It almost feels like déjà vu for the Kansas State Wildcats (17-7, 6-6). Last year, the Wildcats were winners of their last two headed into a tough game against Colorado who had beaten them before earlier in the year. The Wildcats ended up losing the game and having many doubters as to whether they could make the tournament or not.
This year, the Wildcats are coming off a blown second half lead against a Texas team that was in desperate need of win. Many are speculating whether or not this young K-State team can handle the current stretch that started with Texas and will continue with Kansas, Missouri and Baylor, three of the top teams in the conference.
Unlike last season, the Wildcats do have some solid wins to bolster their NCAA resume. According to ESPN, the Wildcats RPI currently ranks at 52, with resume wins over Alabama, Long Beach State, Missouri and Texas, who are all inside the RPI top 50. Not to mention, the Wildcats worst losses have come to the Oklahoma Sooners, who are currently ranked No. 98 according to the RPI rankings.
With that in mind, it’s not complete panic time for the Wildcats, although dropping all four in this stretch could put the Wildcats out of the tournament. After collapsing against Texas after being up by 13 at the half, the Wildcats must have short term memory and focus on the bigger task at hand, which is picking up another signature win.
This season, the Wildcats have lost two games at home to both Baylor and Oklahoma, two games where the Wildcats blew leads in the last 10 minutes of the game. Protecting their home court while hosting their in-state rivals the Kansas Jayhawks (20-5, 10-2), will be a big deciding factor between whether or not the Wildcats can cement a spot in the tournament.
A win against the Jayhawks could be huge for Kansas State and with it, I don’t see them being held out unless the Wildcats finish lower than No. 6 in the conference.
But before the Wildcats can look that far ahead, they have to handle business. Last time around, the Wildcats showed toughness and went head to head with the reigining Big 12 champions. The Wildcats began the second half on a 13-4 run and got things as close as three but failed to stay consistent and allowed Kansas to close the game on a 28-13 run.
This time around, I expect things to be much different. The Octagon of Doom is expected to be a hostile environment and the Wildcats have been playing well with the exception of their second half collapse against Texas. One thing worth noting is that Kansas out-rebounded Kansas State last time out 48-24 and had 17 come off of offensive rebounds.
If the Wildcats plan to win, attacking the glass should be No. 1 priority, especially with their ability to defend on the defensive end. In addition, in every loss this season, the Jayhawks have lost the battle on the perimeter. Statistically, Kansas State is shooting 33 percent from the three-point line as a team this year. The Wildcats have shown the ability to get hot at times and showcased their ability to just force three’s up at the rim.
Right now, ESPN’s bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Kansas State as a No. 10 seed in the West Region. Losing to Kansas will not hurt their RPI as much but it won’t help either. Although, the Wildcats will certainly have more chances to stay in the tournament picture. Kansas State still has big games against Missouri, Baylor and Iowa State that could help their tournament resume, although winning at home against the No. 1 team in the conference seems to be the preferred situation for the Wildcats.
The game is expected to tip off at Bramlage Coliseum at 8 PM Central. Remember, as a reminder, head coach Frank Martin wants Kansas State to refrain from using vulgar language in a particular chant that the fan base has been using the past few games. The game is being broadcasted on ESPN as a part of Big Monday.