Kansas State Advances, Sets Up Epic KC Showdown With KUPosted by dnspewak on March 16th, 2013
Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is a Big 12 Microsite writer. He’s in Kansas City covering the Big 12 Tournament this weekend.
Kansas and Kansas State tied for the Big 12 regular season championship. Technically. “We’re conference co‑champs,” coach Bruce Weber said. Fair enough. Both teams finished 14-4 in league play. Identical record means co-champs. Awards all around, everybody gets a trophy, let’s all go get some pizza after the game. Still, co-champ label or not, any person with even the slightest bit of logical reasoning can figure out who really won this league. Kansas won the regular season title. It played Kansas State at home and won. It played Kansas State on the road and won. That’s two games, both at two different sites, and two victories for the Jayhawks. If ever there were a tiebreaker to crown a true champion, that’d be it. Of course, it allowed Kansas to seize the top seed in the Big 12 Tournament, so it’s not as though those two victories were meaningless.
So it’s settled. The Kansas Jayhawks are the Big 12 champions. For now, at least. That could change on Saturday afternoon, when the two teams face each other in the Big 12 Tournament title game at the Sprint Center on national television. This is an unprecedented event for Kansas City. If you’re not from the area or not familiar with the makeup of the sports culture here, allow us to break it down for you. There’s Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State, all within two hours of driving distance from Kansas City. They all bitterly compete for media coverage, and it’s a rite of passage as a fan to complain about the lack of attention from the newspapers. Kansas fans call the Kansas City Star the “MU Star”. Missouri fans call it the “KU Star.” Those two teams don’t play each other anymore, but there’s been talk among fans that the programs should set up a series at the Sprint Center on an annual basis. Good luck with that, folks.
Even if Mizzou’s not participating, it’ll be a miracle if Kansas City is still standing by midnight Saturday. This is the match-up we’ve been waiting for all weekend: Kansas vs. Kansas State, the two best teams in the league and the two teams within the closest proximity of each other. If only you could see the scene at the plaza and in the Power and Light district here in Kansas City. There’s a lot of blue. A lot of purple. Some orange, some red, some other random colors. There aren’t many TCU fans, no, but there are a few people wearing Baylor green. This is one of the country’s most underrated basketball cities. It’s home to the renowned College Basketball Experience and the College Basketball Hall of Fame, and with the Big Three (and Wichita State) mixed together, it’s as hostile as any hoops territory not named Tobacco Road. Just ask the fans mingling in the downtown area after the game. “We want them again,” says a heavyset man wearing KSU purple. Upon hearing that, a KU fan fires back. “Don’t listen to him,” the older gentlemen in the Jayhawk sweatshirt says. “We’ve already won twice this year.” It’s not just this year, either. Kansas has beaten Kansas State 46 out of the last 49 times. That’s not a typo. It has defeated the Wildcats 10 straight times in Big 12 Tournament play.
So that’s what’s at stake at the Sprint Center in the Big 12 Championship game. A chance to rewrite history, geographical dominance, a tournament title and, most importantly, a chance for Kansas State to show the world that perhaps it is a champion. If the Wildcats win this game, they’ll have a better argument as to why they’re really the kings of this league. They’ll need to play as well defensively as they did against Oklahoma State in their 68-57 semifinal victory, as they plowed through the Cowboys in a physical, grinding battle. Kansas State’s taller forwards held Le’Bryan Nash in check, and only Marcus Smart found any sort of a groove against Weber’s defense. Jordan Henriquez, battling a back injury, played like an animal in the first half with eight rebounds and three blocks. He wasn’t much of a factor after halftime, but his defense set the tone in the early stages of the game. Rodney McGruder carried the load offensively by scoring from every spot on the floor. He made things look effortless on Friday night with a game-high 25 points.
Remember, Oklahoma State isn’t just a bunch of chumps. Kansas State handled a nationally-ranked opponent without much of a problem, so it’ll now need to rest up at the hotel before the Saturday showdown. “It’s hard turnaround,” Weber said. “Now we’re going to have a hard turnaround at 5:00. Obviously, a couple of hours for Kansas probably helps them.” A few hours asleep aside, it shouldn’t make much of a difference. With all the hype surrounding the game, McGruder is trying to stay level-headed. “We have a game tomorrow,” McGruder said. “So just gotta get prepared for Kansas.” With a chance to redeem itself for two losses, preparing for the Jayhawks shouldn’t be much of a problem for Kansas State. Until then, let’s pray for Kansas City to avoid an all-out civil war.