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Tournament Thursday: Buckle up for the postseason

After an improbably great regular season, it’s time to see how far Kansas State can go in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at West Virginia
Look for Keyontae Johnson to put Kansas State’s offense on his back when needed come tournament time.
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

We are three days away from seeing Kansas State appear in an NCAA tournament bracket for the first time in four years, likely as a 2 or 3 seed.

There’s not a whole lot left to be decided, so this week’s post will be notably shorter than previous editions. It’s been really fun to see all the awards roll in this week for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Keyontae Johnson, fellow Big 12 first teamer Markquis Nowell and Big 12 Coach of the Year Jerome Tang, but now it’s time to get back to work.

If you’re like me, though, you may be struggling with how to set expectations. Obviously, this is a team capable of beating anyone in a year where there are no elite teams in college basketball, and a season-ending loss always brings a certain level of disappointment, so just how much emotional capital should we put in this team?

There’s one school of thought that says Jerome Tang is way ahead of schedule and the Cats are just playing with free money. As long as they don’t completely embarrass themselves, we should just appreciate this season and accept whatever’s coming.

That being said, I don’t think Coach Tang would approve of such a mindset. Plus, there won’t be another chance for this extremely talented senior class featuring Nowell, Johnson, Tykei Greene, Desi Sills, Abayomi Iyiola and of course, Nate Awbrey.

To be clear, I believe in the recruiting chops of Coach Tang and his staff, so I’m not suggesting they won’t be back in this position. Rather, I’m saying those guys deserve to go out on a high note after all they’ve done for Kansas State’s basketball program.

Then there’s also the lingering effects of those two first-round losses as No. 4 seeds for Bruce Weber’s Big 12 championship teams. My heart’s not ready for that to happen again.

In the end, I think anything less than a Sweet 16 appearance would have to be considered a huge disappointment, barring some really weird bracket happenings. At the same time, there’s nothing that could happen on the basketball court in March that would change my very high opinion of Coach Tang and his staff.

Current status: Lock

Kansas State now sits at 18 in the KenPom rankings and 17th in the NET, so still lagging behind their AP rankings and typical bracketology spots, but not by too much. The Cats have an impressive 9-7 Q1 record and only one other loss (Butler) so that should be very helpfull.

The Bracket Project now includes 92 brackets and Kansas State is the third 3 seed, one spot behind Marquette and one ahead of Tennessee. Esteemed commenter RazDad’s latest projections after Wednesday’s games also put Kansas State as the third 3 seed, 11th overall. Possible opponents are UC Irvine, Furman, Yale and Kennesaw State. Other Big 12 teams in his bracket are No. 1 seed Kansas, No. 2 seed Texas, No. 2 seed Baylor, No. 5 seed Iowa State, No. 6 seed TCU, No. 8 seed West Virginia and No. 12 seed Oklahoma State, the last team in his bracket.

Blogging the Bracket’s Chris Dobbertean latest update this morning gave Kansas State a 3 seed in Des Moines and a game against UC Irvine. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi put Kansas State in Denver as a 3 seed matched up against UC Irvine.

Over at CBS, Jerry Palm’s Thursday morning update put Kansas State as a 3 seed against Toldedo in Denver. Kevin Sweeney at SI gave K-State a 3 seed with a first-round game against Furman. I’m starting to see a pattern.

Nonconference play

Only three teams on this list are still playing and two of them (Wichita State and LSU) need a miracle run for an auto bid to make the Big Dance. I haven’t seen any reason to believe the Selection committee would disrespect K-State by putting them at a 4 seed or lower, but if it does happen, expect this weak nonconference schedule to be the #1 reason why it happens.

Still, I’m pretty sure everyone agrees Kansas State’s success through the Big 12 grind matters a lot more.

93-59 vs. UTRGV (15-17) NET 259 (+0) KenPom 246 (+3)
63-54 at California (3-29) NET 313 (-9) KenPom 267 (-5)
69-53 vs. UMKC (11-21) NET 308 (-9) KenPom 309 (-11)
77-57 vs. Rhode Island at Cayman Islands (9-22) NET 263 (-21) KenPom 253 (-19)
96-87 (OT) vs. Nevada at Cayman Islands (22-9) NET 36 (-2) KenPom 40 (-1)
61-59 vs. LSU at Cayman Islands (14-18) NET 151 (+4) KenPom 148 (+1)
64-76 at Butler (14-18) NET 133 (-4) KenPom 124 (-1)
55-50 vs. Wichita State (16-14) NET 109 (+5) KenPom 104 (+6)
81-64 vs. Abilene Christian (13-17) NET 207 (-4) KenPom 192 (-9)
98-50 vs. Incarnate Word (12-19) NET 345 (+1) KenPom 337 (+0)
71-56 vs. Nebraska at KC (16-16) NET 92 (-4) KenPom 95 (+1)
73-65 vs. Radford (19-14) NET 185 (-3) KenPom 183 (+1)
Jan. 28 vs. Florida (16-15) NET 59 (+1) KenPom 60 (-+2)

