Final stretch will determine K-State’s tournament fate

Senior forward Wesley Iwundu dribbles the ball during the basketball game between K-State and KU in Bramlage Coliseum on Feb. 6, 2017. (File Photo by Emily Starkey | The Collegian)

After a 19-point loss at West Virginia on Saturday, the Kansas State men’s basketball team only has six more regular season games left. How the Wildcats finish down the stretch will determine their NCAA tournament fate.

The Wildcats took care of business earlier this year, going 11-1 in non-conference play. That 11-1 record is deceiving, though. When looking at the teams they beat, it’s not quite as impressive as it looks. The lone loss was by one point to Maryland at a neutral site and there weren’t any good wins to brag about.

K-State currently has a 5-7 record in conference play, but has the opportunity to finish strong. Five of the seven losses this season have came to some of the nation’s best in Baylor, West Virginia and KU. Arguably the most difficult game remaining on the team’s schedule is Wednesday at home against Iowa State, a game in which the Wildcats should be favored.

After that, K-State goes to Texas, hosts Oklahoma State, plays two roads games against Oklahoma and TCU and finishes the season at home against Texas Tech. In the daunting conference that is the Big 12, it’s nice to finish the season without having to see the likes of ranked teams.

K-State’s record of 16-9 on the year doesn’t really show how talented this team is. The Wildcats have really been out of two, maybe three games all year. One of the main points in those losses has been finishing, so it will be a great test to not only see how this team finishes the rest of games, but the rest of the season.

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has K-State as a 10 seed, which was released on Monday. Judging off that, the Wildcats would really have to falter down the stretch to miss the tournament.

Either a 4-2 record in the final six games or a 3-3 record combined with a win in the conference tournament would almost have K-State as a lock to make the tournament. Anything worse than that and the Cats might end up on the outside looking in.

K-State is currently ranked 43rd in the RPI rankings. Some other numbers help K-State too, like a respectable 39th strength of schedule and the No. 2 conference strength of schedule.

There are also numbers that don’t do the Wildcats any favors at all, like a 253rd non-conference strength of schedule and a 3-9 record against teams that currently rank in the top 100 in the RPI rankings.

The two starting seniors on the team, Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson, will have to lead this relatively young team forward with guys who haven’t really been in this position before, being on the inside of a tournament berth.

Up to this point, K-State has done what it needed to do to make the big dance. But like we’ve seen many times before, the team has struggled to finish. A big finish will secure a spot, but a so-so ending will have Wildcat fans on the edge of their seats come Selection Sunday.