KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Here’s the thing about Kansas State: If you’re analyzing the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament chances, you must pretend the Kansas outcomes don’t count.
Seriously, Kansas State could be a dangerous team starting next week when they’re likely to be given a No. 4 seed and likely to be plopped right back here at Sprint Center in the first round of the tourney.
Of course, anyone fixated on K-State’s rivalry with Kansas won’t believe any of the dangerous stuff. KU swept the Wildcats again this year, winning all three meetings, including a 70-54 triumph Saturday night in the Big 12 Tournament title game.
“I’d like to say it’s a rivalry with Kansas,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “But it’s not a rivalry until we make it one. And we can’t make it one until we beat them somewhere.”
That’s been virtually an impossible order, even long before Weber showed up in Manhattan, Kan., prior to this season.
Kansas now has won 47 of the last 50 meetings with the Wildcats, an unheard of dominance in this era of creeping parity.
It’s not like K-State has been the dregs of the Big 12, either. Two years ago, the Wildcats won 29 games and made it to the Elite Eight. Last year they won 23 games.
But it never seems to matter against Kansas, or against Jayhawks coach Bill Self, now 22-3 against the Wildcats during his tenure.
And yes, while K-State technically did finish as co-champions with KU for the Big 12 regular-season title, there’s little doubt who the big brother is in the league.
“Hats off to them,” Weber said of Kansas. “Bill does a great job. And when you prepare your team and when you go into a league, you think about the best team in the league. And they’re the best team. Our goal as coaches, our job, is to get to the point where we can beat them. We’re not there yet.”
That was evident against Saturday night in the title game as the Jayhawks struggled slightly in the first half amid K-State’s notorious stingy defense, but then opened up in the second half and rolled.
“To beat Kansas, you really have to bring your ‘A’ game,” Weber said. “We didn’t tonight.”
Or maybe Kansas simply knows how to push Kansas State out of its ‘A’ game.
Regardless, unless there is some bizarre quirk in the NCAA seedings and the regional pods, K-State won’t have to see Kansas again until Atlanta, site of the Final Four, if either is so fortunate.
But the guess is that K-State, 27-7, will threaten such a lengthy stay in the tournament because of their toughness, togetherness and defensive mindset.
“We know who we are,” Weber said. “We’re capable, I think we’ve shown we’re capable, of beating anybody.”
K-State guard Angel Rodriguez is ready for a deep run in the tourney.
“We’ve come a long way this year,” Rodriguez said. “Last year was cool, but this year we really came together. We’re not so much a team as we are a brotherhood. Hopefully we make a run because the seniors on this team deserve it.”
Weber isn’t ready to call it a year yet, either.
“We’ve had a great year,” Weber said. “We won a piece of the Big 12 Championship. We’ve done a lot of good things, but there’s still more good things to come. I told the kids to keep their heads up because we got basketball left.
“But I told them, ‘The next time you’re sad, it’s all over. And I don’t want that time to come for a while.'”