K-State coach Bruce Weber has utmost respect for NCAA Tournament opponent
Kansas State basketball fans didn’t get the seed or region they were hoping for in the NCAA Tournament, but once you get past those two disappointments there is a lot to like about the Wildcats’ portion of the bracket.
They got a good draw, all things considered.
Sure, they wanted a No. 3 seed in Tulsa with a potential Sweet 16 trip to Kansas City. But a No. 4 seed in the South Region is far from an impossible assignment. UC Irvine beat Texas A&M, which beat K-State, in nonconference play. The Anteaters won at Saint Mary’s, too. They are a solid mid-major team and the Wildcats respect them. But they also lost to Pacific (14-18) and Long Beach State (15-19).
It won’t be an automatic first-round victory for K-State, by any means. If Dean Wade is unable to play because of his foot injury, it could be downright hard. UC Irvine has a big front court (four of its forwards are 6-foot-8 or taller) and hit the glass hard. But K-State is favored by 6 1/2 for a reason. It should win this game simply by taking care of business.
With senior guards Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes leading the way, a year removed from an Elite Eight, odds are good they will do exactly that.
From there, the road to the Final Four appears testing but not daunting.
Wisconsin is favored to play K-State in the Round of 32. But the Badgers have a difficult opponent of their own in the first round — Oregon. The Ducks are coached by former K-State head man Dana Altman.
A second-round game against Wisconsin would take Bruce Weber back to his Big Ten roots. Weber hasn’t faced many Big Ten teams since coming to K-State from Illinois in 2012. Michigan smacked K-State 71-52 in his first season in Manhattan. But the Wildcats beat Purdue 88-79 in the 2014 Maui Invitational.
Oregon would be a familiar opponent for K-State. The Wildcats won a preseason scrimmage against the Ducks in Denver. Oregon had an interesting season, playing most of the way without star freshman Bol Bol. But it stole a bid to the Big Dance by winning the Pac-12 Tournament.
The Ducks could have a home-crowd advantage playing on the West Coast, but the Wildcats would be favored in that game.
If K-State advances to the Sweet 16 in Louisville, three imposing teams could be waiting. Virginia is the No. 1 seed in the South Region, followed by Tennessee and Purdue.
All three teams had terrific regular seasons. Virginia and Tennessee both spent time at No. 1. But there are no guarantees those teams will make it to the second weekend. The Cavaliers and Volunteers both exited the NCAA Tournament early last season.
Virginia was the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed, and K-State took advantage by defeating Maryland-Baltimore County in the first NCAA Tournament game to feature a 9 seed vs. a 16 seed.
Perhaps Tony Bennett’s team is better equipped to win in the first round this season, but Virginia is known for early exits. Tennessee coach Rick Barnes also tends to underachieve in the Big Dance. His 2003 run to the Final Four with T.J. Ford feels like a lifetime ago. Loyola-Chicago upset Tennessee in the second round last season before beating K-State in the Elite Eight.
Purdue would pit Weber against one of his best friends in the coaching business — Matt Painter. Weber served under Gene Keady for many years as a Purdue assistant before leaving to become the head coach at Southern Illinois, Illinois and then K-State.
All three teams would likely be favored over K-State in this tournament, especially if Wade is unable to play. But much like last year, the bracket could open up for the Wildcats.