Cats on the Outside Looking In

Heading into the final two-plus weeks of the college basketball season, Kansas State appears to be out of the NCAA Tournament … for now. Even though holding a share for fourth-place in the Big 12, and a winner of 18 games with five regular season games yet to play, a poor RPI and strength of schedule is hurting the Wildcats.

ESPN's Joe Lunardi went from having Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 12 seed last week, to one of the "First Four Out" this week along with Michigan, Cincinnati and Georgetown.

Lunardi has only four Big 12 teams in the Field of 64 with Oklahoma as a No. 1 seed, Kansas and Missouri as No. 3 seeds, and Texas at No. 8.

The "Last Four In" this week includes Arizona, San Diego State, Miami and Providence. Entering the week, Kansas State ranked only No. 76 in the RPI rating with a strength of schedule at No. 86.

That ranked K-State ninth in the Big 12 behind No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 12 Kansas, No. 14 Missouri, No. 38 Oklahoma State, No. 40 Texas, No. 52 Texas A&M, No. 54 Baylor and No. 64 Nebraska. Behind the Wildcats were No. 113 Texas Tech, No. 141 Iowa State and No. 222 Colorado.

K-State is 1-3 against teams ranked in the Top 25 and 2-5 against teams in the Top 50. Hurting K-State is the No. 86 ranking in terms of strength of schedule.

The Wildcats have bad losses to No. 107 Iowa, which is in 10th place in the Big Ten, and No. 160 Oregon, which is a team 0-13 in the Pac-10. Among K-State's 16 Division I wins have been games against No. 113 Texas Tech, No. 114 Southern Mississippi, No. 141 Iowa State, No. 143 Oakland, No. 195 Gardner-Webb, No. 205 Idaho State, No. 239 Chicago State, No. 291 Centenary, No. 302 Wagner, No. 313 Florida A&M, No. 335 Southeast Missouri State and No. 340 North Carolina Central.

Lunardi's current bracket has eight teams from the ACC and Big East, six from the Big Ten, five from the Pac-10 and SEC, and four from the Big 12 and Mountain West.

To coach Frank Martin, it's five one-game seasons coming up starting with Iowa State Saturday in Ames.

"It's important to prepare to beat Iowa State. It's the next game on the schedule," said the KSU coach. "If you're concerned about what's going to take place in March, you're going to forget what takes place this following Saturday."

Asked if it's tough for 20-year-olds to take it one game at a time with March Madness approaching, Martin said, "I'm stubborn. I'll beat them up side the head until they understand the message. I'm sure they read and look on the internet ... they're humans, but it's my job to get them to focus on what's important."

Martin has a little more beating to do as following Tuesday's game, Dominique Sutton was talking two games ahead: "We feel like we have to beat Iowa State and Missouri to make that tournament. We know that if this was our last game today, we'd be out of the tournament. We just need to go out and play hard and leave everything on the floor."

That's against Iowa State Saturday, followed by games at Missouri, a home date with Nebraska, a road game at Oklahoma State, and a home game with Colorado.

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