Wildcats enter fourth NCAA event in five years
No longer do the Wildcats rent dancin' shoes for an occasional appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Kansas State has become a somewhat permanent fixture in college basketball's elite event having been a player in four of the past five years.
"It is awesome," said KSU coach Frank Martin on making the NCAA Tournament. "You ask kids to sacrifice and believe in what you are trying to do and be mature enough to handle the difficulties of the season and to not let outside voices hold them down. The only way to be good enough to play this time of the year is if your guys do these things and our guys have obviously done that well enough."
Sunday, Kansas State's name was announced as the No. 8 seed of the East Regional with a first-round game against 25-8 Southern Mississippi in the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. The game will be played Thursday, but a time has not been announced.
Of his club making the elite field, Martin repeated the phrase of former NFL coach Bill Parcells: "You are what your record says you are, and our record says we're a pretty good team."
Martin added, "I told the guys to enjoy the moment. It's a ride that if done the right way, you will have memories for years, and years, and years."
And as the old expression goes, Martin said, "You can't win it unless you're in it. You have to be a special group to get invited." On earning the No. 8 seed and being slotted in Pittsburgh, New Yorker Jordan Henriquez said, "The seeding does not mean anything to me. We will just get out there and play our game. Playing in Pittsburg, with some of us being East coast guys, will give us a chance to have a lot of our families at our games."
While making last year's tournament as a No. 5 seed, Martin said of this year's team, "Our RPI may not be as good, but we have better wins than last year's team."
Making its first NCAA appearance in 21 years, Southern Mississippi placed second in Conference-USA this year with a record of 11-5, which trailed only 11-5 Memphis. Former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy was the league's Coach of the Year. The Golden Eagles lost to fifth-place Marshall in the semi-finals of the Conference-USA postseason event last week.
"When Larry Eustachy coached at BCS schools, his teams were known as the hardest playing teams in the country and that has not changed. Southern Miss may not be on TV as much as other schools, but we are getting ready to face a tough team. I suspect that they are going to be a hard-played, hard-rebounding, defensive-minded team."
K-State and Southern Mississippi have played six times with each side winning three of the games. The latest of those meetings was on Dec. 11, 2008, in Kansas City's Sprint Center where the Wildcats scored a 74-55 victory. K-State will practice today and Tuesday on campus before flying to Pittsburgh Tuesday afternoon.
Should K-State score a pair of wins, the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight Rounds of the East Regional would be played in Boston, Mass., with the Final Four is slated for New Orleans on March 31 and April 2.