Curtis Kitchen has followed the Big 12, Kansas State and national college basketball beat including K-State's run to the NCAA Tournament Elite 8 in 2010. You can currently follow his work at his blog: KitchenKC.com In the past, he also covered the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting KC) for Major League Soccer's mlsnet.com site as well as the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals for the other sports station in town. His freelance portfolio ranges media outlets and publications, including gopowercat.com (part of the Rivals network), collegehoopsnet.com and the Miami Herald.
Curtis Kitchen: Mizzou and K-State in Similar Settings
by Curtis Kitchen,posted Mar 13 2012 4:01PM
So, what we have here is a really good basketball team, one of the best in the nation, that nobody seems to want to take seriously. The guards are underrated. The team doesn’t blow anybody away with an NBA-caliber front line. The coach is a relative unknown; at least, he is in terms of on-the-floor-accomplishments.
And yet, all the team managed to do was win a ridiculous amount of games, work its way to the No. 2 line of the NCAA Tournament bracket and find out that, while a few pundits here and there are giving them some run as a back-end tourney pick, the majority has written off the team and its season as nice but not to expect much more.
Your 2011-12 Missouri Tigers, or it the 2010 Kansas State Wildcats? Yeah, this story seems really familiar.
About three seasons ago (if you count this current one), KSU found itself in a similar situation. Denis Clemente got credit for being fast and feisty. Jacob Pullen wasn’t an extreme go-to scorer yet. Rodney McGruder had shown a knack for grabbing offensive rebounds against taller players and Luis Colon patrolled the lane most of the time for the Wildcats, while Jamar Samuels, Wally Judge and Jordan Henriquez took turns trying to mature.
It wasn’t an overly flashy roster, but it had a dangerous back court – one that propelled K-State to a second-place finish in the Big 12 that season behind Kansas. KSU didn’t win the Big 12 Tournament Championship like Missouri did this season, but it advanced to the semifinal round.
When the NCAA Tournament seedings were announced, there was great excitement locally for the 26-7 Wildcats, who earned the No. 2 seed in the West Region. But, beyond the ripples that extended just into Kansas City, the real talk was reserved for No. 1 seed Kansas, which, at 32-2, was considered the top overall seed.
KSU and KU both traveled to Oklahoma City for their first-weekend games; both expected to advance to the Sweet 16. While Kansas State moved past North Texas and then Jimmer Fredette’s BYU Cougars (in a fantastic matchup between Fredette and Jacob Pullen; who put up a then career-high 34 points), KU defeated Lehigh before little-known guard Ali Farokhmanesh buried a fast-break three, when he shouldn’t have, to lead Northern Iowa past the Jayhawks.
With KU out, the tourney’s attention then shifted to the other No. 1 seeds – Duke, Syracuse and Kentucky. Kansas State stayed under the radar, amazingly, as it played one of the greatest NCAA Tournament games ever in the Sweet 16 – outlasting Xavier in double-overtime. (Under the radar, you ask? How many people immediately recall that game as one of the bests ever, even now, just a few years later? Yes, underrated. I sat in an arena and listened to people collectively gasp for two hours at the level of play before them. Considering the circumstance, it is the greatest game I have ever witnessed.)
KSU advanced to the Elite 8 for the first time since 1988, and ran into the Butler Bulldogs, who not only barely lost to Duke in the 2010 Championship game, but backed up their program’s historic accomplishment by making another Final Four run in 2011.
I bring up all of this history because I feel Missouri has a similar path laid out before it now.
The Tigers were the last two seed, according to Jeff Hathaway, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee chair. All eyes, for the most part, are turned elsewhere. Ironically, Missouri sits in the exact same spot – a No. 2 seed in the West Region – that Kansas State did during its run. The Tigers have an amazing backcourt. They have a chip on their shoulder from playing all season while hearing they couldn’t win with such a small lineup, no depth and Frank Haith as the head coach.
All they have to do is take care of business just a little bit better than Kansas State did. KSU ran into a survival game in the Sweet 16; one that effectively wiped them out, or at least brought them back to a level where Butler could compete more effectively. (Never mind that Gordon Heyward went crazy from distance in the contest – something he had not done basically the entire season.)
A second-round matchup with Florida is likely, and tricky. Past that is, perhaps, a gritty Marquette squad I feel may not be quite to the level many believe. I say perhaps, almost laughing, because the No. 6 Murray State Racers sit on that side and make me think very much about where Butler began its run as a No. 5 seed in 2010.
Point is, this is doable for the Tigers, just like it was for the Wildcats. The similarities are striking, to me at least, and I look forward very much to seeing how this team, which is experienced overall but feeling the pressures of such a high-seed for the first time since being a No. 1 in 1994 (don’t think about Tyus Edney, don’t think about Tyus Edney…), opens its NCAA Tournament.