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Kansas State gets No. 8 seed in NCAA East Region
Wildcats take on Southern Miss in first round
spt mm Frank Martin NCAA tourney
Kansas State head coach Frank Martin's Wildcats take on Southern Miss in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. K-State is the No. 8 seed in the East Region. - photo by The Associated Press

MANHATTAN — Kansas State coach Frank Martin had been doing his research ever since the Wildcats were eliminated by Baylor in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.

On Selection Sunday, he started to notice which teams landed No. 4 and No. 5 seeds.

"I thought our schedule, records and everything else were almost one and the same," Martin said. "I started seeing the brackets and some of the teams that they put in certain seeds, and I thought that maybe we could have gotten a higher number."

Instead, Kansas State was slotted eighth in the East Region and will play No. 9 Southern Miss in the second round, with the prospect of facing top-seeded Syracuse with a victory.

"The seeding does not mean anything to me," said the Wildcats' Jordan Henriquez. "We'll just get out there and play our game. Playing in Pittsburgh, with some of us being East Coast guys, will give us a chance to have a lot of our families at our games."

The Wildcats (21-10) finished fifth in the Big 12, and had a pair of marquee victories over eventual Big 12 tournament champion Missouri and a road win over Baylor. But a lopsided loss to the Bears in the rubber match of their three games this season appeared to cost them.

"I'm just happy with the opportunity we have to make the tournament," junior guard Rodney McGruder said. "I'm happy that we are fortunate enough."

It's the third straight appearance for Kansas State under Martin and the fourth in five seasons since he took over for Bob Huggins. And with some good fortune for both teams, the Wildcats could face Huggins' West Virginia team for a spot in the Final Four.

But that's far down the road.

Right now, Kansas State had better worry about Southern Miss.

The Golden Eagles (25-8) finished second in Conference USA behind balanced scoring and stingy defense. Larry Eustachy's team has six players who average better than nine points per game, including leading scorer and league newcomer of the year Neil Watson.

"When Larry Eustachy coached at BCS schools, his teams were known as the hardest-playing teams in the country, and that has not changed," Martin said. "Southern Miss may not be on TV as much as other schools, but we're getting ready to face a tough team.

"We have got everything on them already, but I haven't studied it yet. I suspect they're going to be a hard-playing, hard-rebounding, defensive-minded team."

Martin eschewed a public viewing party for the selection show in favor of an intimate affair with only coaches, players and a few people close to the program.

"I'm more of a private person when it comes to those kinds of things," he said. "That was a moment for us, the coaches, the players and the families that have sacrificed all year, to let each know how thankful we are for one another, for everything that we have done to help each other to put us in this situation. I kind of enjoyed having a private moment."

Kansas State made it through its first game a year ago before losing to Wisconsin, and the Wildcats played in the regional finals the previous season, falling to eventual national runner-up Butler.

"It is awesome," Martin said. "You ask kids to sacrifice and believe in what you are trying to do and be mature enough to handle the difficulties of the season and to not let outside voices hold them down. The only way to be good enough to play this time of the year is if your guys do these things, and our guys have obviously done that well enough.

"This team has responded well to adversity during the year. I know that they are excited about playing this week, and I am excited as heck to continue coaching this week."