Kansas State Wildcats: Currently projected as an 11-seed
Looking at the projected bracket released by Joe Lunardi on February 20th, there are some interesting potential upsets and teams that might be poised to make a run, despite having a lower seed. The first of which looks to be out West. Of course, it would be easy to pick a 9-seed beating an eight or ten upsetting a seven (personally, I like Miami as a current 9-seed beating Dayton or maybe even California as a current 10-seed beating Xavier.) Looking beyond these “easier” potential upsets, I really like this projected matchup for Kansas State at the 11-seed and their overall hopes at making run in March. In fact in the past six years there have been three teams who reached the Sweet Sixteen from the 11 spot in the bracket (VCU in 2011, La Salle in 2013, and Tennessee in 2014). VCU was actually able to reach the Final Four, turning them into a top 25 mainstay.
From the initial ‘eye test,’ Kansas State’s record might turn many away from choosing this upset, yet after giving them a deeper look, it is definitely worth consideration. First, Kansas State’s 17-10 record thus far doesn’t come off as a ‘sexy’ pick, but one must take into account that they play in arguably the toughest conference in all of college basketball. The Wildcats only lost one game prior to conference play — to a once unranked-but-good Maryland Terrapin team — when Melo Trimble of the Terps hit a layup to win with 6.6 seconds remaining. The main issue hurting the Wildcat’s overall seeding is most likely their non-conference schedule, playing teams like Western Illinois, Hampton, Prairie View A&M, etc, who do not rank near the top 100. Despite playing this “confidence booster” pre-conference schedule, KSU did not hold back winning by double digits in all 11 of their wins. In the case of eight of their ten losses, they have lost by a total 4.38 points, all of which were at the hands of teams currently in the projected NCAA Tournament bracket.
Focusing on Kansas State’s body of work, some quality wins include #7 ranked West Virginia, an impressive road win at former #3 Baylor, and taking the series against an albeit young, but potentially dangerous, Texas. Looking forward, they are projected to win three of the last four remaining games according to kenpom.com, and are listed as an underdog only when they head to Fort Worth to take on TCU. Kansas State is 38th and 35th in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively. On defense, they force a turnover on just under ¼ of all defensive possessions and earn a steal 12.2% of the time. On the offensive end, KSU comes at opponents with a balanced attack, equally lethal inside or out. Four of the five starters are averaging double figure points with the fifth starter, Dean Wade, just under the mark at 9.6 points per game. Not to mention they are led by tenacious 6’-7” senior forward Wesley Iwundu who leads the team in points and rebounding. Do not be surprised if you see the Wildcats make a run into the second round or possibly beyond the Sweet Sixteen.
TCU Horned Frogs: Currently projected as a 12-seed
Staying with the Big 12 theme, I believe Texas Christian University (TCU) has the potential to ruin some brackets and squeeze out a few wins in tournament play. Do not let the fact that the Horned Frogs are in the ‘First Four’ game fool you, as at least one ‘First Four’ team has gone on to win its first round matchup every year since the NCAA introduced the First Four in 2011. Those teams include the the three mentioned in the above piece as well as South Florida (2012), Dayton (2015), and Wichita State (2016). The Big 12 continues to impress with its depth; there is not one team in the conference outside the top 40. TCU had one non-conference loss prior to league play at Southern Methodist University (SMU) the current AAC leader. Just like their Big 12 counterpart Kansas State, TCU boasts a 17-10 overall record with a 6-8 conference record. They do suffer from bad losses, getting blown out by SMU and Baylor. In addition, TCU is currently on a three game losing streak, yet, in their defense, two of the three were road games (Baylor and Iowa State). The third was a loss to a resurgent Oklahoma State team, led by elite scorer Jawun Evans.
For this February 20th edition’s first round matchup, TCU would be pitted against a defensively stingy Cincinnati Bearcats (dare I say they ‘Bear Down’ on defense,) but at times Cincy does struggle to score. Scoring is something that TCU does not need to worry about, having an adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 112.8 points per 100 possessions, slotting them as a top 50 team in that category. They also have an effective Field Goal Percentage of 52.6% and, on missed shots, are present on the offensive glass, snatching a rebound ⅓ of offensive possessions. As a team, they have a balanced scoring attack led by efficient big man Vladimir Brodziansky scoring 13.8 points per game while averaging just under 24 minutes. Another positive is the continued improvement of former top 40 recruit Jaylen Fisher, who seems to be getting more comfortable in his role as the team’s primary ball handler. If the Horn Frogs can get themselves together and gain some momentum going into the madness, they might have the ability to win a couple in March.