K-State has more to play for Saturday than just Big 12 title positioning

(Photo by Parker Robb | Collegian) Junior forward Nino Williams plows through three Texas Tech defenders on his way to the basket during the second half of the Wildcats' 66-58 defeat of the Red Raiders January 28 in Bramlage Coliseum.

Losing three out their last four games, the K-State men’s basketball team is close to being on the outside looking in of the Big 12 conference title race.


But when the No. 15 Texas Longhorns roll into Bramlage Coliseum Saturday for a marquee matchup, the Wildcats will have much more than a regular season championship to play for.


As of Jan. 30, ESPN college basketball analyst Joe Lunardi has K-State slotted as an eighth seed in the South Region of March’s NCAA Tournament. The likelihood of that position being correct will depend particularly on how well the Wildcats play in their next five games.


That stretch will include matchups against the Longhorns and Kansas Jayhawks in Manhattan, and road contests against the Baylor Bears and Oklahoma Sooners. It’ll also feature two storylines: can K-State maintain their spotless home court record in Big 12 play, and can the Wildcats finally have success on the road?


But how important is all of this for the postseason? Well, the difference between an eighth and seventh seed can be staggering. The difference between an eighth and, say, 12th or 13th? Brutal.


If the tournament started today, K-State would be matched up against a dangerous Florida State squad (RPI: 38) that has played the ACC close all season.


A major slip up between now and March could make it even worse. Staying in the South Region, seeds 11-14 may mean facing the likes of Creighton, Louisville, St. Louis, or even Florida.


However, all of this will also depend on how K-State shows at the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship in Kansas City, Mo., March 12-15.


As of today, K-State would enter the tournament a fifth seed. That spot begins play in the quarterfinals against the fourth seed, which would currently be the Iowa State Cyclones.


The Wildcats are in position to make a run in the next month and earn as high as a second seed, though they also have the possibility of falling all the way to the seventh seed. This would require them to play their way into the quarterfinals.


Wherever they fall, their performance in Kansas City will weigh heavily on their NCAA Tournament seeding. According to Team Rankings, K-State has a 32 percent chance of advancing to the semifinals and a 10 percent chance of reaching the finals. An early exit could prove costly, while even just one win can mean the difference between one seed and another. How’s that for March Madness?

While the importance of defending a Big 12 title goes without saying, this K-State squad has bigger fish to fry far after the end of the regular season. That should be the main focus of this young group as they face their toughest challenges and loudest critics in the next month.