Nevada’s stunning Senior Night loss to visiting UNLV means the Wolfpack find themselves squarely on the bubble heading into the Mountain West tournament. They certainly need to beat San Jose State Thursday and might even need to beat No. 1 seed San Diego State in Friday’s semifinals to feel comfortable.

Meanwhile, in case anyone cares, LSU will face Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament’s 8:30 game Thursday night and Wichita State will play Tulsa at 6 p.m. in the AAC tournament.

Last week

Things went very poorly in Morgantown once again. Keyontae and Markquis put up 24 points each but unfortunately the defense couldn’t stop the Mountaineers, especially in the second half. We know the Cats can be better on that end, so hopefully we’ll see it going forward when they’re playing with more urgency.

This week

A quarterfinal matchup against TCU doesn’t look quite as scary after Eddie Lampkin Jr. announced he’s not playing and also made some troubling allegations of abuse by Jamie Dixon. It’s hard to say how the Horned Frogs will react to this situation.

They’ll have plenty of talent on the floor regardless, led by Mike Miles Jr., so Kansas State cannot afford any complacency. Of course, they should know by now that there are no easy wins in this conference.

If the Cats can reach their first Big 12 semifinal since 2019, when they were the No. 1 seed, the most likely opponent would be No. 2 Texas. Then again, don’t count out an Oklahoma State team with Avery Anderson III back in the lineup. If we really want to look ahead, it sure would be nice to knock off the Jayhawks in a championship showdown...

Big 12 bubble teams

Wednesday’s games basically wrapped this up. West Virginia had probably locked up a spot by beating Kansas State Sunday and left no doubt by knocking off Texas Tech, ending any remaining hopes for the Red Raiders on a very difficult day for that basketball program. Oklahoma State seems to have punched its ticket by beating the Sooners for a third straight time.

What K-State needs to play in Des Moines

Unless Iowa State goes and wins the Big 12 tourney and the Cats are one and done, it’s hard to imagine ISU passing KSU in the eyes of the selection committee. So let’s take a closer look at what the committee’s choices might look like.

No. 1 seed Kansas will be in Des Moines, No. 1 Houston/Alabama should be in Birmingham (Lunardi sends Houston to Columbus for some reason), No. 1/2 UCLA/Arizona should be in Sacramento and No. 2 Purdue should be in Columbus. Those are the obvious choices for teams ahead of K-State.

Texas/Baylor are interesting cases, since they’re both likely ahead of Kansas State and there are no first-round sites near Austin or Waco. Assuming Birmingham is already full, Denver and Des Moines are more or less the same (yes, Des Moines is slightly closer to Waco) so hopefully the committee would just send them both to Colorado.

Gonzaga can be sent just about anywhere since they’re not going to Sacramento, although it might be kind of mean to send them to Greensboro or Orlando. That still leaves Albany or Columbus as potential locations for the Zags.

Perhaps the team we should be most worried about stealing a Des Moines spot is Marquette, since Milwaukee isn’t too much farther away than Manhattan. The Golden Eagles are the No. 1 seed at the Big East tourney and have won 7 in a row after surviving a scare from St. John’s Thursday, so it’s definitely possible they could finish ahead of the Cats. What might help is Columbus isn’t too much farther away than Des Moines, so maybe the committee would send them there instead.

If Tennessee or UConn get hot they have obvious destinations in Greensboro and Albany, respectively. Indiana making a run to the Big Ten title could pose an interesting question, but that seems unlikely and I’m not sure they would pass K-State anyway.

As things stand now, here’s what makes the most sense to me:

Albany: UConn/Gonzaga
Birmingham: Houston/Alabama
Columbus: Purdue/Marquette
Denver: Texas/Baylor
Des Moines: Kansas/Kansas State
Greensboro: Tennessee/Virginia
Orlando: Xavier/Indiana (potentially Miami/Duke instead if one of them wins the ACC title)
Sacramento: UCLA/Arizona

Iowa State or even TCU could even potentially earn a top 4 seed by winning the Big 12 tournament. But really, I’m just guessing here. We’ll find out what happens soon enough.