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Tournament Thursday: How much does depth matter in March?

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Texas Christian
How many minutes can X give Kansas State in 2 games over the course of 3 days?
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

If asked to list Kansas State’s biggest weaknesses as we move closer to the NCAA tournament, depth would probably need to be near the top.

An untimely injury to Cartier Diarra left the Wildcats with only 2 or 3 players we can really trust to provide minutes off the bench. Scoring options are extremely limited, as evidenced by only 17 bench points in the last 3 games after that Oklahoma State rout when everyone got involved. In 5 of K-State’s last 7 games since Diarra’s injury, Mike McGuirl was the only Wildcat to provide any offense off the bench.

Obviously, depth at the NCAA tournament can be valuable, as we saw last year when McGuirl came out of nowhere to score 17 points to help K-State beat Creighton. Villanova’s super sixth man, Donte DiVincenzo, scored 31 points in the national championship and was named the 2018 Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.

But with media breaks that seem to get longer every year and no back-to-back days or more than 2 games in a week, is depth really necessary for tournament success? If you can avoid foul trouble and injuries, does a lack of bench scoring really make a deep run impossible?

I would argue recent history says no. Just look at Kansas last year. The Jayhawks barely went 7 deep and had no bench players averaging better than 4.1 points per game, but this was the team Bill Self took to the Final Four for only the second time in the last decade.

Perhaps the best comparison for K-State is 2015 Wisconsin, which only went about 7 deep and even lost starting guard Traveon Jackson to injury until he returned in the Sweet 16 to provide limited minutes as a reserve. The Badgers still reached the national championship and all five starters played at least 30 minutes in both Final Four games, with the bench never reaching 10 points in a tournament game, even against No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina.

So, yes, it would be ideal if Cartier could return soon to provide at least 10-15 solid minutes per game and Austin Trice could continue his progression to give Bruce a more serviceable option when Makol Mawien needs a break. But a short, impotent bench doesn’t necessarily spell doom for Kansas State.

Honestly, I’m more worried about the lack of depth in the Big 12 tournament, when the ‘Cats could end up playing 3 games in 3 days. It seems to me an open question whether Dean’s fitness level is 100% and if K-State could keep up its unmatched defensive intensity for 120 minutes should it reach the championship in KC.

Still, I sure would love to find out and have my worries prove to be unwarranted.

Current status: Lock

K-State picked up a pair of decent enough wins, but at this point the ‘Cats are ranked high enough a loss would have hurt them much more than the victories helped. As it is, Kansas State mostly just stayed (barely) in contention for a 3 seed.

Esteemed commenter Razdad has K-State as his second-best 5 seed with a matchup against Vermont. That’s thidd among Big 12 teams, just behind 3 seed Texas Tech and 4 seed Kansas. Iowa State gets a 6 seed, Baylor an 8, Oklahoma an 11, and TCU and Texas both dropped to 10 seeds in advance of their very bubbly matchup in Austin on Saturday. Wisconsin and Virginia Tech sit just ahead of Kansas State, with Maryland and Nevada a little bit behind.

The Bracket Project gives KSU a 5 seed and so did SB Nation’s Chris Dobbertean, one day after he put the ‘Cats as a 4 seed in his bracket. Apparently Florida State’s admittedly impressive home win over Virginia Tech Tuesday night was enough to jump K-State for now.

Jerry Palm of CBS kept Kansas State as a 4 seed on Wednesday with a first-round matchup against Yale and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi gave KSU a 5 seed with New Mexico State as the opponent. SI’s Michael Beller put Kansas State down as a 5 seed against the winner of a play-in between Seton Hall/Arizona State while’s Andy Katz put the Wildcats on the 4 line facing Hofstra.

Nonconference play

Please note that the NET rankings here and later in this post don’t reflect Wednesday’s games, which included a disappointing loss for Marquette at Seton Hall.

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 (6-26) NET 341 (+2) KenPom 338 (+4)
64-56 vs. Denver (8-22) NET 322 (-2) KenPom 311 (+8)
95-68 vs. Eastern Kentucky (13-18) in Virgin Islands NET 270 (-20) KenPom 245 (+4)
64-48 vs. Penn (17-11) in Virgin Islands NET 112 (+3) KenPom 125 (+13)
82-67 vs. Missouri (14-15) in Virgin Islands NET 92 (-4) KenPom 95 (+3)
77-58 vs. Lehigh (19-10) NET 156 (-4) KenPom 162 (-9)
71-83 at Marquette (23-6) NET 26 (-7) KenPom 28 (-4)
46-47 at Tulsa (18-12) NET 98 (-5) KenPom 122 (+2)
59-71 vs. Georgia State (21-9) NET 136 (-2) KenPom 131 (+5)
55-51 vs. Southern Miss (18-11) NET 106 (-4) KenPom 119 (-6)
69-58 vs. Vanderbilt (9-21) in KC NET 144 (-13) KenPom 143 (-10)
59-58 vs. George Mason (16-14) NET 151 (-3) KenPom 157 (-11)
53-65 at Texas A&M (13-16) NET 79 (-1) KenPom 94 (-13)


Kennesaw State won a basketball game! It came by 1 point at home against the second worst A-Sun team, Stetson, and preceded a very predictable opening round conference tourney loss to Lipscomb, but still. Small victories. Denver did better, beating the second-worst team in the Summit League (Western Illinois) by 28 at home to avenge an 18-point loss and snap a 7-game losing streak.

