Barry Brown was all smiles when the Kansas State basketball team learned it was headed to the NCAA Tournament as the No. 4 seed in the South Region.
The Wildcats gathered around their most recent Big 12 championship trophy and watched the selection show as a group. This has been a stressful Sunday for them in past years, not knowing what to expect about their postseason fate. But it was a celebration this time around.
“I was happy, man,” Brown said. “I was just happy for everyone, for our guys, our coaches and everyone else who supports K-State, just knowing that all the hard work we put in paid off. We could have been higher with some wins here and there. But we got a four seed. I am happy with it.”
K-State will face No. 13 seed UC Irvine in the first round Friday in San Jose, Calif. The game is the first of the session and tips off at 1 p.m. Central. It will air on TBS.
UC Irvine is a familiar opponent. K-State defeated the Anteaters 71-49 last season at Bramlage Coliseum behind a game-high 14 points from Kamau Stokes.
The Anteaters enter the NCAA Tournament on a 16-game winning streak. They won the Big West regular-season and tournament championship. Their overall record (30-5) is one of the best in college basketball and includes nonconference victories on the road against Texas A&M and Saint Mary’s.
“They are legit,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “They are a good team and (Russell Turner) is a good coach. We are going to have to get ready to play. They are one of the top teams in the country in two-point field goal defense. Rebounding and their size will definitely be a concern.”
Brown also showed respect to UC Irvine.
“We played them last year, and they have everyone back,” Brown said. “They are a good team. We just have to be ready to play.”
K-State earned its best seed in the NCAA Tournament since 2013. It will face either No. 5 Wisconsin or No. 12 Oregon in the second round Sunday if it defeats UC Irvine.
Virginia is the No. 1 seed in the South, which has its regional semifinals and final in Louisville, Ky.
The Wildcats (25-8) presented a strong resume to the selection committee when it compiled the bracket on Sunday. They shared the Big 12 regular-season championship with Texas Tech and are ranked No. 15 in the latest AP poll. They also sat at No. 24 in the NET rankings Sunday morning.
Weber suggested he was hoping the Wildcats would receive a No. 3 seed, but didn’t complain about K-State’s draw.
K-State players are already focused on the first game.
“It is either win or go home,” K-State guard Kamau Stokes said. “That is what we are emphasizing right now, how badly we want to stay alive in that tournament and how we have to be ready for that tournament.”
This is K-State’s third straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Bruce Weber guided K-State to the Elite Eight last season and will draw upon that experience as it tries to top that results beginning later this week, especially with Dean Wade once again questionable for March Madness.
“It’s important,” Weber said. “The only thing is: they can’t anticipate that they are going to win. I am trying to get them to think ahead and understand the importance of preparation.”