The NCAA Tournament was a goal for Kansas State at the beginning of the basketball season, and it remains so today.
Coming off confidence-boosting victories over No. 9 Kansas and No. 17 Iowa State, K-State coach Bruce Weber and his players say they can give themselves a legitimate shot at returning to the tournament by winning two or three more games.
“We’re one of the elite groups in the country who have top-25 wins, top-50 wins,” Weber said Monday. “Our problem has been inconsistency and not taking care of business against teams that, I don’t want to say should beat, but could have beaten. A couple of games here or there and we would be a no-brainer. But we put ourselves in this position.
“How do you get yourself in position? Obviously (defeat) Texas this week and do something in the Big 12 Tournament.”
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Maybe that will be enough, but at least one expert is certain K-State needs more.
CBS bracket analyst Jerry Palm, who provides daily projections of the NCAA Tournament field, says there is only one way the Wildcats reach the NCAA Tournament.
“They have to win their conference tournament,” Palm said in a phone interview. “Every year I will get questions about teams that are not particularly close to the bubble, but this one surprises me. It baffles me, really. We are talking about a team that is .500 in March. K-State is out of luck for an at-large bid. There is nothing they can do to get one. They have lost too many games.”
The debate over K-State’s postseason chances began nearly two weeks ago when ESPN college basketball writer Eamonn Brennan published a video proclaiming the Wildcats to have “the most interesting resume in the world.”
Some experts think the Wildcats are worthy of NCAA Tournament consideration, because their five victories over RPI top 25 teams ranks third nationally and they could finish as high as sixth in the Big 12 standings. Seth Davis, college basketball writer for Sports Illustrated, in particular, has vocally backed K-State this week on Twitter.
“If we can end the season on a positive note, we can make the tournament,” sophomore guard Nigel Johnson said. “I don’t know what kind of seeding we can get, but I think we can make it.”
“Who knows?” Weber added. “Win a couple more and there are teams they say are in with one top-50 win. Maybe we can get people talking about it.”
Beating Texas and reaching the championship game of the Big 12 Tournament would buoy K-State’s argument.
Still, many argue an overall record of 15-15 and a conference record of 8-9 has already eliminated K-State from the discussion for an at-large bid, not to mention losses against Long Beach State, TCU, Tennessee, Texas Southern and Texas Tech, or a 1-9 record in true road games.
“It seems like everytime we put ourselves in position to be a factor we slip up,” Weber said.
K-State needs to beat Texas in its final regular-season game on Saturday or win twice at the Big 12 Tournament to secure a .500 finishing record and make a case for the NIT. Sports Illustrated is the only major bracket projection that currently lists K-State as a bubble contender.
History is certainly not on the Wildcats’ side. No team has received an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament with more than 14 losses or a winning percentage lower than .533. Both marks belong to the 2001 Georgia team that went 16-14 against a schedule comprised almost entirely of top 100 RPI teams. Historically, Palm said, teams need to win four more games than they lose to be considered for an at-large spot.
The best K-State can finish without winning the Big 12 Tournament is 18-16, which would be a winning percentage of .529.
Maybe that will be enough, but it has fallen short in the past.
“If they need an at-large bid, it will be with 16 or more losses, and that is not happening,” Palm said. “No one has ever gotten in with more than 14. K-State is not going to be the exception.”