When Bruce Weber was at Illinois, he once held a mock funeral to bury the legacy of Bill Self, the man he replaced as Illini coach.
The only burying for Weber these days is done by Self, whose KU team has dominated Weber since he became the head coach at Kansas State.
Monday’s 70-56 Jayhawk victory over the Wildcats was the seventh in a row for Self over Weber.
While Kansas State fans will quickly point to the Wildcats’ dominance in football, it isn’t the same since there’s a distinct advantage for K-State in that KU has the worst Division I program in the country and Bill Snyder is a coaching god in Manhattan.
In basketball, though, not much really separates KU and K-State — just look at the scores of recent games. It’s just that Self and the Jayhawks find ways to get it done against their Sunflower rival in those close games.
Case in point on Monday. The Jayhawks come out flying, but Kansas State starts to make a rally as it gets the margin down to 5. But Self, as much as he doesn’t want to, goes zone and the Jayhawks finish the half on an 8-0 run to lead 40-27.
KU comes out clanking in the second half by missing 9 straight shots and Self went back to his customary man defense to start the half. Back come the Wildcats and Self, realizing he can’t let his stubbornness get in the way of what's best for his team, reluctantly goes back to the zone.
Presto! Kansas State suddenly couldn’t hit water if it fell out of a boat in the middle of the ocean. The Wildcats never made that serious run as KU kept the lead at a comfortable margin.
I honestly believed this was going to be Kansas State’s night. On our “According to Jim Show” at 12:30 Monday, I said it would be Wildcats 72-69, while Jim picked KU by double digits, 12 points in fact. He obviously had a better feel for this game than I did.
But Self and Kansas haven’t won 13 straight conference titles by dumb luck. While the Jayhawks still hold a precarious one-game lead in the Big 12 and may eventually get overtaken, their ability to win in hostile environments is the reason they repeat year after year. KU already has won in Morgantown, where K-State goes on Saturday. It also has won at TCU and Texas. It is 4-1 on the road in the Big 12 and yet to play at two of the weaker links, Iowa State and Oklahoma State. The only road loss came at Oklahoma, a game it probably would have won if Udoka Azubuike hadn’t gone all Shaquille O’Neal and shot free throws like a second-grader.
This was a damaging loss for Kansas State in terms of its psyche. The Wildcats were riding high and perhaps were too high at the outset. They were miserable at the start as they were strong and long on their shots, while KU came out breathing fire. Had the Jayhawks not flung the ball all over Bramlage and the Azubuike virus not spread (they were 4 of 11 in the first half), this could have been a 20-point game at the half.
For Kansas State fans — I still wonder if they would have stormed the court had they won — it was just another reason why Weber hasn’t been totally accepted by the fan base. Beating Kansas is at the top of their list and Self is now 30-5 since he’s been at KU against K-State, of course not all of that against Weber. And many of those games were decided at the very end. That’s not luck, that’s good coaching.