MANHATTAN — For most college basketball fans, this is Big Dance week.
For Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, it’s something a little more personal.
“It’s reunion week,” Weber said Sunday after learning that his Wildcats received a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year and 30th time in program history.
It certainly must appear that way to the K-State coaching staff. Not only did the Wildcats (22-11) — slotted as the No. 9 seed in the South Regional — draw a first-round matchup against former K-State standout Marcus Foster and eighth-seeded Creighton (21-11), they also drew a potential Round of 32 game against another former guard who played alongside Foster.
If the Wildcats defeat Creighton in their opener, which will be played at 5:50 p.m. Friday (Topeka time) at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C., they likely will meet Nigel Johnson and No. 1 overall seed Virginia on Sunday.
“We’ve got all our former guys,” Weber said.
Foster, of course, played his first two collegiate seasons at K-State, leading the Wildcats to the NCAA tourney as a freshman in 2014, when he averaged 15.5 points. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard averaged 12.5 points the following year but had problems on and off the court, prompting Weber to dismiss him.
Johnson, along with others, chose to leave the program following that tumultuous 2014-15 campaign, which saw K-State finish 15-17.
While the possible meeting with Johnson is a nice footnote, the showdown against Foster is big news, both regionally and nationally.
Still, Weber did his best to downplay it.
“Once the game starts, it’s fine,” the sixth-year K-State coach said. “If anything, we know his tendencies.”
Weber did concede that the matchup is certain to excite Foster — “Oh, I’m sure,” he said — but he also said he didn’t believe either party harbored bitterness over the breakup three years ago.
“I haven’t really talked to (Marcus), but I know people who have talked to him and he doesn’t have any ill feelings toward us or anything,” Weber said. “I know he said that he wished he would have made some other decisions, but I’ve said it many times, if I helped him become a better man, a better player in the long run, that’s my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do as a coach.
“I’m a coach, I’m an educator. If I did that and helped him in life, then I feel good about it.”
As productive as Foster was during his two seasons in Manhattan, he has improved since joining the Bluejays, who tied for third in the Big East with a 10-8 record. Foster, now a senior, averaged a team-best 20.3 points, shooting 42.2 from 3-point range.
With Foster leading the way and 6-5 Eudora freshman Mitch Ballock also contributing 7.0 points per game, Greg McDermott’s team ranks 10th nationally in scoring (84.3 ppg). The Bluejays also rank sixth nationally in assists (18.0).
“They’ve got one of the better offensive teams in the country,” Weber said. “But we told our guys, ‘Hey, we’ve played Oklahoma, TCU, Kansas — three of the best offensive teams in the country. We’ve done OK guarding them.’ ”
Senior walk-on guard Mason Schoen is the only player on K-State’s roster who was part of the program when Foster suited up for the Wildcats, so the current Cats insist Friday’s reunion will have little effect on them.
“We never played with him or anything,” said All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade, who is nursing a left foot injury but expects to play Friday. “We saw him on our visit and stuff and talked to him, but we didn’t know him personally so it’s not really going to affect us at all.
“People are going to be talking about it and stuff, but all you can do is ignore it. We’re going to play our basketball and defend and I think we’ll be OK.”
Guard Barry Brown doesn’t know Foster, either. In fact, Brown doesn’t even remember watching Foster play for K-State.
But he knows his reputation as a premier scorer now, and the idea of guarding the All-Big East first-teamer most certainly is appealing. Brown, selected to the Big 12′s all-defensive team each of the past two seasons, said he will treat this assignment no differently than guarding Big 12 player of the year Devonte’ Graham, of Kansas, or national scoring leader Trae Young, of Oklahoma.
“My mindset’s the same,” said Brown, whose injured right eye is healing nicely. “He’s one of the better players, and hopefully I get that matchup to show what I can do.”
The rest of the South Regional field includes No. 2 seed Cincinnati, No. 3 Tennessee, No. 4 Arizona, No. 5 Kentucky and No. 6 Miami. While that bracket appears daunting, the Wildcats are just happy to know what lies ahead.
“It feels great,” Wade said. “We’re all excited. It’s kind of a relief now that we know where we’re at and who we’re playing. We don’t have to worry about being in or not. We’re in finally and we can just focus on Creighton and what we can do there.”