|Kansas State, other Big 12 teams hoping to ensure spot in NCAA Tournament|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 12 March 2008 10:17|
The Wildcats won 20 games during the regular season, finished third in the tough Big 12 Conference and have one of the best players in the country in freshman Michael Beasley.
Still, they don't want to take any chances.
Win a couple of games at the Big 12 Tournament, maybe reach the finals on Sunday, and Kansas State can pretty much assure itself a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996.
Lose in the first or second round? Well, they don't want to think about it.
``I don't know if we're locked up yet,'' forward Bill Walker said after Kansas State's 73-69 win over Iowa State on Saturday. ``Selection Sunday ain't here yet. We've got to go out and still play. I want to win the Big 12 Tournament so we can guarantee ourselves a berth.''
The Wildcats know the difference a couple of conference tournament wins can make.
Kansas State entered last year's Big 12 Tournament with 20 wins and a 10-6 conference record - just like this year. The Wildcats opened the tournament with a 19-point win over Texas Tech, then fell to second-ranked Kansas in the second round.
It seemed to be enough to get Kansas State into the NCAA Tournament. Yet, when the selection show rolled around the Wildcats were left staring at the television, headed to the NIT and wondering what might have happened had they won one more game.
This year is a little different, though.
The Big 12 has been much tougher than in the past, ranking third in the RPI - just a few percentage points behind the Pac-10 - after being seventh a year ago. Beasley was the Big 12 player of the year and a contender for national player of the year, giving Kansas State a higher profile.
Though it's been an up-and-down ride, particularly the last half of the season, the Wildcats have had some impressive wins. Among those was a win against then-undefeated Kansas, their first at home against the Jayhawks in a quarter century.
``Last year, we went into the Big 12 Tournament with unbelievable pressure on having to win so we can extend our season,'' Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. ``We're not going in there with that kind of pressure this year.''
Kansas State isn't alone in wanting a resume boost.
The Big 12 could get as many as six teams in the NCAA Tournament. How the conference playoffs shake out, though, could affect that number.
Kansas (28-3) and Texas (26-5) are locks after sharing the Big 12 regular-season title. The Big 12 Tournament will be little more than a chance for the Jayhawks and Longhorns to keep momentum rolling, to earn a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Oklahoma and Baylor seem to be safe bets, regardless of what happens in the Big 12 tournament.
The Sooners, who will face the winner between Baylor and Colorado in the second round on Friday, finished the regular season 21-10 and tied for fourth in conference at 9-7. Oklahoma ranks 24th in the RPI and had the nation's ninth-toughest schedule, with wins over Gonzaga and two over Baylor.
M and beat Kansas State.
Still, there's always that little bit of doubt that comes with waiting on a selection committee to decide your fate. The uncertainty could be particularly nerve-racking for Baylor, which is hoping for its first NCAA berth in 20 years.
``Right now it's just an unbelievable feeling; I can't really put it into words because the team and the coaching staff has been through so much,'' Baylor guard Curtis Jerrells said. ``Just to make sure that we're going to hear our name called, we want to make sure we give 100 percent effort here and try to win as many games as possible.''
M's chances are a little less stable.
The Aggies (22-9, 8-8 Big 12) seemed to be a lock at the midpoint of the conference schedule at 20-3 and 6-2 in the Big 12. Then they struggled the second half, winning just two of their final eight games, including a disappointing 64-37 setback to Oklahoma and a lopsided home loss to Texas Tech.
What could help the Aggies is the strength of the Big 12.
M in even if it loses to Iowa State in Thursday's opening round.
To Kansas coach Bill Self, there's no question the Aggies have done enough.
``The reason they are .500 is because our league is good, not because they're mediocre,'' he said. ``It's hard to win on the road, harder than at any time since I've been in the Big 12.''