|K-State looks to snap UC Irvine's long win streak|
Kansas State advanced to the Elite Eight last season while getting only eight tournament minutes from star forward Dean Wade.
That was a neat trick, but can the Wildcats do it again?
Wade's health was once again a primary topic as fourth-seeded Kansas State (25-8) prepared for Friday's first-round game against 13th-seeded UC Irvine (30-5) in the South Region in San Jose, Calif.
Wade missed the Wildcats' two games in the Big 12 tournament because of a right foot injury suffered in the regular-season finale on March 9. On Tuesday, coach Bruce Weber said Wade is doubtful to play in the tournament.
The 6-10 senior is a two-time first-team All-Big 12 performer who is averaging 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds this season, helping the Wildcats dethrone Kansas in the regular season and claiming the top seed in the league tourney.
"We've been through it," Weber said of playing without Wade. "We've been through it this year. He didn't play five, six games and a couple of the games after that he played 15-20 minutes. We won at Iowa State with him playing minimal minutes and scoring two points."
Even if the Wildcats had Wade, UC Irvine is nobody's idea of a pushover.
The Anteaters have won 16 consecutive games, have size and are the first Big West team since UNLV in 1990-91 to win 30 games.
"We're legit, man," coach Russell Turner said in the Los Angeles Times. "We got 30 wins, and we did that against some good opponents. We're not going to sneak up on anybody. But I don't think we have to in order to compete."
This first-round game could be decided in a clash of two talented, experienced backcourts.
Irvine is led by juniors Max Hazzard and Evan Leonard. Hazzard, averaging 12.5 points and shooting 39.4 percent from 3-point range, is the grandson of UCLA legend Walt Hazzard. Leonard scores 11.1 points per game and shoots 40.9 percent from deep.
Starter Eyassu Worku is expected to return after missing five games due to a leg injury.
Kansas State's Barry Brown Jr. is the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and the team's leading scorer at 14.9 points per game. Fellow senior Kamau Stokes averages 10.8 points. Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra are also capable of big games in the backcourt.
"They have carried us," Weber said of Brown and Stokes. "For four years, they have been really important. With Dean, you throw Xavier Sneed in the mix for the last three, those guys are really important."
These teams met early in the 2017-18 season, when Kansas State won easily 71-49 at home.
"They imposed their will on us in that game," Turner said. "We've gotten a lot better since then. We improved dramatically last year throughout the season, and I think we've done that even more this year."
UCI is making its second NCAA Tournament appearance. The Anteaters led fourth-seeded Louisville by two in the final minute in the 2015 first round before losing 57-55.
The Anteaters do not lack for confidence.
"We're going to have to defend all game," Hazzard said in the Times. "We have to keep it close early. It doesn't have to go down to the wire, though. We could beat them handily. I don't see why we couldn't."
--Field Level Media