Maybe all it took for the light to go on for the Kansas Jayhawks was to play their arch-rival.
During the nonconference portion of their basketball schedule, the Jayhawks were nothing short of maddening. There were flashes, yes, but consistency was fleeting. KU was nothing more than a big tease for its fans, who apparently didn’t realize that playing the nation’s most difficult schedule was somewhat overwhelming for the youngest team in the Big 12.
The Jayhawks opened Big 12 play on Wednesday by winning a shootout at Oklahoma, but even in that game their defense was infrequent. Cameron Clark must have felt like he was being guarded by air as easily as he scored.
I was expecting a down-to-the-wire game Saturday in Lawrence. Kansas State entered the contest white-hot, having won 10 in a row and strafing teams with its belly button-to-belly button defense. It wouldn’t have surprised me if the score was in the low 50s, something like 54-52.
But something happens to Kansas when it plays Kansas State. There’s no other way of explaining it. Kansas has had the most consistent program in the country since 1983 when Larry Brown took over, but the Wildcats have had good teams, too.
There’s no rhyme or reason, though, why KU dominates. Saturday’s 86-60 stress-free beatdown was its 48th in the last 51 meetings between the teams. All that evokes from me is a “good grief,” because you’d think during those half-a-hundred games that Kansas State would have at least won half of its games played in Manhattan.
The Jayhawks were focused. This game got away from the Wildcats in a hurry as before they knew it, it was 29-14 and the decibel level was ear-splitting. I kept waiting for Kansas to have a letdown and the Wildcats to pounce on the opportunity and get back into the game.
It never happened.
KU had zero — ZERO! — turnovers in the first half. And I know what you’re thinking — did Naadir Tharpe not play? With him on the floor, KU is generally good for a few passes that end up in the tuba section.
KU played with all the skill and expertise expected of it from Day One. Andrew Wiggins had a different look. His body language oozed confidence, something that has been missing all season. He seemed, for once, to embrace the college experience, instead of fretting how his game will translate to the NBA level.
KU smashed the Wildcats in the paint. It made freshman Marcus Foster look like a freshman, not like the junior or senior he had played like in recent games. Will Spradling seemed to hit everything but the rim — the side of the backboard or simply air. This was a mowdown that simply came out of the blue.
Now Kansas has a Big Monday date tonight with Iowa State and its Hilton Magic. The Cyclones could be without their best player, DeAndre Kane, but coach Fred Hoiberg will just plug in one of his many talented newcomers. The Cyclones are in desperation mode after being upset Saturday by Oklahoma and have to believe if they don’t win against the Jayhawks, their Big 12 hopes could start to slip away as they would be two game in arrears.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Iowa State wins tonight. KU certainly will have a letdown from Saturday and to replicate that performance is unlikely. But a Jayhawk win and you have to wonder if Big 12 title No. 10 in a row is in the future.