Kansas State men’s basketball (14-15, 6-11) has all but ruled itself out of the NCAA Tournament since going on a four-game losing streak that includes three games decided by two scores or less. This means that the only way to get into the big dance is winning the Big 12 tournament and securing an automatic bid.
While no seeding presents an easy route to the championship, a win against Oklahoma on Saturday would get the Wildcats out of an eight-versus-nine-seed play-in game that would have to face the No. 1 seed in the following round.
With Oklahoma State’s suspension from this year’s post-season, the Big 12 will feature a nine-team bracket, with the opening round of games looking like this: No. 1 vs. the winner of the No. 8/9 play-in game, No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5. Getting out of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game means K-State would only have to win three games for the automatic bid instead of four.
However, all of this means nothing if K-State can’t take care of business at home on Saturday. This past time out against Oklahoma, the Sooners started with 8-0 run and carried a 33-22 lead into halftime. The Wildcats played a superb second half, though, tying the game at 65 with a minute remaining.
Despite 25 points and 16 rebounds from super-senior Mark Smith, K-State couldn’t pull through in the final 60 seconds, falling 71-69 in both teams’ conference-opener.
It is important to note that junior guard Markquis Nowell was ruled out of the first match-up because of COVID-19 protocols just before the game began. We could also see a situation in Saturday’s match-up where Nowell is ruled out again after missing the Monday, Feb. 28 game against Texas Tech because of a hamstring injury. Nowell will likely remain a game-time decision.
Head coach Bruce Weber, who often refrains from putting any blame on the players, bluntly shared how he felt about sophomore star Nijel Pack’s two first-half points against the Sooners in the first match-up.
“We need [Pack] to be better than 5-15, to be honest,” Weber said after the Jan. 1 match-up.
Oklahoma did a good job at spreading out scoring in the first match-up. Five players reached double figures for the Sooners – Elijah Harkless leading the way with 21 points. Tanner Groves leads the team in points per game with 12.3 — and wasn’t one of the five players to reach double figures this past game — as the team has played team-oriented basketball all season.
Saturday’s contest will also be Senior Day for three Wildcats: Mark Smith, Mike McGuirl and Drew Honas, so look for Smith and McGuirl to show a little extra effort, and for Weber to find a way to sneak Honas into the game.
K-State takes on Oklahoma at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 5, in Bramlage Coliseum in K-State’s final regular-season game on the schedule, airing on ESPN+.