Tuesday, 27 February 2024
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How Far Can K-State Go in the NCAA Tournament?
By Jared Sleppy
Copyright: MSC Sports

The 2022-23 K-State men’s basketball team (23-9, 11-7) turns its focus to “The Big Dance” as they draw a #3 seed against the #14 seed Montana State Bobcats (25-9, 15-3) out of the Big Sky Conference in the first round in the East Region. Their first two games of the tournament will be played in Greensboro, NC and their first-round game is at 8:40 p.m. on Friday.

This is their first postseason berth since the 2018-19 team that won a share of the Big 12 title. They are hoping for their first tournament win since 2018 against Kentucky.

Their seeding is the second highest in school history since the NCAA tournament introduced seeding in 1979 only behind the 2009-10 team that was a #2 seed.

The Wildcats’ resume includes nine wins against Quad 1 opponents which puts them in the top ten for the most in the country. Their most impressive wins include road wins against 2-seed Texas and 3-seed Baylor and a home win against 1-seed Kansas.

Matchup vs. Montana State

Let's get this clear: Kansas State has to come to play on Friday. They can't just show up in Greensboro and expect the Big West regular season and conference champs will just fold at the meer sight of Jerome Tang and the Cats. Here's an assessment of Montana State's season thus far.

The Bobcats are currently ranked #110 in the KenPom, which is the 12th lowest among the field of 68 teams, and #103 in the NCAA NET rankings.

Montana State made the tournament last year for the first time since 1996 and lost to Texas Tech 97-62 in the first round.

The Bobcats went 0-2 against Quad 1 teams with blowout losses to Oregon and Arizona. They went 2-1 against Quad 2 teams and 6-5 against Quad 3 teams this season.

This game could be lower-scoring with Montana State’s defense being their strength. They rank 73rd in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is based on points allowed per 100 possessions.

K-State’s offense came back down to earth after a white-hot start in Big 12 play. They are still ranked 52nd in adjusted offensive efficiency.

K-State’s brand, however, has been built on their defense as well with their adjusted defensive efficiency ranking 19th in the country allowing just 94.2 points per 100 possessions.

The biggest issue for K-State is protecting the basketball. Many games K-State has lost this year can be credited to too many turnovers. Montana State is 75th in the country turnover efficiency. For reference, TCU’s turnover efficiency rating is ranked 23rd in the country.

Prediction: K-State 71, Montana State 60

If Nowell and the Cats can take care of the ball and Keyontae Johnson can stay on the floor without getting into foul trouble, this should be a marginal victory for them. However, easier said than done considering Montana State is second in the nation in drawing defensive fouls. I think K-State will struggle a bit in the first half but will pull away in the final ten minutes. I have Kansas State advancing to the second round and avoiding a first round upset.

Rest of the East Region

The East Region this year is filled to the brim with “blue blood” college basketball programs (that aren’t K-State) and the #1 seed isn’t one of them.

K-State will get a tough second-round matchup. If they defeat Montana State, they will get the winner of #6 seed Kentucky vs. #11 seed Providence. If they were to play Kentucky, it would be their third meeting in the NCAA Tournament in the last nine years.

Kentucky won the first round meeting (it was called the “second round” that year) in 2014 with that team getting all the way to the national championship game. K-State got its revenge with their first ever win over Kentucky in 2018 in the Sweet 16.

Kentucky is led by their 2021-22 Naismith winner Oscar Tshiebwe, who has taken a small step back in production, but is still averaging 16.5 points and 13.1 rebounds per game (most in the country). The Wildcats won four of their last five regular season games, but lost two games against Vanderbilt, including in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals.

Providence comes into the tournament ice-cold. They have lost four of their last five games, including a 24-point home loss to an unimpressive Seton Hall team. With Kentucky playing some pretty good basketball as of late, I have a hard time seeing the Friars pulling off the upset.

Just below them is #7 seed Michigan State team who had a lack-luster season. The Spartans were in the heart of the giant cluster of mediocre Big Ten teams in the middle of the standings. MSU ended up as the #4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, and they lost to the #13 seed Ohio State 68-58. My prediction is Sparty will win their first-round matchup against #10 seed USC but won’t get any further.

Marquette is a team that scares me. Head coach Shaka Smart knows what it takes to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. It has been a while since Smart has made a run, though, with his only team making it out of the first weekend was his 2011 Final Four VCU team.

The Golden Eagles are also playing great basketball right now with nine wins in a row. They are also winners in 17 of their last 18 games. Additionally, Marquette hoisted the Big East Tournament title for the first time in school history.

They’re led by sophomore guards Tyler Kolek and Kam Jones, who are the catalysts for this Golden Eagles backcourt that has made major strides throughout the season. Their only downside is their inability to defend the paint.

In the top-half of the bracket, the ACC conference champion Duke Blue Devils occupy the #5 seed. The Cameron Crazies are playing their best basketball of the season and are a trendy team to pick as a Final Four team.

Under first-year head coach Jon Scheyer, they have a very tough matchup against a 30-win #12 seed Oral Roberts team that cruised through the Summit League once again and is led by senior guard Max Abmas. He led the Golden Eagles to a Sweet 16 appearance as a #15 seed in 2021 after defeating #2 seed Ohio State in the first round in overtime.

Purdue is the top seed in the region led by junior center Zach Edey, who stands at a modest 7-foot-4. Edey is the frontrunner for the Naismith Player of the Year award averaging 22.3 points and 12.8 rebounds per game. However, their guard play isn’t anything as good as their Sweet 16 team from last year that got bounced by #15 seed Saint Peter’s. Everyone knows guards win championships, so I hesitate a little to pick them in the Final Four.

Tennessee gets the #4 seed, but they are without their best defender and second-best scorer Zakai Zeigler, who tore his ACL against Arkansas two weeks ago, so my guess is they lose against the winner of Duke-ORU. That’s if they can beat #13 seed Louisiana in the first round.

East Region Champion: Marquette

I think that Duke will squeak by ORU and pummel on Tennessee on the second round. I have Purdue just barely getting by #8 seed Memphis in the second round and the Boilermakers upending the Blue Devils to advance to the Elite 8 in the top-half of the region.

In the bottom half, I have Kentucky and K-State squaring off with the Wildcats from Manhattan going to the Sweet 16. I think Marquette will be the team that ends K-State’s run in Madison Square Garden. It would be a heartbreaking scenario considering Markquis Nowell, Ish Massoud, Tykei Greene and Nae’Qwan Tomlin all come from NYC.

Purdue and Marquette is going to be a fun one in MSG. Sparks will fly and it will come down to the wire. Ultimately, I have the Golden Eagles going to Houston to represent the East Region in the Final Four.



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Hiawatha, KS 66434
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