The Wildcats helped end Kansas’ 14-year Big 12 regular season title streak thanks to their strong returning cast that went to the Elite 8 last season.
Dean Wade’s health is key for how far Kansas State can go, but the team has plenty of talent and experience to make it to the second weekend even if Wade is not available.
UC Irvine is a 30-win team looking to spring the upset — and they have the defensive chops to do so.
Date/Time: Friday, March 22, 2:00 p.m. ET
kenpom.com projection: Kansas State def. UC Irvine 62-56
Betting Line: Kansas State -4.5 (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook)
No. 4 seed Kansas State
Coach: Bruce Weber
Record: 25-8 (14-4)
Conference tournament finish: Lost in semifinals
Player to Watch: Barry Brown
The Wildcats are extremely good defensively. They sport the fourth best defensive efficiency in the country according to kenpom.com and create turnovers at the 10th best rate. They also do a good job at limiting opponents from behind the arc.
Brown has been Kansas State’s best player this season. He’s averaging 14.9 points per game and despite the struggles from deep, he can hit from anywhere on the floor. K-State also has Wade (if healthy), Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra to help carry the load offensively. Kamau Stokes is a player who could get hot for the Wildcats.
K-State’s Elite 8 run from last year helped the Wildcats experience postseason success. The same group will attempt to replicate that run this year, and the three seniors (Brown, Wade, Stokes) have built the foundation for this moment.
[RELATED: Print Your 2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket]
No. 13 seed UC Irvine
Coach: Russell Turner
Record: 30-5 (15-1)
Conference tournament finish: Won Big West
Player to Watch: Max Hazzard
UC Irvine demolished the Big West, losing just one conference game in the regular season and conference tournament combined. The Anteaters have the top opponent 2-point field goal percentage in the country according to kenpom.com, but the level of competition might have something to do with that.
Hazzard averaged just 12.5 points per game this season, but he is hitting 39.4 percent from deep. He can score on all three levels and explode on the offensive end, but he’ll need to have a big game in order for UC Irvine to upset the Wildcats.
The Anteaters enter the tournament on a 16-game winning streak, so confidence is not an issue. Whether or not they get off to a hot start in the first half will likely determine the outcome.