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Tournament Thursday: Halfway there

Kansas State suffered its annual loss in Lawrence but nearly everything remains possible for the Wildcats heading into the second half of Big 12 play.

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NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Kansas
Keyontae Johnson showed in Lawrence why he’s a contender for Big 12 player of the year.
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve completed the first half of conference play and Kansas State is 6-3, just one game outside of first place.

Take a moment to appreciate this accomplishment, because regardless of what happens next it’s quite remarkable considering where everyone thought this team was in November. Jerome Tang continues to be the absolute best representative for Kansas State University, something the national media has clearly recognized, inviting him on seemingly every college basketball show in the last month or so.

The Athletic’s CJ Moore wrote a tremendous article about how it’s all come together for the Cats, so definitely check that out when you get the chance. Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell are two of the most fun players to watch in America, with their own compelling stories about what they’ve done to get to this moment.

While K-State’s defense clearly has some issues, especially when it comes to defending the fast break, this team’s offense is explosive. It’s a nice change of pace from even the best Bruce Weber years, when the offense struggled to match the high level of some outstanding defenses. Others may disagree, but I believe it’s more fun this way. Scoring is better than stopping the other team from scoring in my mind.

With all that being said, it’s hard to believe the best might be yet to come if Kansas State can take advantage of what looks like the weakest schedule left among Big 12 contenders. Of course, nothing’s ever easy in this conference (just ask Iowa State after that brutal finish in Lubbock on Monday night) so let’s all be sure to not take anything for granted.

Current status: Lock

Kansas State’s resume still looks great, even with lagging computer numbers — 24th in KenPom, 19th in NET. We’re going to have to trust the Selection Committee understands winning is what matters most, not how much you win by.

The Bracket Project now includes 88 brackets and lists K-State as the top 3 seed. Esteemed commenter RazDad gives Kansas State a 2 seed, the same line as both Texas and Kansas. He gives Baylor a 3 seed and puts Iowa State and TCU on the 4 seed line. Meanwhile, after a great week for the Big 12’s bubble teams (more on that later) West Virginia earned an 11 seed, Oklahoma a 12 seed, and Oklahoma State is the first team out.

Blogging the Bracket’s Chris Dobbertean (who you can hear talk about K-State on last week’s episode of Bring on the PodCats) said Tuesday morning Kansas State is a 2 seed set to host the Vermont Catamounts in Des Moines. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi gave the Wildcats a #3 seed Tuesday with a matchup against Southern Illinois in Des Moines.

Over on CBS, Jerry Palm last updated Monday and generously gave K-State a 1 seed and a game against Maryland-Eastern Shore in Des Moines.

Nonconference play

Overall things still look pretty bad here, but at least that new Florida win is already paying dividends. The Gators have now won 6 of their last 8 after silencing the offense of No. 2 Tennessee in a 67-54 win Tuesday night. Next up is two more big chances for quality wins when they travel to Kentucky and No. 4 Alabama.

This week I added the +/- numbers to show how teams have moved since last week. Remember that + is good and - is bad.

93-59 vs. UTRGV (11-12) NET 262 (+22) KenPom 271 (+25)
63-54 at California (3-18) NET 296 (-8) KenPom 257 (-18)
69-53 vs. UMKC (10-14) NET 243 (+1) KenPom 249 (-5)
77-57 vs. Rhode Island at Cayman Islands (8-14) NET 237 (-7) KenPom 222 (-14)
96-87 (OT) vs. Nevada at Cayman Islands (17-6) NET 34 (+0) KenPom 51 (-3)
61-59 vs. LSU at Cayman Islands (12-10) NET 138 (-5) KenPom 126 (-20)
64-76 at Butler (11-12) NET 110 (-8) KenPom 110 (-10)
55-50 vs. Wichita State (11-10) NET 132 (+10) KenPom 117 (+14)
81-64 vs. Abilene Christian (12-11) NET 215 (+28) KenPom 204 (+24)
98-50 vs. Incarnate Word (10-12) NET 340 (+7) KenPom 342 (+9)
71-56 vs. Nebraska at KC (10-13) NET 99 (-1) KenPom 101 (-2)
73-65 vs. Radford (15-9) NET 152 (+6) KenPom 148 (+0)
Jan. 28 vs. Florida (13-9) NET 41 (+5) KenPom 38 (+3)

Wichita State picked up a decent road win at East Carolina over the weekend and has a chance at a massive upset when it faces No. 3 Houston at home this evening. Go Shockers. Nevada got a nice win over a ranked San Diego State team to stay unbeaten at home but that was offset somewhat by a loss at UNLV. Also, shoutout to Abilene Christian for dominating the second half in a nice upset at Seattle U.

Disastrous seasons continued for LSU, Butler and Nebraska, who are mostly not even getting close to winning anymore. Then there’s California, which is still just on its own level of awful by P5 standards.

Last week

We don’t need to talk any more about the all-too-familiar disaster in Lawrence, but the Florida win sure was nice. K-State completely stifled an admittedly bad Gators offense for a half and actually scored pretty well despite an unusually inefficient performance from Keyontae Johnson. That slowed down a bit in the second half but Markquis Nowell had a solid game and it was great to see David N’Guessan score 9 points as a starter again.

This week

Last week was pretty cut and dry on how things were supposed to go for Kansas State, and that’s exactly how it went down. This week looks a lot more intriguing from that perspective.

