USA TODAY Sports’ Nicole Auerbach breaks down the first night of NCAA tournament play.
USA TODAY Sports
Kansas State senior Wesley Iwundu couldn’t have put his team’s state of mind better following Tuesday’s First Four victory over Wake Forest in Dayton.
“We like being the underdogs,” Iwundu said, confidently. “Because we’re coming out with a fight.”
That’s exactly how the Wildcats can ruin March Madness brackets should they play with the same type of grit and offensive potency — shooting 66% from the field against Wake — from here on out.
BOX SCORE: Wildcats 95, Demon Deacons 88
BRACKET CENTRAL: March Madness guide
After barely squeaking into the field of 68 as a bubble team, Kansas State made the most of its opportunity by holding off Wake Forest in a battle of No. 11 seeds. Next up, the The Wildcats (21-13) face Cincinnati in the South Regional at Sacramento on Friday at 7:27 p.m. ET. It’s a decent matchup for a team that can use its play-in game momentum as a serious boost to pull an upset and perhaps go even further. In 2013, La Salle used its play-in victory as a launchpad to get to the Sweet 16. Could the Wildcats do something similar this year?
Coach Bruce Weber had already told his Kansas State team the story of VCU’s run from the First Four and the success other teams have had playing in the early round before arriving at UD Arena. After the win over Wake Forest, he’s making sure his team knows it’s an advantage.
Advancing to the second weekend would require taking down third-seeded UCLA, a national title pick by many experts. For any team that comes out of the South region it will be impressive because it’s clearly the toughest side of the bracket with the Bruins, Kentucky and Wichita State near the bottom and North Carolina, Butler and Minnesota at the top.
In the game against Wake Forest, Iwundu led the Wildcats with 24 points, seven assists and six rebounds, while sophomore guard Kamau Stokes chipped in with 22. Those two lead a cast that’s grown accustomed to playing with their back against the wall as a bubble team for all of February and early March. That sense of urgency seems to have evolved into a chip-on-their-shoulder identity.
One thing to note about this team, as far as bracket-busting estimation goes, is that it’s incredibly well coached. At the end of last season, fans were campaigning to replace Weber with hot-commodity coach Brad Underwood, a KSU alum who eventually took the Oklahoma State vacancy.
Yes, Tuesday was the team’s first NCAA tourney win in five years and under Weber’s tenure, but the guy can coach and is one big reason not to sleep on the Wildcats moving forward in the bracket. Remember, Weber was the national coach of the year in 2005 with Illinois and he was the Big 12 coach of the year in his first season with the Wildcats in 2013.
The Wildcats were playing pretty solid basketball heading into the Big Dance, having won three in a row before losing by one point to West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament. They beat Baylor twice and played Kansas close twice. In looking for a darling to pick that no one saw coming, using Tuesday night as some legitimate evidence isn’t a bad idea.
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HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE FIRST FOUR IN DAYTON