K-State men’s basketball excited for NCAA Tournament opportunity

The basketball game between K-State and Baylor in the first round of the Big 12 men's basketball tournament in the Sprint Center on March 9, 2017. The Wildcats beat the Bears 70-64. (File photo by Emily Starkey | The Collegian)

The Kansas State men’s basketball team has played the last few weeks with many uncertainties and distractions. The team has had to push head coach Bruce Weber’s potential job security and NCAA tournament doubts to the side to focus on winning basketball games.

After it was all said and done, the Wildcats made it. Their name was called Sunday afternoon in the annual Selection Show and their path through the NCAA Tournament has been laid. Now, it is time for the Wildcats to just play basketball.

“I appreciate the players and our staff,” Weber said. “This is simply staying the course and staying positive and staying after it and believing. It is your goal every year to be in the NCAA tournament. We were picked ninth in the league beforehand but we finished ahead of that prediction. I think we went into the Big 12 tournament and showed very well, now can we make it a special season and do something here in the NCAA tournament. I am just happy for our guys, they get an opportunity to play in the tournament and to be a part of it.”

This is the first time K-State has been selected for the tournament since 2014. The Wildcats were a No. 9 seed that year and lost to No. 8 Kentucky, 56-49, in the first round. Senior forward D.J. Johnson, one of two K-State players who have played in the tournament, said he is grateful to return to the Big Dance.

“I definitely did not want to leave this place without getting back into the tournament,” Johnson said. “It is something I want to give back to the fans and my teammates, who have worked really hard for it for the past two years.”

Senior forward Wesley Iwundu, the other Wildcat with tournament experience, said he was excited for the chance for one last go-around.

“I was probably the happiest in the room,” Iwundu said. “It is a big-time accomplishment for me, my teammates, and for the seniors, to go out on this note. We are not done yet but we are happy we are in the NCAA tournament. We are ready to do some things.”

The Wildcats’ path ahead, however, will be no easy task. As the last at-large team selected to the field, K-State will play in the First Four play-in game against Wake Forest.

The winner of that game will be the No. 11 seed in the South regional and will take on the sixth-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats Friday at 6:27 p.m. in Sacramento, California.

But first, K-State will put their attention on Wake Forest Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio. The Demon Deacons finished the season with a 19-13 record, but won four of their last five including a win over then No. 8 Louisville.

Wake Forest is led by sophomore forward John Collins. The big man averages 18.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per-game. Former Kansas player and coach, Danny Manning is in his third season as the head coach of the Demon Deacons.

Iwundu said the Wildcats are prepared for the Demon Deacons.

“We have actually seen them play a lot throughout the whole year,” Iwundu said. “They have good players — you know, John Collins is a big man and they have some other good players. We have been in the Big 12 all year, so it is nothing we have not seen. We have been playing against a bunch of good players all year, so we are ready for this challenge. We just have to go take it.”

K-State and Wake Forest are scheduled to tip-off at 8:10 p.m. Tuesday night at the University of Dayton Arena. The game can be seen on TruTV.

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