KSU could be catching KU at a good time

By Steve Sell
February 03, 2016

It’s an old-and-tired ritual.

Kansas State wins in football. Kansas almost always wins in basketball, where there’s double the chances every year.

After the Wildcats spend the football game running up and down the field virtually unbated, KU fans predictably say, “Wait until basketball.”

For the most part, the Jayhawk fans get their turn to gloat. The record the Jayhawks have had against the Wildcats is almost borderline ridiculous when you consider the very good teams the Wildcats have had and winning on the road in college basketball gets tougher and tougher every year as crowds have gotten more and more hostile.

The Jayhawks are expected to win the latest Sunflower Showdown tonight in Allen Field House. KU is fighting for its championship life as its string of 11 straight outright or shared titles is in peril, especially the way Oklahoma is playing.

Kansas State is in the second division, but does have some impressive wins. It beat an Oklahoma State team that thumped KU.

Winning at The Phog, though, is like trying to overcome a Tiger Woods six-shot lead at The Masters back in his prime. Kentucky tried mightily on Saturday and almost got the job done, but KU was saved by Wayne Selden playing at a rarefied level.

KU has lost nine games in Bill Self’s career at Allen. In college basketball, that’s as close to automatic as you get.

But the Wildcats are catching KU at a great time. The last time the Jayhawks played in the “game of the year” was against Oklahoma and while they prevailed, it sent them into a three-game funk as it was a 15-round prize fight. They showed signs against Kentucky of maybe escaping the malaise, but there has to be the inevitable letdown. They have played so many huge games in a short stretch that they can’t be emotionally charged every single time. They are going to count on their crowd for energy and I’m sure the usual 16,300 will bring it.

Kansas State muddies up a game. The Wildcats have been starting two freshmen most of the season and don’t particularly shoot it well. But they do defend and keep the tempo at a moderate pace. They don’t want to get into an up-and-down game with the more-athletic Jayhawks, who have a decided talent edge. But talent sometimes isn’t enough to overcome heart and once Bruce Weber cleared out all his malcontents and bad seeds from last year, he’s left with a team that plays as hard as any team he’s had.

I’m not saying Kansas State is going to pull the stunner. In fact, I would be shocked. I’m just saying if the Wildcats can get out to a lead and keep the game ugly, the basket could start to shrink for KU.

But in the end, I still like the ‘Hawks, 70-61.