- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

MANHATTAN, KAN. (AP) - Their nonconference schedule was weak. They had a mediocre RPI rating and not enough marquee wins.

For all the reasons Kansas State was bypassed by the NCAA’s selection committee, none stands out more than the simplest: The Wildcats didn’t win enough. Not during a tough three-game stretch in nonconference, not at the start of the Big 12 season, not at last week’s conference tournament.

Win a few more of those games and Kansas State would be headed to somewhere like Boise or Minneapolis for the NCAA tournament instead of hosting Illinois State in the first round of the NIT on Wednesday.

“End of the day, we didn’t win enough,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said Sunday.

The Wildcats did win 21 games, finished tied for fourth in the Big 12 at 9-7. They hoped it would be enough to get into the NCAAs for the second straight year.

Instead, Kansas State is headed to the NIT for the second time in three seasons.

No doubt, the schedule was a factor.

Kansas State’s schedule, despite playing in the tough Big 12, was rated 113th in the country. It would have, as Martin has mentioned repeatedly over the past couple of weeks, been rated higher had teams like Oakland, Wagner and Gardner-Webb _ teams picked to win their conferences _ played as well as everyone thought. They didn’t and the Wildcats took a hit for it.

Kansas State’s RPI rating wasn’t much help, either.

The complicated formula that combines Division I winning percentage, schedule strength and opponent’s schedule strength was a middling 75, which meant the Wildcats were fighting uphill to convince the selection committee they were good enough to get in.

Even with the scheduling and RPI issues, Kansas State had its chances.

Midway through the nonconference season, the Wildcats lost to Kentucky, Iowa and Oregon in consecutive games _ games that could have boosted their profile. Four straight losses to open the Big 12 season, which included blowouts to non-NCAA tournament teams Nebraska and Baylor, was tough to take, too.

The biggest hit was losing to Texas in the Big 12 tournament.

Knowing they had to win at least one more big game, probably two, the Wildcats went one-and-done in the conference tournament, essentially letting the air out of their NCAA chances.

So instead of making consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years, Kansas State is in the NIT while Big 12 teams with similar records _ Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M; _ are in the 65-team field for the NCAAs.

“It’s tough to see those teams you beat get in and you get left out, but we knew a couple of weeks ago that we needed a couple more quality wins,” senior forward Darren Kent said. “We had games in our hand that we let slip and knew those games probably would have gotten a bid in. It was tough, but we ultimately know that we didn’t get enough done.”

There is something good to take away from getting into the NIT, though: Kansas State has reached the postseason in three straight seasons for the first time in 15 years.

A small consolation, but it’s something to build on, a way to give the current players more experience and keep the program at least near the spotlight to potential recruits around the country.

And, as Martin pointed out, there are 348 teams in Division I basketball and Kansas State is one of 97 that gets to keep playing. That’s not too bad, really.

“As a program, it’s an opportunity to continue to compete, continue to practice and better prepare our basketball team for the future,” Martin said. “It’s always about the future. You want to win today, but you’re always preparing for tomorrow. Anytime you can be in the postseason three years in a row, I think you’re doing more things right than you’re doing wrong.”

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