Now comes the hard part

14 Mar

I can’t remember whether I first heard this saying from a player, coach, friend of a friend or character in a movie. Regardless, I feel like it’s true, especially the older I get, and especially for college basketball teams at this time of year.

“The only easy day was yesterday.”

The K-State men’s basketball team received a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament yesterday. Unlike college football’s bowl system, where teams can wait up to a month for their one-game postseason, March Madness calls for an immediate turnaround. Teams playing in the first round have only Sunday night and Monday to prepare for their first matchup. That’s part of what makes it all so much fun.

K-State has until Thursday evening to get ready for the No. 12 seed Utah State Aggies. I don’t know about you, but as one who has filled out a bracket for many years, I always liked the 5 vs. 12 matchups as upset picks. Then again, upsets are not so upsetting these days. As K-State head coach Frank Martin said, these games are difficult because every single team is aware that its basketball season is over if it doesn’t win. That makes people focus in more, and that extra desire gets applied to each possession, Martin explained. Simply put, there are no easy games.

Wildcat senior guard Jacob Pullen said that while there are good seeds and bad seeds, the outcome of a game really boils down to the matchup. His example was this: if a No. 1 seed gets paired with a No. 16 seed who has an incredible forward, and the No. 1 seed doesn’t have depth in the frontcourt, that is a difficult arrangement for the No. 1 seed.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean the No. 16 seed will win, but that kind of scenario could make it difficult for the favored team. Now apply that kind of logic to your 8 v. 9 matchup, your 5 v. 12 matchup, and all those other games where the teams have a more even talent level thanks to recruiting power, and things can get very interesting (read: entertaining) very quickly.

K-State’s recent encounters with Colorado are a perfect example of the power of matchups. As Martin and various Colorado players mentioned after the game, the Wildcats like to deny entry passes to the post on defense, but the Buffaloes have several players who can make plays off the dribble and get the ball to the rim that way. This year, Colorado had K-State’s number, and how the teams matched up was the reason why.

Looking at this first game, against Utah State, the first aspect I want to look at is strength of schedule. The Aggies have lost only 3 games this season, but they have only played two ranked teams: then-No. 14 Georgetown, at the beginning of the year, to whom they lost 68-51, and then-No. 23 Saint Mary’s,about a month ago, whom they beat 75-65.

The Wildcats, on the other hand, have played 10 games against ranked teams. You heard that correctly: a third of K-State’s opponents were ranked in the top 25. The Wildcats are 5-5 against ranked teams, but their losses came against Duke (a No. 1 seed in the NCAA  tournament), Florida (a No. 2 seed), Missouri (a No. 11 seed), Texas A&M (a No. 7 seed) and Kansas (a No. 1 seed) – and all of those were played away from Bramlage Coliseum.

Without going into a detailed scouting report (we’ll save that for another day, another blog), I would venture that – if nothing else – the Wildcats certainly have better preparation than Utah State heading into this postseason. It wouldn’t be a huge leap to assume that, despite 1o losses, that strength of schedule is why K-State got such a high seed in the first place.

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