Eastern Kentucky’s season is also over because the Ohio Valley Conference does what more leagues should do and doesn’t give its worst teams a chance to play in the postseason a steal a bid. But Missouri will still get a chance and miraculously the Tigers could take a 3-game win streak into the SEC tourney if they can beat Ole Miss at home Saturday.

Georgia State could potentially earn the Sun Belt’s No. 1 seed this weekend, so that’s cool. Meanwhile, Vandy only needs a loss at No. 10 LSU to complete its defeated season in the SEC and conference mate Texas A&M basically erased any chance of becoming a Q1 loss by losing to South Carolina by 17 at home.

Last week

Kansas State handled its business quite well, first by holding off Baylor at home and then by mostly dominating TCU in Fort Worth for a school-record 7th Big 12 road win. As a reminder of how far this program has come since the dark days of my youth, it took the Wildcats more than eight seasons to pick up 7 road wins after the conference formed in 1996.

Barry Brown struggled a bit offensively and there were a couple bumps in the form of droughts and big runs by the Bears and Frogs, but mostly things were good. Dean Wade looks to be mostly back to his normal self, Kamau Stokes reminded us he’s more than just a sometimes potent scorer, and Xavier Sneed kept on making shots.

Of course, the wins also completed sweeps of TCU and Baylor, an accomplishment we should never take for granted.

This week

Kansas State will look to complete one more season sweep and capture at least a share of the conference title against Oklahoma on Senior Night. The ‘Cats won comfortably in Norman and should be plenty motivated to play with 3 accomplished senior starters, so hopefully this one won’t cause too much stress.

If we’re really lucky, Iowa State will end Texas Tech’s 8-game winning streak and give K-State a shot at its first outright league title since 1977. That would sure be a hell of a way to send off Dean, Kam and Barry Brown.

Chasing seeds

Obviously, the top priority right now should be locking up the No. 1 seed in KC, but it’s also worth looking ahead to see how K-State would reach a 3 seed. It’s definitely not an easy path and the ‘Cats would need some help. Still, it is possible. Let’s compare some resumes.

We’ll start with Tier 1, the list of teams K-State simply isn’t going to surpass at this point. I’m going to go ahead and take Kansas and Purdue out of this group after their subpar losses this week, although I’m not really sure it’s warranted. That leaves us with 10 teams: Duke, Gonzaga, Kentucky, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas Tech and Virginia.

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 (23-7, 13-4) NET 27, KenPom 25
Quality Wins: at Iowa St. (NET 14), at Oklahoma (41), vs. Texas Tech (10), Kansas (17), at Baylor (35), at Texas (37), at TCU (52)
Q1 record: 7-4
Q2 record: 6-3
Worst Losses: at Texas A&M (69), at Tulsa (92)
Road/Neutral Wins: Eastern Kentucky (in the Virgin Islands), Penn (in the VI), Missouri (in the VI), Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St.

So now we move on to Tier 2, teams that are slightly better than the ‘Cats but still catchable. obviously K-State needs to catch all but 1 of these teams in order to sneak into a 3 seed.

Houston (27-2, 14-1 American) NET 4, KenPom 14
Quality Wins: vs. LSU (13), at UCF (29), vs. Cincinnati (22)
Q1 record: 3-2
Q2 record: 7-0
Worst Loss: at Temple (57), vs. UCF (29)
Road/Neutral wins: BYU, Oklahoma State, SMU, South Florida, Tulsa, UCF, UConn, Tulane, East Carolina

Kansas (22-8, 11-6 Big 12) NET 18, KenPom 16
Quality Wins: vs. Michigan State (8) in Indy, vs. Marquette (26) in NYC, vs. Tennessee (4) in NYC, vs. Wofford (14), vs. Villanova (25), at Baylor (36) vs. Iowa State (17), vs. Texas Tech (10), at TCU (52), vs. Kansas State (27)
Q1 record: 10-7
Q2 record: 6-1
Worst Losses: at West Virginia (114), at Arizona State (68)
Road/Neutral wins: Michigan State in Indy, Marquette in NYC, Tennessee in NYC, Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma St.

Purdue (22-8, 15-4 Big Ten) NET 11, KenPom 10
Quality Wins: vs. Maryland (28), at Wisconsin (15), at Ohio State (43), vs. Michigan State (8), at Penn St. (49), at Indiana (56), at Nebraska (53)
Q1 record: 7-7
Q2 record: 8-1
Worst Losses: vs. Notre Dame (104) in Indy, at Minnesota (54)
Road/Neutral wins: Appalachian St. in Charleston, Davidson in Charleston, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana, Nebraska

Honestly, putting Purdue and KU here might be a bit ambitious, but if felt like the right thing to do after both of them suffered somewhat ugly losses this week. K-State may need KU to lose to Baylor in Lawrence and have Northwestern stun Purdue. But I’m still holding out some hope the committee will realize the Jayhawks just aren’t the same team without Udoka Azubuike and appropriately penalize them for that. It probably won’t happen.

