Dean Wade isn’t hiding his thoughts. He hopes Kansas State plays in the NIT.
“That would be very positive,” said Wade, a freshman forward. “That would let us send the seniors out on a high note, and it would be good for the whole program to have some postseason play.”
Wesley Iwundu, a junior wing, agrees. Though he played in the NCAA Tournament as a freshman and hopes the Wildcats can return there this season with an unlikely championship run at the Big 12 Tournament, he doesn’t look down on the NIT.
“It would mean a lot, because we have a lot of young dudes,” Iwundu said. “Going forward, if we are fortunate enough to make the postseason next year, it will be good to get to the NIT so guys can get a feeling for what is expected of teams playing that late in the year.”
K-State players will use the NIT as extra motivation as it prepares for its next game, a 6 p.m. clash with Oklahoma State in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament. It should provide proper incentive.
If the Wildcats want their season to continue, a victory over the Cowboys might be essential. At 16-15, with a 5-13 Big 12 mark and a RPI of 83, K-State is on the NIT bubble. It’s possible it has already done enough to earn an invitation. Then again, maybe not. The worst record selected for an at-large bit into the NIT a year ago was 17-15. The worst RPI was 104. The last Big 12 team to make the NIT with 16 victories was Missouri in 2005.
K-State may need to beat Oklahoma State to feel good about its chances. Perhaps it needs two wins in Kansas City.
Coach Bruce Weber made his team’s case on Monday.
“We deserve to be in the NIT,” Weber said. “If we can find a way to beat Oklahoma State, we will play our 17th game against top 25 RPI (teams). No one else is going to be able to do that in the country. Now, we haven’t won many of them, but no one else has even played them. Our record outside of that is really, really good.”
Online projections can’t agree on K-State’s odds.
One, The Bracket Matrix, lists K-State comfortably in the NIT’s field of 32 teams as a No. 2 seed, getting a first-round matchup with Virginia Tech. But many others have the Wildcats on the outside looking in. Upsets in conference tournaments has complicated things. The regular-season champion of each conference is guaranteed a spot in the NIT if it misses the NCAA Tournament. Every time the top seed falls in a low-major tournament, K-State’s NIT chances decrease.
The Wildcats aren’t worried about that, though. Their focus is on the Cowboys. K-State beat them 89-73 at home in January, but that victory came with injured point guard Kamau Stokes in the lineup. Without him, Oklahoma State won the rematch 58-55.
K-State will need a better effort if it wants to make the NIT.
“We just have to get the guys on board,” Iwundu said. “This is win or go home. Either you want it or you don’t. If you want it, you go out there and play. If you don’t, stay in their locker room. You have to come with it and bring your A-game, because everybody else is going to bring their A-game. Nobody is taking you lightly. Everyone is going to play their best game, so you have got to go out there and show up.”
Oklahoma State vs. Kansas State
- When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
- Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
- Records: OSU 12-19, 3-15 Big 12, KSU 16-15, 5-13
- Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM
- TV: ESPNU
Oklahoma State vs. Kansas State
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are nearing the end of a difficult season, derailed by injuries to Phil Forte and Jawun Evans. Oklahoma State has struggled mightily without its top two scorers. Coach Travis Ford has kept games competitive by slowing down on offense and asking players to shoot late into possessions, but victories have been hard to come by. Oklahoma State has played in front of dwindling crowds at home games this season, causing many to speculate on Ford’s future.
Kansas State: The Wildcats dropped their final game of the regular season at Texas Tech. Now, they hope the move to friendlier surroundings at Kansas City’s Sprint Center will help them win their first Big 12 Tournament game since 2013, when they advanced to the championship game. Weber says K-State will need better play out of Brown at point guard. He is one of the team’s top scorers, but Weber wants him to focus more on directing the offense. Depth has been an issue for K-State all season, but Weber says he won’t try and rest players for a longer run in the Big 12 Tournament. “We are beyond that point,” Weber said. “It is just going to come down to having passion, having energy, playing together, playing as a team and finding a way to get a win and move forward.”
RPIs as of Tuesday: OSU 159, K-State 83