Will K-State’s close losses count toward an NCAA bid?
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
MANHATTAN, Kan. — When Kansas State blew a late lead against Maryland and lost by a point, it was easy to chalk it up as a frustrating defeat that people would soon forget.
Except that more frustrating defeats have followed.
And that has made the loss to the Terrapins resonate even now, well into February.
The Wildcats (16-8, 5-6 Big 12) have become experts when it comes to losing close games, WILL all but two of their defeats coming by two possessions or fewer or in overtime. That includes a pair of losses to rival Kansas by a combined five points, including a controversial defeat at Allen Fieldhouse last month when it appeared the Jayhawks’ Svi Mykhailiuk traveled on the way to the winning basket.
“We’ve played hard, we compete. I’ve said it all along, we have great kids,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said after Monday night’s 74-71 loss to the Jayhawks, a game that was tied with about two minutes to go. “But there’s no moral victories. You have to win.”
To be fair, the Wildcats have done their share of that, too. They stunned then-No. 7 West Virginia last month, and a road win over then-No. 2 Baylor is precisely the kind of marquee victory the NCAA Tournament selection committee tends to look at when awarding the last handful of at-large bids in March.
But will the Wildcats have too many losses to even be among those teams?
“We’ve been there every day,” Weber said, pointing out that even in losses to Baylor (77-68) and at Tennessee (70-58), the Wildcats were one big second-half run from coming out on top.
“The little details make the difference. That was my message after the (Kansas) game,” Weber said. “Poise, discipline, helping your teammates, sharing the ball — all those things are important.”
One bunch that doesn’t question whether the Wildcats belong? Their biggest rivals.
“They’re well-coached. They do a great job of playing together,” said Kansas guard Frank Mason III, who averaged 18 points in two wins over Kansas State. “They’re a great defensive team, they always play a strong help. Guys seem like they’re locked into their scouting report and things like that.”
The resume Kansas State is building for March is a difficult one to weigh.
The highlight wins and narrow defeats have proven that the Wildcats, one of the youngest teams in the Big 12, can compete with anybody. And those bright young stars, such as sophomores Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes, play with infectious energy and enthusiasm.
The Wildcats were ranked 44th in RPI, a metric long used by the selection committee, entering Wednesday’s games. They can thank their league’s robust ranking in part for that number.
But the argument against the Wildcats hinges on those losses. Rarely does the committee give a bid to a team with a losing league record, nor does it look favorably on double-digit defeats. That makes the Wildcats’ final seven games and the Big 12 tournament crucial.
They have another opportunity to earn a marquee win Saturday at West Virginia, then they play their last six regular-season games against unranked opponents. Half of those will be played at home, and four are against the bottom four teams in the conference standings.
“We still have some games left. This season still has a lot of things we can accomplish,” said Wesley Iwundu, the team’s second-leading scorer. “Just looking toward the future.”