K-State hopes to stay in elite company with another NCAA Tournament victory

Every time Kansas State qualified for the NCAA Tournament under former coach Frank Martin it won at least one game before heading home.

In 2008, the Wildcats beat No. 6 seed USC 80-67. In 2010, they made it to the Elite Eight. In 2011, they took down No. 12 seed Utah State 73-68. And last year they downed No. 9 seed Southern Mississippi 70-64.

High seed, low seed, toss-up game … K-State found a way to win every year.

No one hangs banners for making it to the round of 32, but there is something to be said for advancing that far four times in five years and three times in a row. Few teams have accomplished the same. K-State is one of eight programs that has played for a spot in the Sweet 16 in each of the past three seasons. The other seven: Kansas, Ohio State, Syracuse, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Purdue.

Kentucky and Purdue both missed the NCAA Tournament this year, so the Wildcats will be in even smaller company if they win their opening game on Friday.

K-State will be favored against either Boise State or La Salle, but it will have to prepare for the game in a new way under first-year coach Bruce Weber.

Weber is 5-3 in opening games of the NCAA Tournament. He was 1-1 at Southern Illinois, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2002 and falling to No. 6 seed Missouri 72-71 in 2003. And he was 4-2 at Illinois, making it to the Sweet 16 in 2004, the national championship game in 2005 and going .500 the rest of the way. He led the Illinois to a 78-69 victory over No. 13 seed Farleigh Dickinson in 2006 and a 73-62 win over No. 8 seed UNLV in 2011, but lost to No. 5 seed Virginia Tech 54-52 in 2007 and to No. 12 seed Western Kentucky 76-72 in 2009.

While he doesn’t have the same perfect opening record as Martin, he has gone much deeper into March. Heck, in 2005 his team was still playing in April.

He will be helped by associate head coach Chris Lowery, who has a 2-1 record as a head coach in opening games of the NCAA Tournament. He beat St. Mary’s in 2005, lost to West Virginia in 2006 and reached the Sweet 16 in 2007.

That coaching history, combined with a roster that has never lost its first NCAA Tournament game, suggests K-State will once again be well prepared on Friday.