NCAA Tournament Strategy: Is Facing Play-In Game Winner An Advantage For Kansas State Wildcats?


A general view as Kansas State Wildcats head coach Bruce Weber works with his team during practice the day before the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament at the Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas State kicks off the NCAA tournament Friday night against La Salle, who defeated Boise State 80-71 on Wednesday. Of course, the Wildcats did not play on Wednesday because they were not subject to a play-in game. Does this situation play to Kansas State’s favor? Are there downsides to playing a team that has played more recently? Should K-State be playing the winner of a play-in game at all?

First question last: you’ll never convince The Jug that a 68-team bracket is ok. One play-in game? Fine – some ceremonial competition between Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Winthrop is a fun way to kick off the most exciting sports tournament in America before one of them gets blown out by Indiana. But La Salle is a good team. And Boise State is a good team. And if you’ll recall, VCU was a participant in a “first four” game before going all the way to the Final Four in 2011 – the first year of the 68-team field.

If you believe in momentum and confidence, then emerging from a play-in game victorious is a tremendous advantage. La Salle already believes it belongs. The Explorers (yes, the Explorers) know they belong now. They can play with a mix of confidence and desperation, while K-State has nothing but desperation. Neither team won its conference championship – La Salle fell in the quarterfinals to Saint Louis, 78-71, in the A-10 tournament while K-State suffered another blow-out loss to KU in the Big 12 finals. Yet whoever advanced to play K-State, Boise State or La Salle, was promised the confidence of a one-game winning streak. That confidence can make all the difference some days.

On the other hand, K-State is more rested than La Salle. The Explorers were in control much of the game against BSU and overtime was never a concern, but La Salle only inserted seven players, and six of them played at between 30 and 35 minutes (the team’s leading scorer -Ramon Galloway – played 35 minutes). After playing in Ohio, the team then traveled to Kansas City on Thursday to play on Friday. Wildcat players were engaging in shoot arounds and practicing at home on Wednesday.

K-State probably benefits from playing a team two days after the play-in game. A bit. The bigger advantage lies in playing in Kansas City – the home crowd will be huge. Being the better team will help too. Tip off scheduled for 3:10 Eastern, 2:10 Central time.