It feels the same because it is the same.
As Kansas State prepares to play TCU at 8 p.m. today at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, the Wildcats find themselves in a situation virtually identical to one they encountered a year ago. In 2017, the Wildcats entered their penultimate regular-season affair fresh off a loss at Oklahoma and knowing their postseason fate was far from certain.
The game proved the most pivotal in K-State’s drama-filled season.
By eking out a 75-74 win against the Horned Frogs, the Wildcats started a three-game win streak that proved just enough to earn them an NCAA Tournament spot in the First Four field at Dayton, Ohio.
One year later, not much has changed for K-State. This year’s Wildcats (20-9, 9-7 Big 12) find themselves in an ever-so-slightly better postseason position than last year — both CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi list K-State as a 10-seed in their latest mock brackets — but they understand the stakes for this year’s showdown could prove just as high.
“We’re going to treat it like the same, just as we did last year,” said junior forward Dean Wade, who scored 20 points in the 2017 squeaker. “It’s a got-to-get game, really. We’ve just got to go in there, play physical and play tough.”
The game’s implications extend beyond the Big Dance, too. With a win, K-State would lock up no worse than a fourth-place finish in the Big 12 and secure a 5-4 road record in league play.
A loss, however, would leave K-State and the Horned Frogs (20-9, 8-8) tied in the conference standings with one game remaining.
“There’s a lot to it,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “You always want to move forward as a program, take another step. There’s a lot there, but it’s not going to be easy, and that’s one of our themes: Not going to be easy, but there’s a big reward at the end.”
K-State beat then-No. 24 TCU 73-68 on Jan. 20, shooting 57.1 percent from the field. Wade scored 20 points to lead a balanced offense that also saw Makol Mawien (18 points), Barry Brown (15) and Xavier Sneed (10) hit double figures.
The loss was the fourth in five games for TCU, but the Horned Frogs enter this contest as winners of three straight and four of five.
“They’re playing great right now,” Wade said. “They’re pretty much a different team than when we played them the first time. They’re playing with the utmost confidence and they’re tough. I think they’re leading the Big 12 in scoring or something like that. They’re doing everything.”
The Horned Frogs have been the league’s most explosive team since the start of Big 12 play, averaging 82.7 points. Vlad Brodziansky, a 6-foot-11 senior, leads TCU at 15.4 points per game, but five other Horned Frogs average 8.5 points or more.
TCU also sports a No. 19 RPI ranking, giving K-State an opportunity to earn its fifth Quadrant 1 win.
So, would that be enough to secure a spot in the NCAA tourney?
“Who knows, but I’m hoping so,” Wade said. “I’m hoping we get this win and it will help our resume look a little better.
“I think we’re excited,” Wade added. “Last year, we were a little nervous at this time. We’re still nervous. Being nervous is good — you come out and play the best you can play — but I think it’s more exciting for us this year. We’re ready to go, ready to prove some people wrong, ready to play our kind of basketball.”