Kansas State nearing a national championship
The Kansas State Wildcats advanced one step closer to their first-ever national championship with a win in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Sweet 16 over the Michigan State Spartans.
20 points, an NCAA Tournament-record 19 assists, and five steals
K-State’s win in the famed third round of March Madness was nothing short of Hollywood material. 5-foot-8 Markquis Nowell, returning to his home state of New York to play in Madison Square Garden, dropped 20 points, an NCAA Tournament-record 19 assists, and five steals to drag his team to a 98-93 overtime victory. That’s all despite turning his ankle and barely being able to put weight on that leg early in the second half.
The Wildcats are still dancing and will play the red-hot Florida Atlantic Owls in the Elite Eight. They need just three more wins to capture the elusive national title and change their school’s history forever.
Kansas State is one of two Power Five conference teams, which includes the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, and the Pac-12, that do not have a national championship in any certified team sport. The other is Virginia Tech, although the list will be expanded to three once the University of Central Florida joins the Big 12 on July 1.
Despite the struggles from a team perspective, the Wildcats have had many outstanding individual performances. In the 2007-08 season, Kansas State was the only school to have a consensus All-American in both football (Jordy Nelson) and basketball (Michael Beasley). It has also produced numerous individual national champions, and in 2012, had the most profitable athletics department in the country.
Despite those achievements, the Wildcats are often defined by their shortcomings on the big stage.
it has not made the Final Four since 1964
The basketball team has not been to a national championship game since 1951, when it finished runner-up 68-58 to Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky Wildcats. It made the Elite Eight in 2018 as the No. 9 seed, but fell to No. 11 Loyola-Chicago, meaning that it has not made the Final Four since 1964.
Precedent aside, there is reason to believe in this iteration of the Wildcats. They have a great blend of abilities, which allows them to match up well against nearly any team they face, and they are sky-high in momentum.
On top of that, they rank well in important indicators of tournament success, most notably three-point defense, in which they are 15th and allow just 29.7% of long-range shots to go in.
Hitting the ground running
The Wildcats are also a model of excellence from a personnel perspective. First-year head coach Jerome Tang was enlisted after he helped guide Baylor to a national championship as an associate head coach in 2021, and he guided the program to its best regular season record and March Madness seeding since the 2009-10 season.
Nowell, the star of the tournament thus far, was also brought in as a transfer last year after he spent three years with the Little Rock Trojans. He had the best year of his five-year career this year, averaging 17.2 points and 8.1 assists (second in Division-I).
Keyontae Johnson, the team’s leading scorer at 17.7 points per night, is also a fifth-year transfer in his first year with the Wildcats. Johnson was an impact player at the University of Florida, but fell onto hard times when he collapsed during a 2020 game as a result of an undiagnosed heart condition. He played just five games during his third and fourth seasons before transferring to his current program.
Nine of the Wildcats’ 11 players that received minutes this season are either transfers or freshmen. Their ability to form such a coherent unit on the court despite being a hodgepodge assembly speaks to their level of focus and organization.
Kansas State national championship odds
According to FanDuel sportsbook, Kansas State is a 1.5-point favorite over FAU in the Elite Eight. They are also +1100 to win the national title, which is seventh overall and third amongst the four teams that won Thursday (FAU is fourth). Nowell is +1500 to win Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
their upcoming opponent is now a ridiculous 34-3 on the year
Although the Wildcats are expected to beat the Owls, that does not mean that they will have an easy time doing so. Their upcoming opponent is now a ridiculous 34-3 on the year and showed championship-level determination in the Sweet 16 as they rebounded from a five-point halftime deficit against No. 4 Tennessee to win 62-55.
FAU’s path through the tournament so far includes a 66-65 win over No. 8 Memphis, a 78-70 win over No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson (which beat No. 1 Purdue in the Round of 64), and the recent win over Tennessee.
Despite the Owls reaching the Elite Eight, they have not looked totally in control of any game they have played. That is much different from K-State, which has come up with a clutch play seemingly every time it has needed one and has this unwavering spirit about it.
The two teams will decide which one will win the East Region and advance to the Final Four when they meet back inside Madison Square Garden Saturday at 6:09pm ET.