Archive for Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Fly Route

March 15, 2007

I come in peace -- not to argue and bicker about Kansas State's exclusion from the NCAA tournament, but to explain life on the bubble and the terrible heartbreak that comes with the "pop." I come not to talk about computer rankings, conference tournament games or 128-team fields. I come to tell you that four days after watching in vain as 65 teams were included in the tournament and mine was not, it's still not better and I'm still not happy.

A number of thoughts went through my head right after the snub was official: famous sayings about how it's the pain that makes it all worthwhile; wise words reminding that it's moments like this that make one realize what's really important; flavor-of-the-week analysis pointing out that this shouldn't happen again soon for my team on the rise.

I can't argue with any of that. It hasn't helped either.

I was desperately nervous all afternoon leading into the NCAA selection show, hoping the Cats were in. Though I didn't know, it did all add up in my mind -- the 22 wins, the 11 intra-conference victories, the steamrolling in the quarter-finals of the conference tournament.

All the clips from the last few weeks played over in my head. I saw that cursed little man Joe Lunardi move K-State in and move K-State out. I saw all the coaches of the Big 12 rally around bubble teams Texas Tech and K-State, and I saw them defend the quality of the league at every opportunity. I saw analyst after analyst repeat the following phrase: "One more win and the Wildcats are in for sure" before, during and after every single game for the last month.

Still, I didn't know and I didn't even have a good feeling. I bounced around my apartment like I was waiting for a hot date and I downed a Boulevard in about three gulps in a last-ditch attempt to calm my nerves.

Finally the time came, it came, it came, it came and it went.

It hurt, and it wasn't that "Aw, shucks" pain.

The team played so well for so long this season. It overcame an ugly start and learned the ways of K-State coach Bob Huggins. It learned to play and win on the road, beating both good teams -- Texas and USC -- and upset-minded conference opponents. When the Big 12 tournament started the basketball team had become all I could have ever asked, and more.

As I stared numbly at the final moments of the selection show, empty glass falling to the floor with a thud, I thought, "what a waste."

That's not fair -- I know that. I took a lot of joy and pride in the season those guys put together and that was still true afterward.

We came all that way -- not just the players or Huggins, but also the fans who bought in. We came all that way and we came up a couple computer rankings short. We came a few what-state-is-that-team-even-in schools short. We came a top-25 win short, a rivalry-game victory short.

The Cats will be back, but I can't shake the feeling that they have to start over. Really, that's not true either. David Hoskins is a stud and he'll be back. Bill Walker can fly and he'll be back. Michael Beasley is the nation's top basketball recruit and he'll be there. And Huggy will be back. It was his attitude and confidence that inspired all of this, and his style -- on and off the court -- that helped this team grow good enough to break my heart.

I hope for the best in the NIT -- I write before K-State faces Vermont in the opening-round game -- but I don't truly expect to feel better until next season.

Maybe in time I'll realize that it's the pain that makes it all worthwhile, that the NCAA tournament's not what's really important in life, or that it's OK because it won't happen again in the coming Huggins' years.

Maybe I'll realize all of that. Not yet though.

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