No. 12 Kansas State and No. 22 TCU square off in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Conference tournament in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday night, a contest loaded with NCAA Tournament ramifications.
Both teams are solidly in the March Madness field, and both have the chance for a better seed than they received for the conference tournament.
Kansas State (23-8, 11-7 Big 12) comes in as the No. 3 seed in this tournament, and some projections have the Wildcats as high as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tourney.
“Who would’ve thought we’d be talking about this?” Kansas State coach Jerome Tang said after his team closed out the home portion of the schedule with a 16-1 home record. “We thought we had a tournament team. I didn’t think we’d be fighting right there on the verge of a 2-seed. But these guys have proven everybody wrong. The people who believe in this, that’s who we’re doing this for.”
Tang was selected the Big 12 Coach of the Year after assembling his staff and all but two players on his roster from scratch prior to this season. The Wildcats were picked last in the preseason conference poll, but they never held that position at any point in the season.
Tang was helped by two first-team all-conference selections, Markquis Nowell, who was one of the two players who came back from last season’s squad, and Keyontae Johnson. Johnson (17.8 points per game) and Nowell (17.0 ppg) were second and third, respectively, in scoring in the Big 12 overall. In conference games alone, Nowell was the league’s top scorer at 19.5 ppg.
“I was just so thankful and grateful that I decided to finish my career here at K-State,” said Nowell, who transferred to Kansas State from Little Rock prior to last season. “I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been on the losing side and now I’m on the winning side. So I’m just thankful (to) Coach Tang and everybody for believing in me from day one.”
The Horned Frogs (20-11, 9-9) are the sixth seed in the Big 12 tournament and are projected as high as a No. 5 seed for the NCAA Tournament.
TCU, which came in fourth in the preseason conference poll, was 16-4 overall and 5-3 in the league when preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Mike Miles Jr. injured his knee early in an 81-74 loss to Mississippi State in an SEC/Big 12 Challenge game on Jan. 28. The Horned Frogs won their next game against West Virginia before losing four straight conference contests without Miles.
In his first game back, he scored 15 points as the Horned Frogs pounded Oklahoma State 100-75 on Feb. 18.
“It was good to have some guys back,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon said after that game. “We’re a different team with everybody back — Eddie (Lampkin, who had been hobbled with a high ankle sprain) and Mike. When you take guys out (of the lineup) it changes everything, and when you put guys back in it changes everything again.”
On the eve of the Big 12 tournament, Dixon said of league’s impressive membership, according to the Dallas Morning News, “A lot of good teams. It’s a gauntlet. The tournament is more of the same.”
Kansas State and TCU split their two regular-season meetings, with each team winning on its home court.
–Field Level Media