First, the Cats host first-place Texas, which is riding the high of a huge 76-71 win over Baylor. We definitely shouldn’t expect another 116-103 shootout, but the Longhorns score the basketball very well. Perhaps it’s a good sign that they’ve lost two of their last 3 road games by 11 points each (at Iowa State and Tennessee) but Texas is out to prove it can get the big wins away from home needed to win a conference title. They travel to KU on Monday.

TCU at home next Tuesday feels like a game Kansas State should be able to handle if Mike Miles isn’t back on the court. But his status isn’t exactly clear and the Horned Frogs certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.

Big 12 bubble teams

All three bubble teams picked up wins in the Big 12/SEC challenge, including really good ones for Oklahoma (No. 2 Alabama by 24) and West Virginia (No. 15 Auburn). Oklahoma State only beat Ole Miss but the Cowboys turned around and won in Norman Wednesday night, giving them a much-needed first Big 12 road win. They’ve got TCU and Tech at home in the upcoming week, so this is a real chance for OSU to put itself into brackets.

Oklahoma’s trip to West Virginia Saturday should be very intriguing as well. Then the Mountaineers get the Cyclones at home, so they’ve also got a chance to make a move.

Keep in mind Q1 wins are homes games vs. teams ranked 1-30, neutral games vs. 1-50 and road games vs. 1-75. Bad losses for this evaluation are Q2 games or worse. Numbers in parentheses are NET rankings

Oklahoma (12-7, 2-5) NET 58 (-4), KenPom 46 (-8)
Q1 Wins (3-6): at Texas Tech (64), vs. West Virginia (24), Alabama (4)
Road/Neutral Wins: vs. Nebraska/Seton Hall/Ole Miss in Florida, vs. Florida in Charlotte
Bad losses (Q2 or worse): vs. Sam Houston (52), at Villanova (89)
Head-to-Head against other B12 bubble teams: 1-2

Oklahoma State (12-8, 3-4) NET 39 (+7), KenPom 32 (-2)
Q1 Wins (1-6): vs. West Virginia (24)
Road/Neutral Wins: at Oakland, vs. DePaul in The Bahamas,
Bad losses: vs. Southern Illinois (109), vs. Virginia Tech (54) in Brooklyn
Head-to-Head against other B12 bubble teams: 3-0

West Virginia (11-7, 1-5) NET 24 (+0), KenPom 19 (+4)
Q1 Wins (5-9): at Pitt (59), vs. Florida in Portland (41), vs. TCU (16), at Texas Tech (64), vs. Auburn (30)
Road/Neutral Wins: at Pitt, vs. Portland State at Portland’s Moda Center (This barely counts), vs. Florida in Portland.
Bad losses: None
Head-to-Head against other B12 bubble teams: 0-2

West Virginia’s surprisingly good computer numbers got even better thanks to not only the Auburn win, but also Florida becoming a Q1 win. The Mountaineers still have road games at Texas, Baylor and Kansas left, so they really need to hold serve at home.

Oklahoma State’s 3-0 record over other Big 12 bubble teams sure seems helpful and the Cowboys will have plenty of chances for big home wins down the stretch. TCU, Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor all still need to visit Stillwater.

Oklahoma’s computer numbers need some work and their next 5 games are not at all friendly. A schedule of @West Virginia, @Baylor, vs.KU, vs.KSU and @Texas holds serious potential for a prolonged losing streak if the Sooners aren’t careful.

What K-State needs to do to earn a No. 1 seed

Again, last week’s results weren’t unexpected and now the schedule becomes a lot more manageable. Holding serve at home this week will be critical. Do that and K-State should find itself back on the No. 2 seed line for sure.

After that will be a pair of critical chances to steal games on the road at Texas Tech and Oklahoma, two weaker teams who are still very capable of toppling the Cats when they visit. Then comes Iowa State and Baylor at home, followed by a trip to Oklahoma State. All winnable, but K-State will need to bring its ‘A’ game.

Get through that stretch with 2 losses or less and the Cats should be in decent shape for a conference title and a 1 seed, so long as they can close out the season by beating OU at home and winning at West Virginia. 8-1 the rest of the way feels like a huge ask, but if K-State could do that a 1 seed would be almost guaranteed.

Of course, the other variable is how fellow contenders play these last few weeks. Purdue looks like a clear #1 right now (plus the Big Ten isn’t that great) and Houston has the benefit of a weak AAC schedule, so let’s make this easier and assume those two teams get the top 2 seeds. Alabama and Tennessee suddenly don’t look so scary in the SEC, so I’d look for the winner of their big matchup in Knoxville on Feb. 15 to be the only true No. 1 seed contender from that conference.

Gonzaga probably still has a good shot it they win out but honestly I don’t see them beating St. Mary’s twice this year, let alone 3 times. The Zags go to Moriaga Saturday so I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

Arizona and UCLA look good enough and if the Wildcats win at Pauley Pavilion in their regular season finale it could be hard to deny them a spot barring other stumbles. I think the Big East teams have beating up each other too much and the ACC just sucks (no, I’m not discussing Virginia), so we don’t really need to cover anyone else.

Basically, nothing has happened to change my mind that the Big 12 regular season champion(s?) will get a 1 seed. That being said, it’s important to note that because of the nonconference schedule K-State is the team most likely to win the conference and not get a one seed. That would be disappointing.