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Wildcats await opponent


Special to The Hays Daily News

MANHATTAN - Bruce Weber didn't ask much of the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

He hoped his Kansas State Wildcats could play close to home and also grab an extra day of rest.

The good news was the committee obliged by giving the Wildcats a No. 4 seed in the West Regional and placing them at Kansas City's Sprint Center for the opening rounds on Friday and Sunday. But it also threw them a curve by making them wait for an opponent.

That will be determined on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, with the Wildcats (27-7) drawing the winner of a first-round play-in game between Boise State (21-10) and La Salle (21-9).

"Now we've got to prepare for four teams, not three teams," said Weber, whose Wildcats would face either No. 5 seed Wisconsin or No. 12 Mississippi on Sunday if they survive the opener.

They do know that tip-off Friday at Sprint Center is set for 2:10 p.m.

Regardless whether it's against La Sallle, which is making its first NCAA appearance since 1992, or Boise State, 0-5 all time in the tournament, Weber is thrilled his Wildcats don't play Thursday.

"(Playing Friday) just gives us another day to kind of rest and get treatment and relax, (because) that was a tough grind to play three nights in a row," Weber said of the Big 12 Tournament, which ended Saturday night with a 70-54 loss to Kansas in Kansas City. "We were tested every game and it took a toll on our guys.

"The extra day was the number one wish, number two was to be in Kansas City, and I hope we have some extra people there."

For K-State, this will be the fourth straight NCAA appearance and the fifth in the past six years. Rodney McGruder, Jordan Henriquez and Martavious Irving are only the second Wildcat senior class to make the tournament all four years and already have the school record for most career victories by any class with 101.

"It feels great, just to have the opportunity to go out there and try to build a legacy," said McGruder, the Wildcats' all-Big 12 guard, who leads the team with 15.7 points and 5.4 rebounds.

While McGruder appreciated the chance to return to Kansas City, where the Wildcats won twice during the weekend, he was less concerned about their draw than the fact that they're in the tournament field.

"I'm happy we get to play close (to home)," he said. "We're just fortunate that we made the tournament.

"You can't really think about, 'Man, we should have been a two seed or a three seed.' You've just got to be happy with what you get and make the best of it."

Not even Weber knew much about the Wildcats' potential opponents Sunday, though that was the next order of business for his staff following the selection show.

"Boise, you hear stuff that it was a strong bubble team and obviously they got in," he said. "And then La Salle, we actually saw a tape early in the year - I think (against George Washington) was one of the tapes we saw - and they're talented.

"That whole league (Atlantic 10) is talented."

If the Wildcats win Friday and Wisconsin takes care of business against Ole Miss, it would set up a familiar matchup on Sunday. The Badgers ended K-State's season in the second round both in 2008 and 2011.

"I look forward to it," said McGruder, who was on the 2011 team that fell 70-65 to the Badgers in Tucson, Ariz. "I have a friend that played on the team and we lost to them my sophomore year.

"That's the team that ended the career of my friend Jake (former Wildcat Jacob Pullen) and Michael Beasley's (in 2008), so a lot of my friends have a bad taste in their mouths from Wisconsin."

The 2008 team, led by freshman All-American Beasley, lost 72-55 to Wisconsin in Omaha, Neb.

Both those Wisconsin teams were seeded higher than K-State. The Badgers were a No. 3 and the Wildcats No. 11 in 2008 and No. 5 to K-State's No. 4 two years ago.

But first things first.

Weber said he was uncertain if K-State's coaches were permitted under tournament rules to scout the Boise State-La Salle game in person. Regardless, the Wildcats will have a watch party to monitor it on television.

"I know for a fact that most of our players haven't watched a full game of Boise State or La Salle," junior forward Shane Southwell said. "So now that we can watch a full game of Boise State and La Salle, we're going to pretty much know what they do.

"And our coaches are going to give us in-depth scouting reports, so I feel that we may be more prepared as players."