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Tournament Thursday: Closing in on lock status

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Another perfect week put Kansas State within a win or two of sealing its NCAA bid.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Kansas State
It was a beautiful night Tuesday in Bramlage.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that sure was a fun and impressive performance Tuesday night in Manhattan.

Kansas State simply outworked Kansas to overcome 43% shooting from the field and an awful 58% (14-24) from the free throw line, although it sure was helpful to shoot 41.7% (10-24) from 3. That game might represent the most likely way for these Wildcats to beat their in-state rivals, considering it actually marked an offensive improvement. K-State rose all the way up to 167th in the KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency rankings this week!

Sure, this is a weaker KU team with two key injuries and one paid player missing, but don’t let anyone tell you that diminishes the significance of this win. As we all know, this is a game the ‘Cats would historically always lose, at least in my lifetime, which dates back to Danny and the Miracles.

Only three times in Big 12 history has Kansas lost 3 of its first 9 conference games, and each time the Jayhawks faced Kansas State with a chance to drop to 0-4. In 2000, a struggling KU team fresh off a stunning 86-53 defeat at Oklahoma State went to Manhattan and blasted Tom Asbury’s Wildcats 94-65, which was something of an annual tradition back then. 16 years later, K-State actually kept it close for a while at Allen Fieldhouse before old man Perry Ellis and the Jayhawks pulled away for a 77-59 win, punctuated by Brennan Greene’s dunk just before the buzzer.

So yeah, it was especially sweet to see Cartier Diarra’s emphatic windmill dunk and Barry Brown’s slam just after the horn sounded, which he confirmed was retribution for what he saw Greene do as a freshman. Was it a little petty? Sure. Did KU deserve it? Absolutely.

So now Kansas State knows the formula for success, which of course starts with bringing maximum energy on the defensive end. Let Dean Wade and sometimes Barry lead the offense, but the ‘Cats are clearly at their best when guys like Xavier Sneed and Cartier are playing smart, aggressive basketball to find their shots in transition or within the offense.

Finally, a word on the court storming: If you’re one of the K-State fans who is mildly disappointed and wishes the students didn’t feel the need to celebrate a win over KU because they should expect it or because this KU team isn’t that good, that’s fine. You’re entitled to your opinion. But it’s not OK to shame or publicly call out students for deciding they should rush the court because for virtually all of them, that was the first time they’d seen K-State beat their bitter rivals and (still) the defending champions of the Big 12. Let the kids have their fun.

Current status: Solidly in

It’s pretty clear K-State’s a tournament team, so this is all about seeding now. The Bracket Project puts the ‘Cats as a 6 seed and Joe Lunardi over at ESPN gave KSU a 7 seed and a matchup with UCF, but that was before Thursday’s game.

Commenter RazDad gives Kansas State a 6 seed and a matchup with Indiana, which is pretty scary because that’s the kind of young, inconsistent athletic team that could give the ‘Cats some serious problems. KU is a 3 seed, Texas Tech and Iowa State are 5 seeds, Oklahoma and Baylor are 8 seeds, TCU is a 9 and Texas is a 10.

Ryan Fagan of The Sporting News updated his bracket this morning and put K-State on the 6 seed line and SI’s Michael Beller agrees. He gave K-State a matchup with Wofford. Our friend Chris Dobbertean of SB Nation’s Blogging the Bracket continues to like the ‘Cats more than most, giving them a 5 seed and a matchup with Hofstra even before the big win over KU.

Nonconference play

Marquette’s win streak finally ended with its second loss of the season to St. John’s, so Bruce Weber might want to reach out to Chris Mullin for the keys to knocking off the Golden Eagles next year. That loss was only part of what turned out to be a pretty rough week, with every team except, oddly, Southern Miss, losing at least one game.

