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Tournament Thursday: Weathering the storm

Kansas State returns home to lick its wounds with some work to do if the Cats want to earn a top 4 seed and play in Des Moines next month.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Kansas State
More 17-point games from Nae’Qwan Tomlin sure would be helpful down the stretch.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last 11 games, Kansas State is 0-5 on the road and 5-1 at home, with the only loss coming by 3 to Texas, currently the No. 6 team in the country.

I have to believe for most of us (me included) this would have been seen as perfectly acceptable at the beginning of the season or after conference play began with an overtime win against West Virginia in Manhattan. The issue, of course, is the Wildcats then went on the road to knock off Texas and Baylor (now two top 10 teams), proving their ceiling was actually a lot higher than most of us (me included) could have imagined.

Of course, anyone who’s being honest recognized Markquis Nowell was playing out of his mind and at some point, he was destined to come back to Earth. Still, it seemed like K-State had the right mindset and the right assets to compete against the Big 12’s best, or at least avoid back-to-back road losses to this ridiculously loaded conference’s two worst teams.

Alas, here we are, now 1 of 7 Big 12 teams with a league road record 2 or more under .500. The 3 teams with a road record above .500 are obviously the teams tied for first place.

Nowell has gone from shooting better than 50% for 5 games to 33.7% over the last 9. The same team that shot 49% while making 24 threes at Baylor and Texas has made only 34 while shooting 28% from beyond the arc in the last 6 games. I don’t need to tell anyone how much worse the turnovers have gotten since K-State committed just 35 in its first 3 Big 12 games.

Thankfully the wins at Austin and Waco will still count on Selection Sunday, even though it feels like those happened a year ago. That means K-State remains in a very respectable position when it comes to the bracket, but the lofty goals of winning the Big 12 or earning a one seed are gone, barring some very strange stuff happening.

The good news is it’s time for the Cats to go back home, where they have still played quite well lately. If the losing continues when KSU returns to Bramlage, well, that’s when my concern will reach a new level.

Current status: Lock

We don’t need to spend too much time here, especially since we’ll talk later about the importance of Kansas State maintaining a top 4 seed. The computer numbers dropped again, with the Cats falling 4 spots to No. 20 in the NET and 7 spots to No. 26 in the KenPom ratings. Fortunately, in the Big 12 this late in the season, it’s impossible to fall too far no matter how poorly you play.

The Bracket Project now includes 100 brackets and lists K-State as a 3 seed, although I suspect they could drop when some of those update following Tuesday’s loss in Norman. Esteemed commenter RazDad’s latest projections after Wednesday’s games give the Cats a 4 seed with possible matchups against 13 seeds VCU, Hofstra, Drake and Utah Valley. Other Big 12 teams in his bracket are 1 seed Kansas (ugh), 2 seeds Texas/Baylor, 4 seed Iowa State, 6 seed TCU (get well soon, Mike and Eddie), 9 seed Oklahoma State and 10 seed West Virginia.

Blogging the Bracket’s Chris Dobbertean last updated Tuesday and gave Kansas State a 3 seed in Des Moines and a game against Furman while ESPN’s Joe Lunardi put Kansas State in Des Moines as a 3 seed with a game against UC Santa Barbara.

Over at CBS, Jerry Palm updated this morning and pitted 4 seed K-State against Liberty. Kevin Sweeney managed to avoid the latest round of devastating layoffs at SI and gave K-State a 4 seed on Tuesday with a game against Yale.

Nonconference play

Florida beat a terrible Ole Miss team last night but lost Colin Castleton for the season, thereby ending any lingering hopes of a tournament bid. Nevada remains in contention for a Mountain West regular season title and an at-large spot while Nebraska actually picked up a fairly impressive road win at Rutgers.

California’s latest losing streak reached nine games, which is still four less than LSU after the Tigers blew a 7-point first-half lead at Georgia. Yikes.

93-59 vs. UTRGV (13-14) NET 254 (-5) KenPom 252 (+2)
63-54 at California (3-22) NET 297 (-1) KenPom 258 (-6)
69-53 vs. UMKC (11-16) NET 261 (-5) KenPom 257 (+0)
77-57 vs. Rhode Island at Cayman Islands (8-17) NET 228 (+0) KenPom 214 (+0)
96-87 (OT) vs. Nevada at Cayman Islands (20-6) NET 32 (-1) KenPom 37 (+2)
61-59 vs. LSU at Cayman Islands (12-14) NET 145 (-6) KenPom 133 (-4)
64-76 at Butler (13-14) NET 110 (+3) KenPom 108 (+4)
55-50 vs. Wichita State (13-12) NET 132 (-4) KenPom 123 (-3)
81-64 vs. Abilene Christian (13-12) NET 193 (+-3) KenPom 184 (-13)
98-50 vs. Incarnate Word (11-15) NET 349 (-10) KenPom 346 (-12)
71-56 vs. Nebraska at KC (13-14) NET 94 (+8) KenPom 97 (+7)
73-65 vs. Radford (17-10) NET 160 (-8) KenPom 155 (-7)
Jan. 28 vs. Florida (14-12) NET 51 (-5) KenPom 48 (-4)

Dropping 10+ spots in a week when you’re already in the 300s is hard to do, but Incarnate Word managed it by losing home games to Lamar and Houston Christian. Not a lot of big risers this week, but the Huskers and Bulldogs of Butler made some small moves, despite Butler’s loss at Villanova after upsetting No. 13 Xavier.

Big games this week include Nevada’s trip to Utah State and Wichita State’s trip to Temple. Nebraska actually has a realistic chance to extend its winning streak to four games with Maryland and last-place Minnesota visiting Lincoln.

