Kansas State will be “Dancing” in Tuscan, Ariz., on Thursday when it takes on Utah State in the Southeast Regional of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats received a No. 5 seed, which ranked only behind No. 1 seeded Kansas and No. 4 seeded Texas from the Big 12 Conference, which received five invitations.
Saying he was “tremendously pleased” to receive that seeding, coach Frank Martin said, “They respected the fact that we played a strong schedule, they respected that we played well down the stretch and grew as a team, but every game is going to be hard. I’m ecstatic for our kids.”
As for the K-State players, both old and young were ecstatic, as well.
Senior Jacob Pullen said, “This is what we play for. It’s that stage of the season for me that the next loss is my last game of my career. You have to go play with an urgency because you know your clock is ticking.”
Freshman Will Spradling said, “Growing up this is a dream of a kid to play in the NCAA Tournament. To do it my freshman year is really remarkable.”
Utah State won the Western Athletic Conference title with a 77-69 victory over Boise State for its eighth win in a row and 30th victory of the season tying the school record of 2008-09 (30-5).
The No. 17 Aggies last loss came on Feb. 9 against Idaho, 64-56. Since then they have rolled to wins over Fresno State, Montana-Western, No. 23 Saint Mary’s, Idaho, New Mexico State, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State and Boise State.
The Aggies will be making their eighth NCAA appearance in the last 12 years under coach Stew Morrill, who has posted a 13-year record of 324-102.
Saying he doesn’t know Morrill personally, Martin said, “He’s won a ga-zillion games and wins every single year, which is the sign of a good coach. You can put them down for29 wins a year.”
Thursday’s winner will play the winner of the No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 Belmont in a game on Saturday at the University of Arizona’s McKale Center.
The team that wins two games advances to New Orleans where it could face Pittsburgh, the No. 1 team in the Southeast Regional.
The Final Four takes place in Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, on April 2 and 4.
“We’re excited about the new season, but we understand that the next time we don’t find success in a game our season is over,” said Martin. “I think we have enough guys on our team that went through it last year that they will do a good job of preparing this week, but in this tournament there are no easy games. It’s going to be an unbelievable challenge, but we’re excited to be a part of it.”
Utah State is led by 6-7, 240-pound senior Tai Wesley, who carries a 14.7 average, followed by 6-1 junior Brockeith Pane averages 11.6, and 6-1 senior Brian Green averages 10.6 per game.
“They run a lot of different things,” said KSU assistant Brad Underwood. “They have a very athletic point guard in Pane, plus a big kid (Wesley) who is very, very capable, and then they surround them with a bunch of shooters.”
SCORING 73.1 72.2
DEFENSE 66.0 58.2
FG PERCENT 44 47
FG DEFENSE 42 38
3-POINT 37 37
FREE THROW .647 .736
REB. MARGIN +6.8 +8.0