 title, it’s also by far the best remaining chance for the Wildcats to improve their impressive tournament resume. As a reminder, the Jayhawks are still perfect at 15-0 in Allen Fieldhouse this season.

Chasing seeds

We don’t need to look at the Big 12 bubble competition or what K-State needs to do to make the NCAAs anymore, as the ‘Cats have moved well past all that discussion. There’s also not a lot left to say about what Kansas State needs to do to win the Big 12 and that’s an ongoing discussion in the Slate comments almost every day, so instead we’re going to compare some resumes to see what kind of seed the Wildcats could realistically achieve.

We’ll start again with Tier 1, the list of teams K-State won’t surpass unless they have a massive collapse. The loss to Iowa State means the Wildcats can no longer even dream of a 2 seed, as North Carolina and Michigan State both went 2-0 to join Duke, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee and Virginia in this elite group.

Before we move on, let’s take a look at Kansas State’s updated resume. All those poor offensive efficiency games are still holding the Wildcats’ computer numbers back, but everything else still looks pretty solid.

Kansas State (20-6, 10-3) NET 28, KenPom 30
Quality Wins: at Iowa St. (NET 14), at Oklahoma (38), vs. Texas Tech (10), Kansas (15), at Baylor (32), at Texas (35)
Q1 record: 6-3
Q2 record: 5-3
Worst Losses: at Texas A&M (78), at Tulsa (93)
Road/Neutral Wins: Eastern Kentucky (in the Virgin Islands), Penn (in the VI), Missouri (in the VI), Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St.

So now that we know what we’re comparing, let’s inspect some Tier 2 resumes. These are teams Kansas State is decisively behind right now but could conceivably catch in the final month of the regular season plus conference tournaments. Kansas, Marquette and Purdue could all move up to Tier 1 by going 2-0 over the next 7 days.

Houston (25-1, 12-1 American) NET 4, KenPom 16
Quality Wins: vs. LSU (16), at UCF (39), vs. Cincinnati (25)
Q1 record: 3-1
Q2 record: 7-0
Worst Loss: at Temple (53)
Road/Neutral wins: BYU, Oklahoma State, SMU, South Florida, Tulsa, UCF, UConn, Tulane

Kansas (20-6, 9-4 Big 12) NET 15, KenPom 15
Quality Wins: vs. Michigan State (8) in Indy, vs. Marquette (19) in NYC, vs. Tennessee (6) in NYC, vs. Wofford (24), vs. Villanova (27), at Baylor (32) vs. Iowa State (14), vs. Texas Tech (10), at TCU (41)
Q1 record: 9-5
Q2 record: 5-1
Worst Losses: at West Virginia (115), at Arizona State (72)
Road/Neutral wins: Michigan State in Indy, Marquette in NYC, Tennessee in NYC, Baylor, TCU

Louisville (18-9, 9-5 ACC) NET 17, KenPom 19
Quality Wins: vs. Michigan State (8), at Seton Hall (64), at North Carolina (9), at Virginia Tech (13)
Q1 record: 4-8
Q2 record: 4-1
Worst Losses: at Pittsburgh (113), at Indiana (56)
Road/Neutral wins: Seton Hall, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech

LSU (21-5, 11-2 SEC) NET 16, KenPom 22
Quality Wins: vs. Saint Mary’s (47) in Las Vegas, at Arkansas (73), at Ole Miss (34), at Mississippi St. (26), vs. Auburn (20), at Kentucky (5)
Q1 record: 6-3
Q2 record: 5-2
Worst Losses: vs. Arkansas (63), vs. Oklahoma State in Lake Buena Vista
Road/Neutral wins: Saint Mary’s in Las Vegas, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Missouri, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Georgia

Marquette (22-4, 11-2 Big East) NET 19, KenPom 26
Quality Wins: vs. Louisville (17) in NYC, vs. Kansas State (28), vs. Wisconsin (12), vs. Buffalo (18), at Creighton (54), at Butler (49), vs. Villanova (27), at Georgetown (71)
Q1 record: 8-3
Q2 record: 5-1
Worst Losses: vs. St. John’s (48), at St. John’s (48)
Road/Neutral wins: Indiana, Louisville in NYC, Creighton, Georgetown, Xavier, Butler, DePaul

Purdue (17-7, 10-3 Big Ten) NET 11, KenPom 10
Quality Wins: vs. Maryland (23), vs. Iowa (29), at Wisconsin (12), at Ohio State (42), vs. Michigan State (8), at Penn St. (63), at Indiana (56)
Q1 record: 7-6
Q2 record: 6-1
Worst Losses: vs. Notre Dame (101) in Indy, at Texas (35)
Road/Neutral wins: Appalachian St. in Charleston, Davidson in Charleston, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana

Houston kept on rolling with a pair of road wins, while Louisville and LSU suffered much more understandable road losses, at Syracuse and Florida, respectively. But they’re still going to take a slight hit.

Purdue narrowly avoided falling to Indiana thanks to a last-second tip-in, despite a 4-24 (0-10 from 3) night for the Boilermakers’ best player, Carsen Edwards. Kansas and Marquette stayed on course by beating up on inferior opponents.

Finally, we move on to Tier 3, which is of course teams right around K-State in most seeding lists or brackets right now. These are the teams the ‘Cats would likely pass should they win out, or if they just finish the season strong and some of these teams falter. Obviously, Saturday’s game vs. Iowa State looms rather large.

