Iowa State and Kansas State are both widely considered locks for the NCAA tournament, but after ending the regular season with consecutive losses, the Wildcats aren't approaching this week's Big 12 tournament as if an at-large bid is a given.
A quarterfinal victory over the 16th-ranked Cyclones on Thursday in Kansas City, Mo., could put to rest any remaining nerves for Kansas State.
"I don't know what our chances are in March Madness," Wildcats forward Thomas Gipson said, "but we want to win the Big 12 tournament so that we have a chance."
While Kansas State is the No. 5 seed, Iowa State is seeded fourth and coach Fred Hoiberg expects the conference tournament to be about as wide open as it gets.
"I think there's 10 teams right now that are saying they've got a great chance to win this tournament," Hoiberg said. "When your No. 8 seed is Oklahoma State, when your No. 7 seed is Baylor ... as deep as our conference is, I think you've got a lot of teams right now saying they've got a great chance to cut down the nets in Kansas City."
Kansas State (20-11, 10-8) might not need a win this week to earn an NCAA tournament berth considering it has one of the nation's best records against ranked teams at 6-2, including an 80-73 home win over the Cyclones on March 1. However, the Wildcats have followed that game with losses at Oklahoma State and at home to Baylor.
Saturday's 76-74 defeat to the Bears had coach Bruce Weber thankful for the conference tournament slate.
"We've still got games left," Weber said, "and I hope they're ready to play in Kansas City and they can make amends for today's loss."
The Wildcats led by eight at halftime, but Baylor scored 51 second-half points on its way to a 50.0 percent shooting performance. Kansas State got 29 points from freshman Marcus Foster, 16 from Gipson and 15 from Nino Williams.
The Cyclones (23-7, 11-7) ended a two-game skid Saturday by overcoming a 16-point deficit at home in an 85-81 overtime win over the Cowboys.
DeAndre Kane had 27 points, Georges Niang added 22 and reserve Naz Long scored 14, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of regulation.
"He has the utmost confidence," Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim said of Long. "The kid just hits big shots. That's all it is. He's a big-time player."
While Ejim finished second in the league in scoring (18.2 points per game), he's been limited to a combined 18 in his last two. The Cyclones have most recently leaned on Kane, who is averaging 21.7 points in the last six games.
Ejim and Kane kept them in the game in the loss at Kansas State. Ejim had game highs of 30 points and 16 rebounds, and Kane scored 24, but the rest of the team went 6 of 35 from the field as the Cyclones settled for a regular-season split for the second straight year.
Hoiberg wants his team to be better prepared for Kansas State's muscle in the rubber match.
"Our game, especially at their place, was the most physical game we've played this year," Hoiberg said.
The Wildcats had five players score in double figures, led by reserve Shane Southwell's 13. It was their third straight win over a ranked opponent, a streak that's still active.
In last year's tournament, Kansas State lost to Kansas in the championship game. The Jayhawks also eliminated Iowa State in the semifinals.
The winner could get a shot at redemption with top-seeded Kansas as a potential semifinal opponent.