The last time Kansas and Kansas State met, a month ago at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, the Jayhawks and Wildcats both stood undefeated in Big 12 play and both were nationally ranked. The Jayhawks won that game by a convincing 26-point margin.
Tonight the scene shifts to Bramlage Coliseum and the Octagon of Doom, as it is called by the Wildcat Nation. Like Lawrence it is a venue that most teams would choose not to go to if that were an option. Let’s just say that bad things tend to happen to good teams when they take on K-State on the Wildcats’ home hardwood. Only one of the two teams is ranked in the nation’s top 25 this time around – the Jayhawks are No. 7 this week in both the Associated Press and USA Today polls – but that doesn’t really mean all that much in a heated rivalry series like this.
A statistical comparison as well as a historical analysis of the two programs weighs heavily in Kansas’ favor. After all, the Jayhawks are 8-1 in conference play this season (18-5 overall) as they go after their 10th consecutive conference crown in basketball, and they have dominated the all-time series, winning 48 of the last 51 games between the two Sunflower State schools and owning a 187-91 record overall. You can add to that the Jayhawks’ highly impressive 28-2 record in their last 30 visits to the Little Apple of the Kansas high plains.
That all sounds good on paper, but the truth is, you can throw out all the historical and stantistical comparisons when these two teams play in Manhatan. The Jayhawks obviously have been successful against K-State anywhere they have played them, but the Wildcats are a much different team when they play at home. Just ask the Texas Longhorns, who handed Kansas its first conference loss of the year a week ago and seven days later were delt a crushing defeat by Kansas Sate in Manhattan.
K-State (16-7, 6-4) is undefeated in Big 12 play at home this season and owns the best home-court record in the conference in 2013-14, with just one loss in 13 games. The Wildcats have won two of the last six games with Kansas in Manhattan – by 11 in 2008 and 16 in 2011 – but in the other four games over that time frame, the average score diffference was six points.
The second game in this year’s Sunflower Showdown series in basketball pits the best shooting team in the conference, Kansas, against the league’s top team in field-goal defense, Kansas State. The Jayhawks, led by freshman sensation Andrew Wiggins (16 ppg) and sophomore Perry Ellis (13 ppg) are shooting better than 50 percent in their 23 games this season.
Freshman Marcus Foster leads the Wildcats in scoring this season, averaging close to 15 points a game (he had a career-high 34-point performance in the Cats big win over Texas this past weekend). But K-State’s biggest strength this year is their glove-tight, in-your-face defensive pressure. They defend every shot, and they are holding opponents under 40 percent shooting this season. Behind Wiggins’ 22 points and Wayne Selden’s 20, the Jayhawks shot 56 percent for the game in the first meeting this season with K-State.
This is the second time in three seasons that Kansas State has hosted two top-15 teams in successive games. The last time was Valentine’s Day weekend in 2012, when the Wildcats split games against Missouri and Baylor. In 2013-14 alone, K-State has beaten five teams in the top-35 RPI.
Short and simple: Kansas State wants to keep Monday night’s game in the 60s. If the game gets into the high 70s or 80s, the advantage greatly shifts to the visiting teams from Lawrence.
My pick: Kansas 76, Kansas State 69 - K-State will control the flow of this game in an attempt to shorten the game and slow down the Kansas offensive attack and fast-break opportunitues, In the end, however, the Jayhawks have too much depth and too many offensive weapons. Kansas wins in a game that will be very close at the end.
There are actually two conference games scheduled for Monday night. West Virginia (14-10, 6-5), which has been on a bit of a roll lately with three wins in its last four games, hosts resurgent Iowa State (18-4, 6-4). The Cyclones, ranked 11th in the latest AP poll, own the best overall record in the Big 12 and they might still be perfect if it were not for a string of four games in a row very recently that they lost.
West Virginia boasts two of the top scorers in the Big 12 with junior Juwan Staten scoring at an 18.3 clip through all games, and shophomore Eron Harris averaging 17.5 points per game. Last Wednesday at home against Oklahoma, the pair combined for 48 points, playing all but a couple of minutes in the Mountaineers’ overtime win. They had 39 combined points at Kansas on Saturday.
Iowa State has some scoring power of its own. The Cyclones lead the conference, averaging 85 points a game, and they are a very good shooting team that loves to shoot the three-ball, which means they are rarely out of any game. Senior foward Melvin Ejim, the Big 12′s leading scorer, exploded for a Big 12-record 48 points Saturday in the Cyclones’ win over TCU. Iowa State is shooting 47 percent this season, and they have put up 555 three-point shots on which they average 37 percent accuracy.
West Virginia is playing at home, where they have played well, winning their last three outings. And Iowa State has lost three of five in conference games on the road this season. The problem is, Bob Huggins’ team does not play defense that well, and they do not rebound nearly as well as the Cyclones. These two factors are why the Mountaineers will lose Monday night’s date with visiting Iowa State.
My pick: Iowa State 83, West Virginia 76