Kansas State men’s basketball (14-11, 6-7) is starting to make a push for an NCAA tournament bid, and Saturday’s game at Oklahoma State (12-13, 5-8) could decide where the Wildcats land on the bubble.
K-State is 4-1 in its past five games, which is impressive considering how competitive the Big 12 is this year. The Wildcats’ tough schedule isn’t going unnoticed, either.
Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s leading Bracketologist, has K-State as a “Next Four Out” team in his latest bracket projection. This means that if the season ended today, the Wildcats would just miss the NCAA tournament.
No need to fear, however. K-State has come a long way: from no shot of making it, to being talked about as a team that could sneak in at the end. With games still to play against Oklahoma and Iowa State — two teams higher than K-State in Lunardi’s prediction — the Wildcats have the opportunity to get in the postseason if they can pick up wins.
The winning will have to continue this Saturday in Stillwater for the conversation to continue. Luckily for the Wildcats, they beat this Cowboy team just two weeks ago.
At home on Feb. 2, the Wildcats took down the Cowboys 71-68 thanks to a Nijel Pack three with two seconds remaining. K-State doesn’t want to play Oklahoma State as close this time around and shouldn’t have to if they keep the Cowboys from making runs.
In the previous contest, K-State would get up to a six- or seven-point lead on multiple occasions, but Oklahoma State always seemed to have an answer.
The Cowboys’ Bryce Thompson and Rondel Walker led the way in the most recent match-up, scoring 22 and 18 points, respectively. Thompson found his shot regularly, something the Wildcats will need to hone in on in Saturday’s game.
K-State will likely rotate who defends Thompson. The Wildcats have shifted to a small-ball style of play as of late, so all five players could guard Thompson. Hopefully, keeping a fresh body on the Cowboys’ best player will keep him off the scorecard — whether it be the scrappy 5 foot 8 inch Markquis Nowell or 6 foot 4 inch Mark Smith, who plays like he’s 6 foot 10 inches.
Offensively, the Wildcats hope to keep up the scoring of Nijel Pack and Markquis Nowell. Pack has been on a tear in the Big 12, averaging just shy of 20 points per game, and Nowell is coming off a 21-point performance against West Virginia. With a lack of better playmakers, K-State is at its best when these teams are hot.
The ultimatum for the Wildcats this weekend is this: win, and you keep your tournament chances very much alive. Lose, and your chances start slipping through your fingers. As of now, K-State can control its own destiny.
K-State travels to face Oklahoma State at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 19, with the game airing on ESPNU.