Last week

There’s no getting around it, this was Kansas State’s worst two-game stretch of the season. Every other team in the Big 12’s top 8 has a win at Oklahoma or Texas Tech (some have both) except for TCU, and that’s only because the Horned Frogs haven’t made either of those trips yet. These were games K-State needed to have to compete for a conference title, and it didn’t happen.

That being said, you could actually make an argument that neither one was as bad as it seemed. After all, Tech won somewhat comfortably against Texas on Monday and the loss to Oklahoma was mostly attributable to 3-point shooting, with the Sooners making a season-high 11 on 23 attempts and the Wildcats hitting a miserable 4 of 20.

It was at least promising to see Nae’Qwan Tomlin and Abayiomi Iyola do some good things inside while David N’Guessan was neutralized by foul trouble in Lubbock and then barely played in Norman due to illness. Get well soon, David.

This week

A home game against Iowa State this Saturday feels like the biggest game of the season for Kansas State. Clearly, the Cats need to get back to winning after losing 4 of 5 (5 of 6 in Big 12 play). The Cyclones are 2-6 on the road, although it’s worth noting most of those have been very close games. Also, after a 6-1 start it would be especially painful to see KSU drop back down to .500.

It would be nice to get some momentum going into Tuesday’s game against No. 9 Baylor, probably the Big 12’s best team since a blissfully shocking 0-3 start to conference play. The Bears are very, very talented and their only loss since falling 97-95 to Kansas State on Jan. 7 is a 5-point setback at Texas.

Big 12 bubble teams

Realistically, West Virginia is the Big 12’s only true bubble team right now. Oklahoma State has played its way off the bubble — though not quite into lock status just yet — so I’m going to give them credit for that. The two teams K-State lost to last week are not really bubble teams, but thanks to the Big 12 schedule there’s still an outside chance they could play their way in, so I’m including them here just for some interesting perspective.

I mean, if Texas Tech can beat KSU and Texas, who’s to say they can’t run the table or come close to it? Remember, the numbers in parentheses here are NET rankings.

West Virginia (15-9, 4-7) NET 19 (+0), KenPom 15 (+4)
Q1 Wins (5-11): at Pitt (48), vs. TCU (24), at Texas Tech (59), vs. Auburn (26), vs. Iowa State (15)
Road/Neutral Wins: at Pitt, vs. Portland State at Portland’s Moda Center, vs. Florida in Portland.
Bad losses: None
Head-to-Head against other B12 bubble teams: 2-1

Oklahoma (13-13, 3-10) NET 66, KenPom 54
Q1 Wins (4-10): at Texas Tech (59), vs. West Virginia (22), vs. Alabama (2), vs. Kansas State (20)
Road/Neutral Wins: vs. Nebraska/Seton Hall/Ole Miss in Florida, vs. Florida in Charlotte
Bad losses (Q2 or worse): vs. Sam Houston (60), at Villanova (83)
Head-to-Head against other B12 bubble teams: 2-2

Texas Tech (14-12, 3-10) NET 59, KenPom 61
Q1 Wins (3-10): vs. Iowa State (15), vs. Kansas State (20), vs. Texas (9)
Road/Neutral Wins: vs. Louisville in Maui, vs. Jackson State, at LSU
Bad losses: vs. Ohio State in Maui, vs. Oklahoma
Head-to-Head against other B12 bubble teams: 0-2

Oklahoma and West Virginia both lost a Q1 win with Florida dropping out of the top 50 and I don’t expect that one to come back. However, the Mountaineers also picked up a Q1 with Auburn moving into the top 30. If they can hold serve at home against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, they probably get off the bubble.

Texas Tech’s computer numbers improved dramatically but are still bad after the Red Raiders’ big week. I would say their most glaring problem in the lack of a single decent road/neutral win. Fortunately, they get two solid opportunities to remedy that with a trip to West Virginia Saturday and then a trip to Oklahoma next Tuesday. Win those 2 games, then beat TCU at home and Texas Tech will be a legitimate bubble team heading into Lawrence on the last day of February.

The Sooners’ path to the bubble looks considerably more challenging. Sure, that win over No. 1 (until Monday) Alabama is great, but OU obviously needs to be over .500 to make the Big Dance. With trips to Austin, Ames and Manhattan coming up in their last five regular season games, that’s going to be exceptionally difficult.

What K-State needs to play in Des Moines

A 1 seed might be out of reach, but a trip to Des Moines with the possibility of playing two games in white jerseys (or maybe the lavenders?) remains very appetizing and quite realistic.

It’s becoming more and more clear Kansas will be one of the top seeds in West Fargo Arena, so that leaves one spot for a Big 12 team. Iowa State and Kansas State are probably the best bets. So yeah, that’s just another reason why Saturday’s game in Manhattan is huge.

If the Cats can win that one and then close out the season 2-2 (gotta beat OU at Bramlage, then just win 1 of the 3 vs. BU, at OSU and at WV) I think they’ll still be in good shape. Iowa State’s probably not doing better than that with games at Texas and at Baylor still to play.

This could all set up another Farmageddon rematch on Thursday in the 4-5 matchup in KC. However, Oklahoma State could ruin that thanks to a relatively weak schedule down the stretch of @TCU, @WV, vs.KSU, vs.BU, @TT. The Cowboys are currently tied with Kansas State and one game behind Iowa State. OSU is also the only team to complete a season sweep of ISU, so that obviously gives the Pokes an edge in any tiebreaker.

Essentially, to keep things really simple, if K-State wins all remaining games against Iowa State and goes 3-2 to finish out conference play, the odds are good the Cats would be a top 4 seed in Des Moines. We’ll see how it all shakes out.