A Sunflower State basketball feast on tap today

By Steve Sell
March 21, 2014

Has there even been a better day for a state of Kansas basketball fan to stay in and hunker down for about eight hours?

This is basketball utopia, a hoops junkie’s fix. The roundball feast starts just after 3 p.m. when the Kansas Jayhawks take on unheralded Eastern Kentucky in one of those 2-15 matchups that almost always goes the second-seed’s way.

I can tell you right now this is how it’s going to play out. Eastern Kentucky’s quickness and ability to shoot the 3-pointer will push it out to an early 8-point lead. Kansas fans will start to get sweaty palms and scream at their TVs that Naadir Tharpe needs to be on the bench or Perry Ellis is playing too soft on defense.

Finally, Eastern Kentucky will finally start to miss some shots and Kansas’ superior inside advantage will take over. It will be a five-point game with 5 minutes to go before the Jayhawks pull away to win by about nine. I just don’t think this Kansas team has what it takes on their inside to punish a No. 15 seed like it should.

After about an hour to wind down from Kansas’ tougher-than-expected win, then it’s Wichita State’s turn, as the Shockers tee it up at 6:10 against somebody called Cal-Poly, one of the many teams in the field nobody even hears about until the NCAA Tournament rolls around.

The pressure on the Shockers must be suffocating. They remain in their role of tournament Cinderella, as most of the nation still doesn’t take them seriously, despite making the Final Four last year and outplaying eventual national champion Louisville for about 30 of the 40 minutes.

Look for the Shockers’ backcourt of Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet to control the action. Wichita State is a typically slow starter and Cal Poly will hang around for about 30 minutes. WSU, however, has displayed an uncanny finishing kick in its games. Look for the Shockers to win by 12 to 15.

After a 30-minute break, Kansas State and Kentucky hook up at 8:40, the game I really want to see. I’m confounded how so many people already have penciled in Kentucky to play Wichita State on Sunday. Hello? A Kentucky victory isn’t assured. Kansas State has a toughness about it, not to mention a chip on its shoulder. If Marcus Foster has a big game, Kansas State has a chance. It has to be able to score some easy points, though.

I’d like to see Kansas State win, if for nothing else, I’m not a big fan of Kentucky coach John Calipari, who whines almost as much as Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.

I think K-State will be right there, provided it can get something from its inside game. If it can get Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein in foul trouble, it will go down to the wire.

However, I still give the nod to Kentucky, as much as it pains me to say it. I was so looking forward to a KSU-WSU third-round showdown.

McPherson fans need to have two televisions going during the Wichita State game. McPherson native Brad Underwood’s Stephen F. Austin team is playing one-time mid-major darling VCU at 6:27. 

Underwood had to like what he saw on Thursday. His team is a No. 12 seed and two No. 12s won openers, Harvard and North Dakota State, which ousted Steve Henson’s Oklahoma Sooners in a game OU appeared to have won.

The other No. 12 on Thursday, North Carolina State, nearly made it 3-for-3 as it had a 16- point lead with eight minutes to go, only to be betrayed by some of the worst free throwing this side of the third grade. NC State wound up missing an atrocious 17 free throws against St. Louis, basically handing the game on a silver platter to the Billikens.

So the vibes definitely are on Underwood’s side. If his team wins, it would most likely play UCLA on Sunday.