No. 11 Kansas State enters the final week of the regular season with a top four spot in the Big 12 standings all but assured heading into Wednesday night’s game against Oklahoma in Manhattan, Kan.
Looking ahead, landing as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament is a strong possibility.
So what do the Wildcats (22-7, 10-6 Big 12) have to play for? Revenge, for one.
The Sooners (14-15, 4-12) are one of the six conference teams to hand Kansas State a loss this season. The 79-65 defeat on Feb. 14 at Oklahoma’s home court could have been the lowest point of an otherwise blissful season for the Wildcats.
Head coach Jerome Tang questioned his team’s effort after the game, saying, “We did not play hard enough to deserve to win tonight. So far, effort hadn’t been an issue with our guys. Execution maybe at times. But effort hadn’t been an issue and tonight effort was an issue.”
Tang sensed that his team was tired in the game against the Sooners, so he’s backed off in practice since then. The Wildcats have responded with three straight wins.
“I didn’t think that I did a very good job of resting our guys,” Tang said after Saturday’s victory at Oklahoma State. “We could see that we were tired. And so, we’ve approached what we do differently. The last few games and I felt like our guys have had their legs and better energy, which has given us the opportunity to be in a position to win some of these close games.”
Of course, having Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson return to early-season form has helped as well. The duo swept the Big 12 individual awards for last week’s games. Nowell earned Player of the Week for the third time and Johnson picked up his fifth Newcomer of the Week honor.
Nowell averaged 18.0 points and 9.0 assists in 38.5 minutes per game. Johnson averaged 21.0 points on 60 percent shooting, including 55.6 percent from 3-point range.
The Sooners still have a shot at postseason play with a strong finishing week. They won’t reach the NCAA Tournament without winning the Big 12 championship next week in Kansas City, but the NIT is in play.
They’d be helped by a repeat effort of the first game against Kansas State. Grant Sherfield scored 22 points and Oklahoma went on a 12-0 run early in the second half to pull away from a 36-36 tie at halftime.
“I thought Grant had his best floor game since he’s worn a Sooner uniform,” head coach Porter Moser said after that game. “The ball went where it needed to go. He had six assists and had a bunch of other (passes) that led to fouls. He was just so locked in. He had eight rebounds. Best overall communication game that he’s had.”
The Sooners are coming off a 61-50 road victory over then-No. 23 Iowa State on Saturday.
Jacob Groves scored 16 points and was 4 of 5 from 3-point range. That was a pleasing sight since Groves was 3 of 20 from behind the arc over the previous 10 games.
–Field Level Media