Does K-State Belong In The NCAA Tournament?

Does K-State Belong In The NCAA Tournament?

As I watched K-State lose to Iowa State (76-57) in the Big 12 tournament, still needing a win or two to make the NCAA tournament, it reminded me of the first game the Wildcats played this season against USC. Why, exactly? First, K-State scored 69 points and lost by 13 points to USC on November 6th in a game in which they had 17 turnovers. They shot 31% from the field and 24% from three-point range. Tylor Perry scored 22 points, Cam Carter added 15, and David N’Guessan had 10. Thursday night against Iowa State? The Wildcats shot 38% from the field, 33% from three-point range, and had 20 turnovers. Tylor Perry had 18 points, Cam Carter had 9, Arthur Kaluma had 13, and Will McNair had 12. The two games were similar in a lot of ways.

The point? K-State was mildly competitive in both games but lost both by wide margins because they turned the ball over at a high rate. The turnover problem that K-State had in their first game of the season was unsolved throughout the course of the season, and that problem manifested itself once again in their loss in the Big 12 tournament. They will likely miss out on the NCAA tournament as a result.

I looked at the current NCAA basketball team statistics today. I searched turnovers per game. There are eight pages of results. Rather than scrolling from the beginning of the results to find K-State, I started on page eight and worked my way backward. Well, I did not have to search long. On page seven, ranked 338th in the country, I found K-State, averaging 14.8 turnovers per game. Right ahead of Delaware State and right behind IUPUI. How did those two teams fare this season? IUPUI was 6-26 overall and 2-28 in their conference. Delaware State was 14-17 overall and 6-8 in their conference. Without going through the records of every team on page seven, a quick browse of the schools shows none of them are NCAA tournament teams, as one would expect. No team that turns the ball over at that rate will suceed very often.

With a turnover rate that high, it is a small miracle that K-State was even on the bubble for the NCAA tournament. How did they manage to win eight regular-season conference games? I looked at KenPom and found that the Wildcats are 22nd in the country in defensive efficiency. That is pretty darn good. K-State played sound and tough defense all season. Their defense was so good that they were able to beat some pretty good teams throughout the course of the season.

Despite the loss to Iowa State, Jerome Tang is still making a case that K-State deserves an NCAA bid. Here is what he laid out in the post-game press conference after Thursday night’s game:

We have five Quad 1 wins, all five against the top-30 in the net. 

We have six wins against the top 40 in the net.

The opponents that we played against in the non-conference and the conference combined have the 9th-best defense in the country and the 35th-best offense in the country. So we didn’t play a Powder Puff schedule.

We have the number one strength of schedule of all of the bubble teams right now. 

We’re 1-0 against the SEC, and that was a true road game at LSU. 

We’re 2-0 against the Big East and we played Providence on a neutral court with Bryce Hopkins and beat ’em. 

We played six power conference teams in the non-conference and an American team. So we didn’t duck anybody. 

We won seven overtime games and, for some reason, that’s being held against us in the net with the metrics, right? Because I was told a long time ago, just win the game. Right? Because we didn’t win by 30 or 40 against Quad 4 teams, right, that’s being held against us in the numbers and what the net shows. What’s not taken into account is that we were missing two guys who could have started for us. We were trying to figure out who we were in November when those things happened.

Only three of our losses are to non-NCAA Tournament teams. That’s another reason why — we have nine wins in the number-one league in the country. I said all along nine wins in this league should get you in. So last night when we won, I felt really good about that. 

We have the most Quad 1 wins and the best Quad 1 winning percentage of any bubble team except for Texas A&M. They have four Quad 4 losses. We have no Quad 4 losses, we have one Quad 3 loss, and that was to Miami. And when we played Miami on a neutral site they were ranked 15th in the country.

They weren’t the team that Miami is right now. And when we played USC on the neutral site, they were also top 20 in the country. We played the USC team that just beat Arizona the other day. That’s the USC team that we played, not the one that had injury problems and lost a bunch of games during the year.

Three teams were ranked in the top 10 in the country when we beat them. 

We beat Kansas full strength. We beat them with Kevin McCullar and Hunter Dickinson. 

We beat Baylor and we beat Iowa State. So we have elite Quad 1 wins. We have no bad losses. So I felt last night when we won that game and they gave us our ninth Big 12 win, that we were in the Tournament.”

That is a lot to digest, huh? Tang spouted all of this off to the media after the game. It is almost as if Tang was expecting a loss and had all the material prepared. While his sales pitch was likely needed, it fell on deaf ears to me. Especially after how they played against Iowa State. Iowa State is good, but K-State completely fell apart in the second half and was non-competitive the last ten minutes of the game. Twenty turnovers seemed like 70. It looked that bad. The Wildcats sure didn’t look like they deserved to be in the NCAA tournament after a 19-point butt-whooping at the hands of the Cyclones.

Tang did make some good points, however. Some of what happened this season was beyond his control. Losing Nae’Quan Tomlin and Ques Glover definitely hurt. The team lacked a strong leader and NBA-caliber talent. That’s always tough to overcome.

However, some of what happened this season was within his control. The turnover problem was never fixed. It is hard to decide which player on the team is the biggest turnover machine. It’s hard to pinpoint because they all turn it over. I don’t know how the coaching staff allowed the problem to persist. It was maddening to watch all season. It was maddening from the first game against USC to the most recent game against Iowa State and every game in between. Should the coaching staff be held accountable for not fixing the turnover problem? One would think they should be able to. At least stress to the players how important each possession is and not to be so careless with the basketball. Maybe even bench the worst offenders. But none of that ever happened.

Another item to mention is that K-State never adjusted what they were doing offensively after losing Tomlin and then Glover. Honestly, the only change made over the course of the season was putting Dai Dai Ames into the starting lineup and having him handle the ball more to take pressure off of Tylor Perry. It helped, but K-State still couldn’t win enough games to put themselves solidly into the NCAA tournament picture. 

During his sales pitch on Thursday night after the game, Tang failed to mention that the Wildcats lost seven of eight games from January 24th to February 19th, including a loss to Oklahoma State, who finished tied for last place in the Big 12. That’s a bad loss. Heck, if they won that game, they may very well be in the tournament. But they didn’t win it. That losing streak alone was enough to get them off the radar of the NCAA tournament, making them fight to get back on the bubble.

Almost every tournament projection I have seen shows K-State as being out of the tournament at this point. Stranger things have happened, but I don’t see a path for the Wildcats to get selected. That is disappointing but not surprising. We will find out for sure on Sunday.

If Tang can find a strong court leader, plug some roster holes with talented players, and teach them to take care of the basketball, then next season might be different. Until then, we will likely have to watch these Wildcats in an NIT game or two and wonder what could have been.

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