Kansas State basketball players are cautiously optimistic about their chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
Will it be a stressful buildup to the selection show Sunday afternoon? Sure. Will the Wildcats turn superstitious in search of good luck? You bet. But, for now, there isn’t much fear of a snub. They expect to see their names on the bracket as it is announced on national TV.
“I am going to jump up and down thank the Lord and get ready for whatever team we play,” sophomore guard Barry Brown said. “I like our chances. We have good players, a good team, a good coach and a lot of good wins under our belt. We deserve it.”
K-State certainly has an argument for inclusion. The Wildcats (20-13) finished sixth in the Big 12 standings at 8-10 and then beat No. 9 Baylor in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. A victory over No. 11 West Virginia in the semifinals would have erased all doubt, but the 51-50 defeat shouldn’t hurt them.
A KenPom rating of 28, a 9-9 record away from home and quality victories over Baylor (twice), West Virginia and Oklahoma State. There are positives on the resume.
“We’re a good team,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “I think when you watch us you see it, if the eye test means anything. Our kids, they deserve it. I hope we get a good opportunity on Sunday.”
The negatives include a RPI of 56 and a weak nonconference schedule.
How will the selection committee measure K-State against other bubble competition, including Vanderbilt, Southern California, Wake Forest, Rhode Island, Xavier, Syracuse and Illinois State?
“I honestly don’t know,” senior K-State guard Carlbe Ervin said. “We are the most hated team in the league, the most hated team in the nation, throughout all of college basketball. I really don’t know if we will get in. I just hope and pray that we do.”
Most bracket experts think K-State will get in, but with a low seed possibly starting in the First Four and a trip to Dayton, Ohio.
On Saturday, Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com projected the Wildcats in the field as a No. 11 seed, taking on Syracuse in one of the tournament’s play-in games. Jerry Palm, of CBSSports.com, projected the same. Bracket Matrix, a website that tracks 114 bracket projections, listed K-State as the second-to-last team in the field via an at-large bid, meaning the consensus is that the Wildcats are Dayton-bound.
“I would be very surprised if we’re not in the tournament,” Wesley Iwundu said. “We did a lot this year, won a lot of road games, won a lot of neutral games. We have a lot going for us. We should get in.”
History is on K-State’s side.
The Big 12 has sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past three seasons, including every team that won eight or more conference games and finished with a winning record. K-State meets that criteria, and the league sports the nation’s first or second RPI rating, depending on your RPI calculation of choice.
“We’ve beaten Baylor, beaten them twice,” Weber said. “They’ve beaten Oregon, Louisville, Michigan State and Xavier. We beat them twice. We beat West Virginia. West Virginia went to Virginia and won. They’ve been one of the better teams in the country.
“I know close doesn’t count, but we played Kansas, who people had No. 1 or No. 2, and we had a shot to beat them at their place. It was a tie score with a minute left at our place. We had some other close games.”
If K-State falls short of the NCAA Tournament, a likely No. 1 seed in the NIT awaits.
“We are hoping and praying that everything goes our way and we can get in,” sophomore forward Dean Wade said. “If not, we will go find another tournament and play hard.”
For now, the Wildcats are focused on the main prize. After missing the NCAA Tournament the past two years, they are eager to return to college basketball’s biggest stage.
They hope Sunday is filled with good news.
“I feel like we have done enough,” senior forward D.J. Johnson said. “Our resume speaks for itself. We played in a tough conference and we won a lot of games. But, at the end of the day, it’s up to the committee, not me.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett