Manhattan, KS– “Why settle for second when first is available” former K-State Head Coach Bob Huggins said during his introductory press conference. Huggins is long gone, and so is his successor, Frank Martin. Yet here the Cats sit as the lone team atop the conference, 7-2 and one game ahead of Oklahoma State and arch rival Kansas. Tonight the Cats will look to stay atop the conference, standing in their way their toughest game of the season. Big Monday in Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas State vs. Kansas is just another game. A win over the Jayhawks is just another W in the win column, at least thats what the players said after beating Iowa State. But, to the Wildcat fan base, a win tonight against a reeling Jayhawk team will be a victory that will be remembered for a long time to come in Manhattan, KS.
In K-State 59-55 loss to Kansas earlier in the season, K-State was two missed threes away from a victory.
The Jayhawk defense left K-States shooters open on the perimeter on multiple occasions. The Cats were a mere 9-30 from beyond the arc. The majority of the misses were good open shots. Shots the Cats have been knocking down in recent games.
For K-State, the game will come down to three things, Rodney McGruder, continued lockdown defense, and the first 5 minutes.
Since K-State beat KU 59-55 in the 05/06 season, K-State has never been closer than 10 points at the 10 minute mark of the first half. Slow starts have done more than doom their chances in Lawrence. If K-State does not get off to a fast start, then we may very well see a repeat of K-States past blowouts.
No one seems more irritated about the KU game than Sr. Rodney McGruder. When asked about the KU game in Saturday’s post game press conference, McGruder responded and talked about how tired he was that the media was treating KU like it was a bigger game than all the others.
To McGruder it is just another game. But McGruder will have to put in a performance worthy of a star to bring a W. McGruder can not afford to get in early foul trouble like he has in games against Texas and OU.
If K-State wants to walk out of Lawrence victorious, McGruder will have to play more than 33 minutes and pour in a performance like he did Saturday against the Clones when the Sr. scored 22 points while adding 3 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals.
If there’s one thing K-State and Bruce Weber have held over from Frank Martin’s tenure, its solid defense. K-State has evolved into arguably the best defense in the country. K-State held Kansas to its lowest scoring output of the season when the two teams last met in January. Another great defensive performance tonight and K-State has a very good shot of walking away with a win.
For as big of a win as this could be for K-State, a loss will be equally as devastating for Kansas. The Jayhawks are currently in the middle of a 3 game losing streak, and one could argue in a tailspin. All three losses were upsets at the hands of unranked teams, Oklahoma St, TCU, and Oklahoma.
If the loss to Oklahoma St. was a shock, the following loss to last placed TCU was a lightning bolt. TCU was winless in the big 12 at the time of the victory, and had not won a game since Dec. Ku followed up that embarrassing loss by putting in a better performance against OU in a game that still ended up as a 72-66 loss in Norman.
KU has not lost 4 in a row since 1988. The last time they lost back to back home games, also 1988, Kansas State 71-62 and Oklahoma 75-63.
The Jayhawks are aware of the pressure on them to win the game, and will likely come in firing on all cylinders.
For K-State it may simply be a matter of weathering the storm. No team in the Big 12 is playing better basketball than Kansas State. K-State has not had a game of this magnitude in a very long time. A win for the Cats would solidify their Big 12 title hopes and send the already exciting Cat fanbase into a frenzy, while a loss simply means game on in the title race.
A victory for KU and its back to business as usual, while a loss will be the death blow to an already wounded team.