Kansas State women’s basketball: Ayoka Lee makes Wildcats a March Madness sleeper

MANHATTAN, KS - FEBRUARY 08: Ayoka Lee #50 of the Kansas State Wildcats scores a basket against NaLyssa Smith #1 of the Baylor Lady Bears during the first quarter on February 8, 2020 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kansas. (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
MANHATTAN, KS - FEBRUARY 08: Ayoka Lee #50 of the Kansas State Wildcats scores a basket against NaLyssa Smith #1 of the Baylor Lady Bears during the first quarter on February 8, 2020 at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kansas. (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images) /
Kansas State women’s basketball won’t be a high seed in March Madness, but their balance and a bonafide star make the Wildcats a major sleeper. /

March Madness is, bar none, the best time of year. And the 2022 NCAA Tournament offers college basketball fans the opportunity to get the ultimate look at some of the best teams in the country. But in the women’s tournament, you can’t count out Kansas State women’s basketball

After a 9-9 finish in Big 12 play during the regular season, the Wildcats made an unfortunate exit in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament with a loss to No. 7-ranked Texas. That likely leaves Kansas State heading towards a lower seed in the women’s NCAA Tournament bracket. That, however, could just make this team with a well-balanced attack a sleeping giant in March.

Kansas State women’s basketball: 1 player to watch – Ayoka Lee

The Wildcats, without question, are a balanced two-way team in a manner that can lead to their success. However, the straw that stirs the drink in Manhattan is their star big, Ayoka Lee.

Lee made headlines in January as she nearly eclipsed the women’s college basketball record for most points in a game as the junior poured in 61 points in a win over then-No. 14-ranked Oklahoma. For good measure, she also had 12 boards, three blocks and a steal in the victory over the Sooners. But that was far from just being a blip on the radar.

On the season, Lee averaged 22.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game on the year. She’s a dominant two-way force that can be next-to-impossible for many teams that will be in the NCAA Tournament to contend with, especially given her size at 6-foot-6. She’ll beat opponents routinely offensively in the post but can just as easily clean the glass and block or alter shots in the lane.

That type of presence is one that can take Kansas State far in a tournament format — especially if she has another monster outing in the chamber, even if it’s not a 61-point affair.

Kansas State women’s basketball: 1 reason they’ll cut down the nets – Balance

When you look at the overall metrics for the Wildcats, there isn’t one aspect where they necessarily stand out. The one exception to that would be the fact that they were third in the vaunted Big 12 in terms of opponent points per game behind only Baylor and Texas, both of which are top 10 teams.

However, the totality of what Kansas State brings to the table is undeniable. Lee is obviously a dominant presence but they have an offense that is perfectly suited to get open looks for their big on the interior. Their ball movement is in the upper-echelon of women’s college basketball, which allows them to move defenders to get Lee or others quality open looks.

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When you pair that offensive formula with a defense that creates turnovers consistently with blocks and steals and the team’s ability to control the pace combined again with the star presence of Lee, this is a team that can match up with any opponent that they’ll come up against in March Madness and have an opportunity to win.

Kansas State women’s basketball: Recent NCAA Tournament history

Unlike many of their Big 12 counterparts, the Wildcats haven’t necessarily been stalwarts when it’s come to the NCAA Tournament.

Since its inception for the women’s game in 1982, Kansas State has 16 tournament appearances with an overall record of 13-16 in those appearances. More recently, they’ve made it into the March Madness field in 2016, 2017 and 2019 after not making it into the field since 2012 prior to that. However, they were a No. 9 seed twice in that span and a No. 7 seed in the other instance.

As far as tournament success is concerned, the Wildcats have made it t the Sweet 16 just three times in program history with the last trip coming in 2002. The farthest they’ve made it was actually in the inaugural tournament when they got to the Elite Eight in 1982 and their highest seed-line came back in 2004 when they entered as a No. 2 seed but were bounced in the Second Round by Minnesota.

If you’re still not sure who to root for in the Women’s NCAA Tournament, our Flavor Finder can help you find a new favorite.

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