Florida State (21-5, 9-4 ACC) NET 21, KenPom 17
Quality Wins: vs. LSU (16) in Lake Buena Vista, vs. Purdue (11), at Syracuse (40), vs. Louisville (17), at Clemson (43)
Q1 record: 5-3
Q2 record: 5-2
Worst Losses: at Pittsburgh (113), at Boston College (124)
Road/Neutral wins: Tulane, UAB in Lake Buena Vista, LSU in Lake Buena Vista, UConn in Newark, Saint Louis in Sunrise, Miami, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Clemson

Iowa (20-6, 9-6 Big Ten) NET 29, KenPom 28
Quality Wins: vs. Iowa State (14), at Penn State (63), vs. Michigan (8), at Indiana (56)
Q1 record: 4-6
Q2 record: 6-0
Worst Losses: at Minnesota (51), vs. Wisconsin (15)
Road/Neutral wins: Oregon in NYC, UConn in NYC, Northern Iowa in Iowa City, Indiana

Iowa State (18-6, 7-4 Big 12) NET 14 KenPom 14
Quality Wins: vs. Kansas (15) at Texas Tech (10), at Ole Miss (34), at Oklahoma (38), vs. Kansas State (28)
Q1 record: 5-4
Q2 record: 3-2
Worst Losses: Arizona (88) in Maui, vs. TCU (41)
Road/Neutral wins: Illinois in Maui, San Diego State in Maui, Drake in Des Moines, Oklahoma St., Texas Tech, Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Rutgers

Maryland (20-7, 11-5 Big Ten) NET 23, KenPom 18
Quality Wins: at Minnesota (51), vs. Wisconsin (12), at Ohio St. (42), at Nebraska (45)
Q1 record: 5-5
Q2 record: 5-1
Worst Losses: vs. Seton Hall (64), vs. Illinois (82)
Road/Neutral wins: Navy, Loyola-Chicago in Baltimore, Rutgers, Minnesota, Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa

Nevada (24-2, 11-2 MWC) NET 22, KenPom 20
Quality Wins: None
Q1 record: 0-0
Q2 record: 5-0
Worst Losses: at New Mexico (174), at San Diego St. (135)
Road/Neutral wins: Tulsa in Las Vegas, UMass in Las Vegas, Arizona State in LA, Grand Canyon in LA, Utah, Fresno State, Boise State, UNLV, Colorado St., Wyoming

Texas Tech (21-5, 9-4 Big 12) NET 10, KenPom 10
Quality Wins: Nebraska (45) in KC, Kansas St. (28), at Texas (35), at Oklahoma (38)
Q1 record: 4-5
Q2 record: 7-0
Worst Losses: at Baylor (33), at Kansas State (25)
Road/Neutral wins: USC in KC, Nebraska in KC

Villanova (20-7, 11-3 Big East) NET 27, KenPom 24
Quality Wins: vs. Florida St. (21) in Lake Buena Vista, at Providence (74), at Creighton (54), at Butler (49)
Q1 record: 5-5
Q2 record: 8-2
Worst Losses: vs. Furman (44), at Georgetown (71)
Road/Neutral wins: vs. Canisius in Lake Buena Vista, vs. Oklahoma State in Lake Buena Vista, vs. UConn in NYC, Providence, Creighton, DePaul

Virginia Tech (20-6, 9-5 ACC) NET 13 KenPom 11
Quality Wins: vs. Purdue (11) in Charleston, vs. Washington (30) in Atlantic City, at NC State (32)
Q1 record: 3-6
Q2 record: 6-0
Worst Losses: at Penn St. (63)
Road/Neutral wins: Ball St. in Charleston, Northeastern in Charleston, Purdue in Charleston, Georgia Tech, Miami, Pittsburgh

Wisconsin (18-8, 10-5 Big Ten) NET 12 KenPom 12
Quality Wins: Oklahoma (38) in The Bahamas, at Iowa (29), at Penn State (63), vs. Michigan (7), at Nebraska (45), vs. Maryland (23), at Minnesota (51)
Q1 record: 7-6
Q2 record: 4-2
Worst Losses: at Western Kentucky (119), vs. Minnesota (58)
Road/Neutral wins: Xavier, Stanford in The Bahamas, Oklahoma in The Bahamas, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska

Wisconsin’s home loss to Michigan State moves the Badgers down from Tier 2, but they’ll have chances to climb back up with a home date vs. Iowa plus trips to Indiana and Ohio State still on the schedule. Nevada also moves down after a stunning loss at San Diego State Wednesday, which is something you just can’t do when you don’t play any quality opponents.

No one really capitalized on opportunities as Maryland lost at Michigan, Iowa lost at home to Maryland and Virginia Tech lost at home to Virginia. But no one had a week as bad as Villanova, which lost at St. John’s over the weekend and then followed it up with a real clunker at home to Georgetown. The Wildcats need to regroup quickly with a trip to Xavier and a home game vs. Marquette coming up next.

Comparing resumes with this group, we can clearly see how much those road losses at Tulsa and Texas A&M hurt Kansas State. Without them, the Wildcats are head and shoulders above everyone here thanks to an outstanding Q1 records.

I’m still not exactly sure why the computers like Texas Tech and Virginia Tech so much, but we don’t really know yet how big of a role that could play in the first year of the NET rankings. Villanova doesn’t have many challenges left on its schedule, other than a road game at St. John’s on Sunday and then Marquette at home, but everyone else faces some significant obstacles.

K-State holds a better Q1 record than the teams in this group and a win in Lawrence would go a long ways toward ensuring that stays true. Of course, it’s KSU’s Q2 losses that are weighing down the resume.

Maryland has a big week with Ohio State at home followed by Penn State on the road and Virginia Tech gets another opportunity for a marquee win with Duke visiting Blacksburg next Tuesday. Texas Tech, of course, gets Kansas and Iowa State faces a potentially difficult game at TCU, who won in Ames.

Stay tuned. Hopefully we’ll have some more good news to share next week.