9:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Kansas State -2.5 , Over/Under: -131
Bitter instate rivals face off in Manhattan, as the Eleventh-Ranked Kansas Jayhawks travel to Bramlage Coliseum to battle the Big XII-leading Kansas State Wildcats. Over the past fourteen years, Kansas (17-5, 6-3 in Big XII) has remained the gold standard in the Big XII, dominating one of the more competitive conferences in College Basketball with startling ease. Bill Self’s charges have been challenged throughout the past decade and some change, but have always found a way to sit atop the league by the late February. However, this particular campaign is shaping out to be a race to the finish, for at 6-3 in Big XII Play, the Jayhawks currently sit tied for Second Place with Iowa State, with each team trailing both Baylor and tonight’s opponent Kansas Sate by a half-game. This has been a rough stretch for Kansas, losing three out of their past five outings, with injuries and ineligibility thinning out their ranks; they lost Starting Center Udoka Azubuike (13.4 PTS, 70.5% FG, 6.8 REB, 0.6 AST, 0.4 STL, 1.6 BLK, 30.9 PER) after just nine games to torn ligaments in his right hand, and most recently Shooting Guard Marcus Garrett (7.2 PTS, 40.2% FG, 22.6% 3FG, 3.6 REB, 2.4 AST, 1.8 STL, 13.1 PER) to a sprained ankle, before promising Sophomore Forward Silvio De Sousa was branded ineligible by the NCAA for not just this season, but the following one as well, after it was determined that his guardian accepted impermissible benefits. Coming off the heels of back-to-back losses to Kentucky (63-71) and Texas (63-73), it was understandable that the faithful in Lawrence, Kansas were biting their collective nails. With that said, they may have finally found their turning point, galvanizing themselves for a run towards yet another Big XII in the form of their 79-63 drubbing of No. 16 Texas Tech last Saturday.
This particular performance was easily their most impressive in months, as Kansas roared out to an early advantage before building a 20-point lead at Halftime, punishing the conference’s premier defensive team. When it was all said and done, the Jayhawks shot 45.8% from the field, including 13-of-30 from beyond the arc (43.3%), assisting on Nineteen of their Twenty-Seven Field Goals. Dedric Lawson (19.5 PTS, 51.3% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 10.9 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.2 STL, 1.2 BLK, 29.1 PER) and Devon Dotson (11.1 PTS, 48.8% FG, 42.2% 3FG, 3.4 REB, 3.4 AST, 1.5 STL, 15.9 PER) accounted for Forty-Five Points by themselves, shooting 16-of-26 from the floor (61.5%), including 6-of-8 from downtown (75.0%), along with Thirteen Rebounds, Four Assists, Three Steals, and a pair of Blocks. Lawson, in particular went to work early against the Red Raiders, posting Sixteen Points and Seven Rebounds by Halftime. Conversely, Self’s troops all but overwhelmed the visitors on the defensive end, relegating Texas Tech to just 34.4% from the field, including 6-of-28 from three (21.4%), and in the First Half failed to score on consecutive possessions from the field. Coming into tonight’s contest, it should be noted that this rivalry has been overly one-sided of late, with the Jayhawks besting the Wildcats in eight straight meetings, including each of their three encounters last season. While the affair at Phog Allen Fieldhouse was tightly-contested (73-72), their battle at Bramlage Coliseum was decisively less so; Kansas stormed into Manhattan and humbled Kansas State in a 70-56 victory, jumping out a 40-27 lead at Halftime which the hosts never came close to returning from.
Meanwhile, sitting atop the Big XII is Kansas State (16-5, 6-2 in Big XII), a surprising choice given that this team hasn’t quite received the same respect in the AP Poll as they have in their own league. Granted, Bruce Weber’s charges were at one point ranked as high as Twelfth in the Polls, but currently sit outside the rankings despite building a good deal of momentum heading into this meeting with their blood rivals from Lawrence. Winners of six of their last seven outings, the Wildcats figure to return to the Polls with a win over the Jayhawks, though that’s certainly easier said than done, for as we detailed earlier, they haven’t achieved that fate in eight consecutive meetings, with their last victory coming back on February 23rd of 2015. Furthermore, since Weber arrived back in 2012, he’s amassed a dismal 2-13 record against his counterpart on the opposite bench, though both wins did occur in Manhattan. However, one would have to figure that now would be the opportune time to take advantage of their opponent given all the issues that they’ve faced over the past few weeks. Oh, and during that 14-year reign of terror over the Big XII the last team to even claim a share of the league is the Wildcats, who did so back in the 2012-2013 term, which was coincidentally, Weber’s first year on the job.
Of course, even if things are lining up for an upset of the Jayhawks, actually completing the deed will be easier said than done. However, as we hinted at earlier, the Wildcats certainly have the presence of momentum on their side, with only a disappointing 53-65 defeat Texas A&M staining their resume’. Kansas State rebounded from that loss in style, smashing Oklahoma State 75-57 in Stillwater, Oklahoma, a performance that showcased some uncharacteristically explosive offense. In addition to scoring Seventy-Five Points, the visiting side shot a blistering 53.1% from the field, including 16-of-29 from beyond the arc (55.2%), outscoring the Cowboys by a whopping Fifteen Points in that regard, and assisting on an efficient nineteen of their Twenty-Six Field Goals. In fact, their Sixteen Three-Pointers marked a school record against a Big XII Opponent, while ranking second overall. Dean Wade (14.3 PTS, 53.4% FG, 46.7% 3FG, 6.5 REB, 2.7 AST, 0.9 STL, 25.1 PER) was at the heart of pyrotechnics, scoring a game-high Twenty-Four points on a perfect 9-of-9 shooting from the field, including 3-of-3 from downtown, becoming just the seventh player in school history to log a perfect shooting performance with a minimum of Nine Field Goal Attempts. Barry Brown Jr. (15.3 PTS, 44.0% FG, 31.4% 3FG, 4.1 REB, 2.5 AST, 2.0 STL, 18.1 PER) added another Eighteen Points 6-of-11 shooting (54.5%) including 5-of-9 from three (55.6%), along with Four Rebounds, Three Assists, and a pair of Steals. It was indeed a surprising performance from a team that typically struggles on this end of the floor, ranking Tenth in the conference in Points Scored (63.1), Sixth in both Field Goal Percentage (42.8%) and Three-point Field Goal Percentage (35.5%), and Seventh in Assists (12.8). However, if Weber’s charges bring this kind of shooting to battle against Kansas, then they absolutely have an opportunity to snap that dubious losing streak, and get back into the Top-25.