Kansas absolutely, no doubt, hand-on-the-good-book deserves a No. 1 seed. The Jayhawks have wins over Duke, Kentucky, Baylor, and West Virginia, finished second in RPI, and won the nation’s No. 2 RPI league by an astonishing four games. This shouldn’t be difficult.
But if the Jayhawks are left off the Midwest Region’s 1-line, they can blame themselves.
“We’ll see what happens,” guard Frank Mason said.
Kansas State absolutely, no doubt, hand-on-the-good-book deserves an NCAA Tournament spot. The Wildcats finished sixth in a league that’s grown used to getting seven teams in, and has wins over West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Baylor (twice) in a year everyone who pays attention to such things is calling it The Softest Bubble Ever. This shouldn’t be difficult.
But if the Wildcats are left out of the field, they can blame themselves.
“We’ll get what we deserve,” forward D.J. Johnson said.
The NCAA Tournament field will be announced Sunday (4:30 p.m. on CBS), and it should be a happy occasion for both Kansas schools, which obviously operate with very different standards (speaking of different standards, if Missouri actually hires Tom Crean, it’ll be a good run for all three local teams).
Kansas will always win or lose mostly on what Kansas does. But depending on particular matchups — a big, physical team like Florida State would be more worrisome than a free-flowing, take-the-ball-out-of-the-net group like UCLA — the Jayhawks are in line for another enviable draw.
Given the choice, KU would likely take the Midwest’s No. 2 seed over another region’s No. 1. There isn’t much difference in the draw at that point, and being in the Midwest would mean playing next weekend in Tulsa, less than a four hour drive from Allen Fieldhouse, and then at the Sprint Center, which has a big Jayhawk at midcourt when KU plays there in December.
KU deserves a No. 1 seed, and will almost certainly be in the Midwest either way. But the Jayhawks could’ve eliminated even a sliver of doubt by winning at least their Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal against TCU.
By losing — as a nine-point favorite against a team it beat by 19 two weeks earlier — the Jayhawks left it up to a decision by the selection committee.
“We’re not really sure what’s going to happen,” Mason said.
K-State’s worry is a little stronger, with much higher consequences.
The Wildcats played their way into most of the bracket projections, usually as what NCAA officials want you to not call a play-in game, and it’s deserved.
All the teams on the bubble — particularly this year — are inherently flawed. K-State has a better argument than most, propped up by playing in a difficult league, with some impressive wins and what could be the key victory against Baylor in the conference tournament quarterfinal.
It’s always natural in sports to pick apart what you see most often, so instead of going over K-State’s flaws, maybe it’s more instructive to look at some of the other bubble teams.
K-State was better against top 50 RPI teams than Wake Forest, and has more good wins and fewer bad losses than both Illinois State and Rhode Island. The Wildcats have a nice mix of positional versatility and two-way players, even without as much depth as coach Bruce Weber would like.
The committee is sometimes said to be impressed by what teams do away from home, because all tournament games are played at neutral sites, and K-State was 9-9 with most of its best wins away from Bramlage Coliseum.
But if K-State is left out of the field, it won’t have much sympathy. Its non-conference schedule was ranked 301st, with a loss against the only likely tournament team (Maryland) and another against Tennessee, which is probably an NIT bubble team.
In conference play, K-State blew a late lead at Texas Tech, lost at home to TCU, lost by 30 at Oklahoma, and won just two games between Jan. 21 and March 1. Win one of those games, or protect a 12-point lead against West Virginia in the Big 12 semifinals, and K-State is solidly in the field.
The Wildcats are playing better in the last few weeks, and at least deserve credit for perhaps saving their season after being effectively left for dead by most outside the program after the Oklahoma loss.
But watching the Wildcats this season has meant understanding that they are capable of playing like a top 25 team, but spent too much of the season in their own way or allowing light nudges to throw them off track.
KU’s loss to TCU comes with the significant asterisk of being without Josh Jackson, who was serving a one-game suspension and has spent most of the last few months making a case for All-America teams.
Even at full strength, the Jayhawks don’t have much depth, and could be thrown off by an injury or foul trouble to Mason, Jackson, or Landen Lucas. But they will always have the best player on the floor in Mason, and in most games the best two, with Jackson.
K-State, even if it goes to Dayton, can play its way into the main field and after that make sure this season is remembered as a success. What the Wildcats have in potential, they have diminished with inconsistency, and these are the games everyone most remembers.
So, again, both of Kansas’ Big 12 schools should be OK. Sunday should be a good day. But if it goes the other way, and there’s an unwelcome surprise, each team will know it could’ve eliminated the problem already.