Kansas State and TCU are similar basketball teams. They have identical overall records, they are separated by one game in the Big 12 standings and they will both have plenty to play for when they meet at 8 p.m. on Tuesday at Schollmaier Arena.
But their postseason credentials are very different.
The Wildcats (20-9, 9-7 Big 12) beat the Horned Frogs (20-9, 8-8) earlier this season and remain ahead of them in the conference race, yet TCU is considered a lock for the NCAA Tournament while K-State is thought to be on the bubble.
Why? That’s a question K-State coach Bruce Weber will ponder when he creates future schedules.
Things broke right for TCU in that department this season, and the Horned Frogs now benefit from a RPI of 19. K-State has a RPI of 60, mostly because its nonconference slate ranks among the nation’s weakest.
“We have studied it,” Weber said. “Some of it is good fortune, playing teams that end up having a good record during the season that maybe you didn’t anticipate. Some of it is (not) playing the higher (RPI teams) 300 or 250 and above. That is a factor.”
K-State can learn a thing or two from the way TCU coach Jamie Dixon scheduled this season.
The Horned Frogs won nonconference games against Nevada (16), St. Bonaventure (24), Belmont (78), South Dakota (89), William & Mary (92) and SMU (98). That may not look like a challenging assortment of teams, but all six count as top 100 RPI victories.
The Wildcats’ only top 100 nonconference victory came against Georgia (70). The majority of their early wins are still dragging down their RPI. Games against Southeast Missouri State (251), Northern Arizona (315), American (332) and South Carolina Upstate (346) dropped their schedule strength to 98th nationally.
TCU mostly avoided bottom-feeders (every nonconference opponent other than Omaha and Texas Southern ranks in the top 200) and now boasts the nation’s 13th hardest schedule.
With that in mind, Weber is looking to upgrade nonconference opponents next season. Games already on the 2018-19 schedule include: At Tulsa, Vanderbilt (Sprint Center), a road trip for the Big 12/SEC Challenge and the Paradise Jam, a three-game tournament that also features Missouri, Northern Iowa, Old Dominion and Oregon State.
His goal is to add at least one home game against a notable opponent.
“We talk about it almost every day,” Weber said.
For now, all K-State can worry about is beating TCU. It’s an important game. A victory would go down as its best win of the season.
“They are playing great right now,” K-State forward Dean Wade said. “They are pretty much a different team than when we played them the first time. They are playing with confidence on offense. They are tough ... I’m hoping we can get this win and make our resume look a little better.”
One more victory might be enough for the Wildcats to lock up a NCAA Tournament bid. But TCU will also be motivated. A few more wins could be enough for the Horned Frogs to start the postseason close to home at the Dallas sub-regional.
That’s a perk of playing a strong schedule.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett