Glimmer of NCAA Tournament hope returns for Kansas State with Wildcats back on bubble

When Tylor Perry transferred to Kansas State last summer he did so with one goal in mind.

The senior point guard wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament.

Well, technically he said he wanted to win a national championship. After winning a title in junior college and then hoisting a NIT trophy at North Texas, he decided to shoot for the stars with the Wildcats. But his lofty goals started with a trip to March Madness.

“I have never been to the tournament,” Perry said at the beginning of the season. “I asked one of my coaches if anyone has ever won a NIT, junior college and national championship. He said no. If I could do that, that would be a once-in-a-lifetime memory. But just playing in the tournament would be special.”

His motivation hasn’t changed.

“I have said all year there’s no individual award that I want,” Perry said after an overtime victory against West Virginia on Monday. “There’s not anything individually that I’m seeking. That four-letter tournament has only been on my mind, and not only for me but for these guys, too. I know they want to get back. They talk about it all the time, how much fun it was.”

The Wildcats made it all the way to the Elite Eight last season.

They still have a realistic path back to the Big Dance this year.

Many left them for dead when they lost seven of eight games and appeared bound for the NIT, at best. But K-State (17-11, 7-8 Big 12) has renewed its hopes, and returned to the bubble, with consecutive wins over BYU and West Virginia.

ESPN listed K-State in its “next four out” on its latest bracket projection, meaning the Wildcats have to jump about eight teams between now and Selection Sunday to earn an at-large berth into the field of 68.

Jerome Tang’s team has much work left to do, but it most definitely can play its way onto the bracket over the next few weeks. Why? Because it could benefit from a difficult closing schedule.

The Wildcats close out the regular season with road games at Cincinnati and Kansas, followed by a home game with Iowa State. All three will count as valuable Quadrant 1 games. K-State is currently 3-5 against Quad 1 opponents with a NET ranking of 73. It can significantly boost both of those numbers with wins over the next two weeks.

K-State won’t be favored in any of its final three games. So this won’t be an easy task. But it’s far from impossible.

Then comes the Big 12 Tournament, where the Wildcats can further add to their postseason resume.

Tang has said all season that he thinks nine conference wins will be good enough for K-State to earn a bid. If the Wildcats can win two of their final three games, they will no doubt have something to play for in Kansas City.

One thing is for sure: Perry isn’t going to hold back in pursuit of his March Madness dream.

“For me it’s just about emptying the tank right now,” Perry said. “I don’t know how much basketball I got left after this. Nothing is promised for me. So these are my last days in college and the biggest thing is just emptying the tank. Whatever happens, I can walk off the court at the end of this with no regrets.”