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 (4-20) NET 343 (-6) KenPom 341 (-3)
64-56 vs. Denver (7-16) NET 308 (-1) KenPom 303 (-5)
95-68 vs. Eastern Kentucky (10-13) in Virgin Islands NET 252 (-26) KenPom 235 (-16)
64-48 vs. Penn (13-7) in Virgin Islands NET 95 (-12) KenPom 131 (-11)
82-67 vs. Missouri (11-10) in Virgin Islands NET 80 (+12) KenPom 85 (+10)
77-58 vs. Lehigh (15-7) NET 156 (-11) KenPom 160 (-10)
71-83 at Marquette (19-4) NET 21 (-3) KenPom 29 (-4)
46-47 at Tulsa (13-10) NET 98 (-8) KenPom 134 (-7)
59-71 vs. Georgia State (16-7) NET 135 (-7) KenPom 130 (+1)
55-51 vs. Southern Miss (14-9) NET 119 (+3) KenPom 126 (+15)
69-58 vs. Vanderbilt (9-13) in KC NET 115 (-1) KenPom 129 (+6)
59-58 vs. George Mason (13-10) NET 138 (-11) KenPom 137 (-23)
53-65 at Texas A&M (8-13) NET 99 (+6) KenPom 122 (+10)

jeffp171

Eastern Kentucky took a pretty significant dip with road losses to Eastern Illinois and SIUE (in double OT). Georgia State remains (barely) atop the Sun Belt after a disappointing road loss at Louisiana-Monroe and even George Mason had a rare rough week with back-to-back double-digit losses at VCU and Richmond.

But hey, at least Southern Miss beat up on Florida International and Florida Atlantic. Also, Missouri actually made a nice jump despite going 1-2, largely thanks to a not embarrassing performance at No. 1 Tennessee.

Last week

Kansas State stretched its conference winning streak to seven games (the longest of the Bruce Weber era) with a near-perfect week, blowing out Oklahoma State on the road and then coming back to Bramlage to beat Kansas. As noted above, the ‘Cats markedly improved their offensive efficiency. Maybe the weirdest stat of the week? Oklahoma State committed only 8 turnovers before KU committed 23.

This week

It’s another tough one in the Big 12 grinder, starting with a trip to Waco to face third-place Baylor. Kansas State will have a rare noticeable size advantage in this one, so it’ll be interesting to see whether guys like Dean and Makol Mawien can turn that into a positive.

Matchup-wise, though, the tougher game might actually be the one at Texas next Tuesday. The Longhorns have as much size and athleticism as just about anyone, and of course they manhandled the ‘Cats (minus Dean Wade) at home earlier this season.

Big 12 bubble competition

Oklahoma keeps fading, Texas is on the rise and TCU narrowly avoided disaster Wednesday night at home against Oklahoma State. Quite honestly, K-State probably doesn’t belong here anymore, but since this is a K-State blog we’ll keep them on the list just for reference.

Just like last year, quality wins are Quadrant 1 wins, which means home wins over the top 1-30 teams in the NET rankings, neutral wins against the top 50, and away wins against the top 75. Bad Losses are those against Quadrant 3 and 4 teams, which means those ranked worse than 75 at home, worse than 100 at neutral sites, and worse than 135 on the road. Here’s a more detailed explainer on the Quadrant system.

Kansas State (17-5, 7-2) NET 30, KenPom 36
Quality Wins: at Iowa St. (NET 13), at Oklahoma (37), vs. TCU (40) vs. Texas Tech (16), Kansas (18)
Bad Losses: None
Road/Neutral Wins: vs. Eastern Kentucky (in the Virgin Islands), vs. Penn (in the VI), vs. Missouri (in the VI), at Iowa State, at Oklahoma, at Oklahoma St.
Head-to-Head: 2-1

Oklahoma (15-8, 3-7) NET 37, KenPom 40
Quality Wins: vs. Florida (43) in The Bahamas, vs. TCU (40), vs. Wofford (29)
Bad Losses: None
Road/Neutral Wins: vs. Florida (in The Bahamas), vs. Dayton (in The Bahamas), at Northwestern, at Oklahoma State, Head-to-Head: 1-3

