Kansas State’s Wildcats need a signature win tonight.
The Wildcats are home to Iowa State, which also could do itself a big favor by coming up with a key road victory. The Cyclones have pretty much been NCAA tourney regulars in recent years and have a respected pedigree.
Both teams are straddling the line when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Kansas State comes in 16-9, but just 5-7 in the Big 12. Among its wins were a road victory at Baylor and home win over West Virginia, not to mention it has played arch-rival Kansas down to the wire twice.
Iowa State is a healthier 7-5 in the Big 12 but just 15-9 overall. Ending Kansas’ 50-game Allen Field House winning streak certainly was a resume-builder, but with nine losses there’s little margin for error for the Cyclones.
Kansas State probably needs this victory more. The Wildcats did themselves no favors with their charmin-like non-conference schedule, a collection of fluff that led to an 11-1 record and should have been 12-0 if not for giving away a victory to Maryland when they had the game in hand.
The Wildcats’ frontcourt matches up with anybody. Dean Wade, the St. John product who learned his craft under Tigers coach Clint Kinnamon, is among the most versatile players in the Big 12. I really believe the Wildcats have missed the boat by not catering to his considerable talents, though he seems comfortable being a role player.
Wesley Iwundu has been a solid four-year player. I think, too, he sometimes yields to others instead of taking over games.
D.J. Johnson has been a revelation. Normally known just for his physique, he’s as talented of inside player as there is in the Big 12.
KSU’s guard play has been sporadic. At times Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown can get on fire, but they also have too many clunkers, like their combined 8-of-30 against KU on their homecourt. Remember, though, both are sophomores and have time to bloom.
The K-State bench doesn’t contribute much and the Wildcats are much like the Jayhawks in that the starting five has to carry the load. Xavier Sneed is an exciting prospect who I would like to see earn more minutes as KSU could go with a one-guard lineup. Sneed gives the ‘Cats a shot of adrenaline every time he steps on the court.
I’m not saying Kansas State will miss the tournament if it doesn’t win tonight, but I believe a victory could cement its spot and it wouldn’t come down to having to win a game in the Big 12 Tournament. I’m not sure if coach Bruce Weber’s future depends on making the field of 68, but he’s probably done enough to earn another year.