PREVIEW: Saturday match-up against Iowa State important for men’s basketball seeding

Anticipating the rebound, fifth-year guard Mike McGuirl watches the ball go through the hoop in the game against Baylor on Feb. 9, 2022. Kansas State lost to Baylor 60-75. (Archive photo by Macey Franko | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State men’s basketball team (12-11, 4-7) has a lot on the line on Saturday, Feb. 12, as the team travels to Ames, Iowa, for its first match-up against Iowa State (16-8, 3-8) this season.

The Big 12 tournament is normally set up so that the bottom four teams of the conference – the seventh through tenth seeds – play each other in a pair of play-in games while the top six seeds receive a first-round bye.

This year is a bit different, however, as only nine teams will play in the tournament since Oklahoma State is banned from postseason play because of alleged violations of NCAA rules by a former assistant coach. With nine teams, the eighth and ninth seeds will play each other for the right to play the No 1. team, while the top seven get byes.

With less than a month of basketball to play, four teams (excluding Oklahoma State) are vying for two byes with only a game of separation between them.

K-State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are sitting atop the bottom with a 4-7 record in the conference, with Oklahoma having the tiebreaker over the Wildcats at the moment. West Virginia is rolling with a 3-7 conference record, and Iowa State is sitting at the bottom with a 3-8 record.

Since K-State travels to Iowa State on Saturday, the Wildcats have the opportunity to pull ahead of the teams around them. Only two of the last seven regular-season games for the Wildcats are against ranked opponents, so K-State has a good shot at staying out of the play-in spot.

Against Iowa State, look for sophomore Nijel Pack to continue his dominance on the floor. Pack is averaging over 23 points per game over the past six contests. Pack seems to have taken it upon himself to step up in scoring over the span.

Super-senior Mark Smith will also play a big role in Saturday’s game. The 6 foot 4 inch stretch-wing leads the conference in rebounds and has been getting his fair share of buckets. In the past four games, Smith has averaged 18.5 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.

Iowa State will rely heavily on NBA draft prospect Izaiah Brockington, who leads the team in points (16.6), at an impressive 46 percent clip, and rebounds (7.8) from the guard spot. The Cyclones also get 11 points and a team-leading 4.4 assists per game from Tyrese Hunter. Caleb Grill out of Maize, Kansas, will find heavy playing time, too.

The Cyclones started the season off hot, bursting out to a 12-0 record in non-conference before eventually coming back down to earth with a 3-8 Big 12 record. Iowa State was able to play teams close early on but have struggled in the past month of play.

K-State takes on Iowa State at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 12. on ESPNU. Recap on the Collegian after the contest.