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Kansas State Collegian

Kansas State Collegian

The independent student news publication at Kansas State University

Kansas State Collegian

K-State’s path to the NCAA tournament

Men’s basketball still has a chance to go dancing in March
Macy Franko
Head coach Jerome Tang celebrates in the student section after the game against West Virginia University on Feb. 26, 2024 in Bramlage Coliseum. The Wildcats beat the Mountaineers in overtime 94-90, a necessary win for K-State’s March Madness hopes.

“Somebody is not on the bubble right now… and they’re gonna get hot,” Kansas State men’s basketball head coach Jerome Tang said on Feb. 22, three days after the team lost its seventh of eight past games. “Somebody in the country is gonna do it, why not be the Cats?” 

Since then, the Wildcats won back-to-back, first in an impressive win against then-No. 25 BYU followed by a less-than-impressive near-25-point collapse against nine-win West Virginia.

Regardless, the two wins placed the Wildcats back in the hunt for a spot in the 68-team NCAA tournament. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology update as of Feb. 29, K-State places in the “Next Four Out” category, slotted as the eighth-best team to miss the tournament. The odds are against the 17-win Wildcats, but a path remains to participate in the March dance.

Finishing off the regular season strong

K-State’s final three games come against Cincinnati, No. 7 Kansas and No. 8 Iowa State. All three slot in as Quadrant 1 matchups, a huge component of NET rating, which is an important measurement for a team’s resume. With a 3-5 Quadrant 1 record and ranked 74 in NET, the Wildcats must win two out of three. 

Defeating the largest challenges in Kansas and Iowa State would seem the preferred outcome if two wins had to be decided. However, a loss to Cincinnati would have major implications.

In extended details from Lunardi as of Feb. 27, the bracketologist has the Bearcats as the top “considered” team right behind K-State. If Cincinnati defeats the Wildcats, chances are it leaps ahead of K-State. Sweeping the Sunflower Showdown and grabbing two more top 10 wins may make the loss null-and-void, but it’s still a plus for Cincinnati. The Bearcats game seems like a must-win situation given the bubble battle, as two top 10 wins is unlikely. The gymnastics of seeding leaves much up in the air for the best two-win outcome. Of course, winning all three is the best-case scenario.

Strong performance continued into the Big 12 tournament

Similar to the regular season, the Wildcats must impress in the Big 12 tournament. With the current seeding, the Wildcats place 10th in the conference, meaning K-State would play its first game in the second round, avoiding the first round for the 11-14 seeds. 

As a top 10 team, the second-round matchup would likely come against another middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team — a definite must-win. Losing the final game against a team like Oklahoma, Texas or Texas Tech is not bad for a secured team, but is terrible for a team on the bubble. This makes a third-round appearance crucial.

Once the Wildcats hypothetically advance to the third round, they very well may face a top 25 team. This matchup may not be a must-win, but assuming K-State succeeds at the end of the regular season, a victory to move to the semifinals could be the deciding factor in making the tournament. A semifinal win would be an even greater seal of approval for the selection committee.

Of course, a K-State Big 12 tournament title would make this all for not, with the Wildcats happily dancing in March with an automatic bid. 

Outside help

A strong finish to the season does not secure the Wildcats’ spot. With their current positioning, outside of a monstrous two weeks, they’ll need some things to go their way.

First, the teams straddling alongside them in the bubble must fall off. K-State has anywhere from five to 10 teams to overtake. Thus, it’s crucial for those teams to lose games. 

This is the more obvious part of the equation, but things get tricky.

In all non-Power 5 conferences, the best team winning their conference tournaments could play a role pushing a team in or out. One example is the Atlantic 10 Conference and the No. 21 Dayton Flyers.

Dayton, a six seed in Lunardi’s bracket, is nearly locked into the tournament outside of a late-season collapse. This means an automatic bid from a conference title is not necessary. If Dayton fails to secure the title and another team, such as the Atlantic 10’s first-place team Richmond or Loyola Chicago, wins the tournament, an automatic bid is given while Dayton remains in. This in turn pushes the final “Last Four” team — theoretically K-State — out of the tournament. 

This situation is not an outlier. Other conferences like the West Coast Conference or the American Conference face similar circumstances, giving them the chance to eliminate more bubble teams. This outcome can be a sneaky and brutal reality to anyone fighting for their postseason lives. 

All the possible situations leave K-State’s chances of grabbing a tournament spot still up in the air. Even if they perform well, a lot must go right for Tang and his squad to get the chance to create more madness in March.

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About the Contributor
Luke Lazarczyk
Luke Lazarczyk, sports writer
Sports editor for 2023-24. Previously sports editor for 2022-23 and writer for 2021-22.
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