TCU (15-5, 4-5) NET 40, KenPom 29
Quality Wins: None
Bad Losses: None
Road/Neutral Wins: at SMU, vs. USC at the Staples Center, vs. Charlotte in Hawaii, vs. Bucknell in Hawaii, vs. Indiana State in Hawaii
Head-to-Head: 2-3

Texas (13-10, 5-5) NET 38, KenPom 26
Quality Wins: vs. North Carolina (8) in Las Vegas, vs. Purdue (11), at Kansas St. (30), vs. Oklahoma (37), vs. Kansas (18)
Bad Losses: vs. Radford (113)
Road/Neutral Wins: vs. Arkansas in Fort Bliss (TX), vs. UNC in Las Vegas, at Kansas State
Head-to-Head: 3-1

Baylor (15-7, 6-3) NET 32, KenPom 28
Quality Wins: at Arizona (64), vs. Iowa State (13), vs. Texas Tech (16), at Oklahoma (37), vs. TCU (40)
Bad Losses: vs. Texas Southern (236), vs. Stephen F. Austin (274)
Road/Neutral Wins: vs. George Mason in Niceville (FL), at Arizona, at Oklahoma St., at West Virginia, at Oklahoma
Head-to-Head: 2-1

Baylor’s game against Kansas State continues a huge stretch for the Bears, who really can’t afford to fall too far down the standings because of their nonconference struggles. They follow the ‘Cats with a home game against Oklahoma, then two tough road tests at Texas Tech and Iowa State.

TCU still needs a quality win, and the Horned Frogs will get a couple chances over the next 7 days with a trip to Iowa State and a home game against Kansas. Oklahoma needs a win of any kind to break a 3-game losing skid, but it won’t be easy with a home date vs. Texas Tech and then a trip to Waco coming up.

Texas is interesting because the Longhorns have perhaps the best quality wins of anyone, but consistency has been an issue. They really can’t afford too many more slip-ups, such as a loss at West Virginia on Saturday.

What K-State needs to do to win the Big 12

That heading could also say “to earn a top 4 seed” because let’s be honest, those two things are more or less one and the same at this point. K-State probably locks up a bid with two more wins — possibly one — so it’s time to set our sights on bigger goals.

Obviously, KU won the league by two games last year with 5 losses, and it’s definitely possible that happens again since everyone except K-State lost 3 of their first 9 games. But let’s assume the ‘Cats need to go 14-4 to win outright, which is obviously what everyone would prefer. Iowa State and KU have somewhat favorable schedules the rest of the way, so we can’t bank on them getting to 6 losses.

This week looms rather large and it feels like K-State absolutely must win at least one of two road games against Baylor and Texas, which is no small task. We don’t want to have to rely on another 7-game win streak.

Beyond that, K-State clearly needs to take care of Oklahoma State and Oklahoma at home and win at Morgantown. Those stand out as the two easiest games remaining, so that gets us to 11-5.

Here’s where we see just how challenging this will be, since the rest of the schedule includes home games against Iowa State and Baylor, plus road games at KU and TCU. Clearly, the most obvious path is to lose at AFH and win the rest. That could definitely happen.

The TCU game is honestly one that doesn’t worry me all that much, considering the Horned Frogs haven’t won that type of game yet. It feels like K-State absolutely should beat Baylor at home, but the Iowa State game is definitely worrisome, especially because it’s right after the game at Texas.

If the ‘Cats go 1-1 on their upcoming road trip and then fall to the Cyclones, that would put a lot of pressure on Kansas State’s quest for a league title. It’s possible to win out from there with a mostly favorable schedule (@WVU, vs. OSU, @KU, vs. BU, @TCU, vs. OU) but it sure doesn’t seem very likely.

We’ll know more next week, I suppose. Let’s just try to enjoy the ride.