MANHATTAN — When Bruce Weber reached the national championship game in 2005 with Illinois, they called it a bus trip.
The Final Four was played in St. Louis, a 180-mile trip from the Illini’s campus in Champaign. Before that, they won two games in Chicago and two games in Indianapolis. All bus travel, all massive fan support.
“We had a major advantage,” Weber says now. “It can be a factor. You still have to win the games … There is no guarantee. But I sure would rather be close to home and have people cheering for you.”
Shane Southwell knows the story well. Weber has been reminding K-State players of it for weeks. He has preached the importance of staying close to home in the postseason since the Wildcats were in the running for a top-four seed and a favorable trip to Kansas City for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
“It would be just like two home games for that one weekend,” Southwell said. “It would be a big hometown advantage for us. It would be huge for anybody to play (close to) their hometown.”
The Wildcats can increase their chances of starting the NCAA Tournament in Kansas City with a strong showing at the Big 12 Tournament. The NCAA selection committee tries to reward high seeds with nearby locations, and most bracket projections have K-State in the third- to fifth-seed range, but few agree on where it will play its first game. It might take a few more wins to lock up a spot in Kansas City.
The last time K-State reached the championship game of the Big 12 Tournament, in 2010, it was rewarded with a No. 2 seed in Oklahoma City the following day. The last two years, when K-State lost in the quarterfinals to Colorado and Baylor, it got sent West as a No. 5 seed and East as a No. 8 seed.
Two or more victories could be helpful. A loss to Texas or TCU on Thursday could be harmful.
“It would be a big boost,” said sophomore forward Thomas Gipson when asked about playing in Kansas City. “We will have a lot of fans and a lot of support. That would help us a lot to make a run. But we are worried about the Big 12 Tournament right now. We aren’t even thinking about March Madness.”
That approach has helped K-State all season. With so much at stake, why change now?
In addition to NCAA Tournament implications, the Big 12 could serve as a tie-breaker between K-State and Kansas, which shared the regular-season championship at 14-4.
“We are definitely looking forward to this tournament,” sophomore guard Angel Rodriguez said. “Now that we have the regular-season trophy, we want to take care of business and win the tournament trophy, too. We have got to make a good run before we go to the NCAA Tournament. We want to be on a good path.”
A bus path would be preferable.