Bruce Weber has an unusual request for Kansas State’s basketball players.
“We just have to come play loose and free,” Weber said.
The laid-back approach for Thursday’s Big 12 Tournament quarterfinal against Iowa State serves as a response to K-State’s past two losses. The Wildcats wilted at Oklahoma State after pulling to within three in the second half, then blew an eight-point halftime lead against Baylor. Mental lapses plagued them in both defeats.
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“I just want them to compete and play hard. Whatever happens, happens,” Weber said. “I thought we got uptight the other day and I’m not sure why. I know (the Big 12 Tournament) means a lot, but we have been through so much and come so far. Just go out and compete and enjoy each other and enjoy the opportunity.”
For some teams, that request would be difficult. With berths in the NCAA Tournament on the line, conference tournaments are played at high intensity levels. Some teams are fighting for a seed. Others are pushing to make the field as an at-large. Everyone is playing for something.
K-State has never won the Big 12 Tournament. So that is the stated goal. But players also seem comfortable playing for the moment.
“It’s very exciting. It’s unreal to me,” K-State freshman guard Marcus Foster said. “Last year, I was on my couch watching Kansas State play in the tournament and drawing up brackets. It’s unreal to me that I’m playing in it now. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Helping the Wildcats is a feeling that they will safely qualify for the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in Kansas City. Most bracket projections have them as a No. 8 seed.
A third-straight loss could drop them back into the bubble conversation, but it would require a long fall to miss the field of 68.
“To me, if we wouldn’t get in it would be very disrespectful to the league,” Weber said. “We went 10-8 with how many top 25 wins? How many top 50 wins? How many nonconference good wins? And we finished in the top five. Last year there were teams in the Big Ten that weren’t even .500 in the conference and got in.
“Now, I have been through it before. I have been the last team out. I have been on the board, I know it, and I haven’t gotten in, but what happened was craziness ... We have got a pretty good resume ... We can’t worry about that stuff. We just have to worry about playing basketball.”
A brewing rivalry with Iowa State should also keep K-State’s attention on the game at hand.
Physical plays and technical fouls dominated the regular-season series, which they split.
“Whenever you go to Manhattan, you’re going to expect a bar fight,” ISU forward Georges Niang told the Des Moines Register. “If there’s a prison ball league — it’d be in the Octagon of Doom. It’s always tough down there.”
Added Foster: “I definitely feel like there is a rivalry between us, because we kind of got into a little argument the first time at Iowa State. Then we got into a little argument here.”
If K-State follows through with Weber’s request, Round 3 should be fun.