Houston, however, definitely made things more interesting with a surprising loss at home to UCF. That game at Cincinnati to end the regular season now looms very large.

We move on to Tier 3 teams, which are the ones very similar to Kansas State. Beat OU, then win the Big 12 tournament or at least make it to the final, and the Wildcats could definitely be seeded ahead of all these teams.

This tier got a little smaller with both Iowa teams dropping out thanks to a pair of losses, including one very bad one for each team. As bad as Iowa State’s loss at West Virginia was, it’s hard to say it was worse than Iowa’s home loss to Rutgers.

Louisville also drops out with a loss at Boston College and Maryland doesn’t get to stay after dropping two straight, including one at Penn State. Nevada’s gone after losing at Utah State. Marquette drops down to this tier following losses to Creighton and Seton Hall.

Buffalo (27-3, 15-2 MAC) NET 16, KenPom 19
Quality Wins: at Syracuse (42), at Toledo (60)
Q1 record: 2-1
Q2 record: 5-1
Worst Losses: at Northern Illinois (148), at Bowling Green (121)
Road/Neutral wins: West Virginia, Southern Illinois, Milwaukee in Belfast, San Francisco in Belfast, St. Bonaventure, Syracuse, Western Michigan, Kent St., Akron, Toledo, Miami (OH), Ohio

Cincinnati (25-4, 14-2 AAC) NET 22, KenPom 31
Quality Wins: vs. Ole Miss (37) in Niceville (FL), at Temple (57), at Memphis (51)
Q1 record: 3-2
Q2 record: 6-1
Worst Losses: at East Carolina (254), vs. Ohio State (43)
Road/Neutral wins: George Mason in Niceville (FL), Ole Miss in Niceville (FL), UNLV, Tulsa, Wichita State, Temple, Memphis, UConn, SMU

Florida State (22-6, 9-4 ACC) NET 19, KenPom 15
Quality Wins: vs. LSU (13) in Lake Buena Vista, vs. Purdue (12), at Syracuse (44), vs. Louisville (21), at Clemson (43), Virginia Tech (12)
Q1 record: 6-4
Q2 record: 6-2
Worst Losses: at Pittsburgh (127), at Boston College (113)
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

Marquette (23-7, 12-5 Big East) NET 26, KenPom 28
Quality Wins: vs. Louisville (21) in NYC, vs. Kansas State (27), vs. Wisconsin (15), vs. Buffalo (16), at Creighton (57), at Butler (52), vs. Villanova (28), at Georgetown (74),
Q1 record: 8-5
Q2 record: 6-2
Worst Losses: vs. St. John’s (61), vs. Creighton (48)
Road/Neutral wins: Indiana, Louisville in NYC, Creighton, Georgetown, Xavier, Butler, DePaul, Providence

Mississippi St. (21-9, 9-8 SEC) NET 23 KenPom 22
Quality Wins: at Dayton (71), vs. Cincinnati (22), vs. Wofford (14), vs. Auburn (20), at Ole Miss (37), at Arkansas (73)
Q1 record: 6-6
Q2 record: 5-3
Worst Losses: vs. Arizona State (68), at South Carolina (81)
Road/Neutral wins: Dayton, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Georgia,

Villanova (22-8, 13-4 Big East) NET 28, KenPom 29
Quality Wins: vs. Florida St. (19) in Lake Buena Vista, at Creighton (48), at Butler (59), vs. Marquette (26)
Q1 record: 5-6
Q2 record: 10-2
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 (22-7, 11-6 ACC) NET 12 KenPom 11
Quality Wins: vs. Purdue (11) in Charleston, vs. Washington (33) in New Jersey, vs. Duke (3)
Q1 record: 3-7
Q2 record: 8-0
Worst Losses: at Penn St. (49)
Road/Neutral wins: Ball St. in Charleston, Northeastern in Charleston, Purdue in Charleston, Washington in New Jersey, Georgia Tech, Miami, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame

Wisconsin (20-9, 12-6 Big Ten) NET 12 KenPom 12
Quality Wins: Oklahoma (38) in The Bahamas, at Iowa (41), at Penn State (49), vs. Michigan (9), at Nebraska (53), vs. Maryland (28), at Minnesota (54)
Q1 record: 7-7
Q2 record: 6-2
Worst Losses: at Western Kentucky (119), vs. Minnesota (54)
Road/Neutral wins: Xavier, Stanford in The Bahamas, Oklahoma in The Bahamas, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Northwestern

Mississippi State missed two huge opportunities at Auburn at Tennessee and nobody else really gets any big chances, aside from the aforementioned Houston game at Cincinnati. Of course, most of these teams could potentially earn a shot at boosting their resumes in next week’s conference tournaments.

Or they could fail miserably and drop a seed line or two. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. One more Tournament Thursday to go.