Kansas State has established itself as one of the darlings of this year's NCAA Tournament. There are feel-good stories across the roster, including first-year coach Jerome Tang having success after being picked to finish last in the Big 12, 5-foot-8 Markquis Nowell playing like the best player in college basketball and Keyontae Johnson succeeding in his second chance after a medical emergency threatened his life and led him to leave the University of Florida.
The buzz that this team possesses is impossible to ignore, and the Wildcats' on-court production has matched their swagger off of it. Kansas State (26-9), seeded third in the East, will look to break down some barriers and raise the bar of success within the program by ending the season strong.
In the program's history, Kansas State has made the NCAA Tournament 31 times. The Wildcats have been to the Final Four on four occasions with an overall record of 37-35 in tournament play. They will face No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic (34-3) in the Elite Eight, marking the Wildcats’ 13th trip to the Elite Eight and first since 2017-18. Playing in the shadow of the Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State has not won an NCAA championship in program history.
What are Kansas State's chances this year?
Sometimes it is all about getting hot at the right time, and this is exactly what Kansas State seems to be doing. The Wildcats' 98-93 overtime victory over Michigan State on Thursday was an instant classic in which Markquis Nowell broke the NCAA Tournament record for assists in a game with 19. The Wildcats took on the Spartans' best effort and still managed to come out on top.
Nowell is deservingly hearing a lot of praise after flawlessly finding the balance as a scorer and playmaker. The Wildcats will need continued production from their point guard if the run is to continue.
The team's ability to share the ball has been a key part of their success all year. They rank eighth in the country in assists per game with an average of 17.1. Their run-and-gun ability has caused issues early on in the tournament, and they took down No. 14 seed Montana State and No. 6 seed Kentucky in the opening two rounds.
Florida Atlantic will be a difficult matchup as the Owls have some similar stylistic traits and are also a hot team. This will be the first game of the Elite Eight and will tip off on Saturday at 6:09 p.m. EST.
Regardless, there are plenty of reasons for optimism surrounding this Kansas State team. Look for the Wildcats to continue to lean on their well-balanced roster and strong guard play as they look to pave the path to their fifth Final Four. The program has continued to prove people wrong all season and will look for this trend to continue.