March 16, 2008

Oh, the possibilities for the Wildcats

After an effortless stroll through the first five rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Kansas State, an 11 seed, has defeated Duke to win its first-ever national championship … according to [/db]Michael Beasley's bracket that is. The K-State super freshman filled out a copy the everybody's favorite tournament tree in ink within minutes of the tournament field being announced Sunday, and just like that, the results were in.

"It feels great to beat Duke for the national championship," Beasley said with a playful grin, "I still haven't filled in the MVP yet, though."

And it doesn't take many guesses to figure out the name Beasley decided to scribble in the lone remaining blank.

"It's me, of course," he said.

It may have been smiles and jokes all around with this K-State team Sunday, but making that kind of prophecy come true, will take more than the one hand and two minutes it took Beasley to fill out his blank bracket. This is unexplored territory for most in the Wildcats' locker room after all.

Despite being selected for 23 NCAA Tournaments, K-State has not been in a situation like this since 1996, and preparing for such a foreign experience will become paramount in the hours ahead. Just days remain until the Wildcats must depart for Omaha, Neb. to play underdog to a sixth-seeded USC team that finished the season with 21 wins. Being placed in the Midwest Region, however, will provide at least some advantage for the Wildcats, who will likely play in front of an exceptionally friendly crowd in the tournament's opening rounds.

"I'm ecstatic," said K-State head coach [db]Frank Martin of his team's geographical placement. "We have to have the most loyal, faithful fans that I know of. I have no doubt in my mind that there is going to be a lot of purple in those stands."

"Hopefully this will turn into a home game for us," said K-State point guard Jacob Pullen. "We're not that far away from Kansas, and we have loyal fans. Hopefully they'll all make the trip."

The relief in the eyes of every K-State player after seeing their school's name called early in Sunday's NCAA Tournament Selection Show was the sharpest of all contrasts to the almost tangible disappointment that consumed the squad a year ago, when it was informed of its selection to "the other" post-season tournament, and the drastic change was more than welcome.

"I've never been in this tournament," said Kansas State freshman Bill Walker. "(When they called our name), I jumped up like I was a father. It was like I had just had a baby or something. I was happy."

So this is it. From now on, there will be no gray area. There are no more committees to impress or resumes to improve. Now, it's six games to the finish, and things couldn't be more cut and dry.

"From this point on, it's about surviving and moving on," Martin said. "It's not about being perfect. It's not about motivational speeches. It's about figuring out a way to survive."

Aside from survival, K-State's placement in the bracket is not without its share of possible side stories, starting with the obvious first-round pairing of two freshmen that once shared a sandbox.

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