D.J. Johnson wants to make one thing clear about Kansas State’s first road trip of the season.
The Wildcats aren’t going to Brooklyn to visit tourist attractions or to learn about themselves against name opponents at the Barclays Center Classic. They are going there to win a trophy and end a string of near misses in early-season tournaments.
“We have always come close,” senior K-State forward D.J. Johnson said. “Since my freshman year, we lost the NIT preseason tip-off to Michigan, we lost to (North Carolina at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic) last year and we should have had (the Maui Invitational) with a four-point loss to Arizona.
“This would be big to get one and definitely be a stepping stone to having a successful season.”
K-State’s march toward a tournament title begins at 6 p.m. Friday against Boston College at the Barclays Center. If the Wildcats (4-0) can beat the Eagles (3-1) they will face the winner of Maryland-Richmond in the championship game Saturday.
Bruce Weber has led K-State to the title game of two early-season tournaments since his arrival in 2012 and the semifinals of two others, but the coach has never hoisted a trophy.
The Wildcats came close last season, routing Missouri in the semifinals of the CBE and then taking a late lead over North Carolina. They were in position to win hardware behind a flurry of three-pointers from point guard Kamau Stokes, but they couldn’t hold on and watched another team celebrate.
“It would be a nice step forward over last year,” Weber said. “I think we went to Kansas City scared and didn’t know what was going to happen. We played really well against Missouri and played really, really well against North Carolina, the eventual national runnerup. But we didn’t finish. Now we have got another opportunity to win a trophy. It would be a nice step and a nice confidence booster.”
Whatever happens in K-State’s next games will provide a barometer for the remainder of the season.
So far, no one is quite sure what to make of the Wildcats.
Though they won their first four games by big margins, all four games came at Bramlage Coliseum against inferior competition. Nebraska-Omaha is the best team they have faced, according to Ken Pomeroy’s ranking system, and it checks in at No. 170. Western Illinois (274), Robert Morris (308) and Hampton (328) could barely put up a fight.
K-State will be favored to beat Boston College, which went winless in the ACC last season. But it would likely be an underdog against undefeated Maryland.
That game could down as K-State’s first legitimate challenge.
“I am pretty excited about it,” sophomore forward Dean Wade said. “But I just want to stick to what we have been doing and buy into what coach is selling. It’s the same court, 10-foot rims and everything else. We will be fine.”
Of course, K-State must first take care of Boston College to setup a meaningful game against Maryland or Richmond.
“They seem ready to go,” Weber said. “I told the guys if they don’t come out in a frenzy I will be very disappointed.”
Johnson is determined to please his coach in that department.
With a trophy on the line, motivation shouldn’t be a problem.
“We have been successful playing and we are 4-0,” Johnson said. “We just need to stick with that system and we will end up where we want to be Saturday night.”
Kellis Robinett: @KellisRobinett