(WICHITA, Kan.) — Another big weekend for hoops in Kansas, where the ‘big three’ are trying to go the NCAA in the same year for the first time since 1988.
Kansas at Missouri
Everyone immediately goes to Caroline and Duke as the best college basketball rivalry in the country, but give me the pure hatred of KU-Mizzou.
This is the 266th meeting of the Border War (sorry about the political incorrectness but Border Showdown?...Really?). I know this is a big game because ESPN Gameday is broadcasting from Columbia. Nothing screams big game like Digger Phelps and his matching magic marker and tie. KU has generally owned this rivalry, winning the last five and the last two games at Missouri. Beyond that, Kansas coach Bill Self is 17-3 all-time against Mizzou and the ‘Hawks have won 24 of 33 meetings against their rival in Big 12 play.
The Tigers would have to qualify as the biggest national surprise of the season to this point. Especially when you consider that Ricardo Ratliffe is really their only big guy. Ratliffe leads the nation in field goal percentage, hitting over 75% of his shots, but it’s his ability to get up and down the floor with the speed of the Tigers that really makes him effective. In Marcus Denmon, Mizzou has a legitimate Big 12 Player of the Year candidate, but it’s the whole package that makes the Tigers such a load. They run and shoot extremely well, lead the Big 12 in turnover margin and, at 77%, are the best free throw shooting team in the conference. Unbeaten at home, the closest anyone has come to them in Mizzou Arena is 9 points(Texas).
Kansas has been a little uncertain on the road of late, holding on to beat Texas by 3 before losing at Iowa State last weekend. Thomas Robinson remains, in my mind, the National Player of the Year, but he does average about 4 points and 4 rebounds less on the road than he does at home. Obviously, he needs to loom large for the Jayhawks in this one, but isn’t that what National Player of the Year candidates do? Note to T-Rob: Kansas was outrebounded at both Texas and Iowa State, but where the Cyclones beat them was at the line, outscoring the visitors by 15. This will be the fifth time that Kansas has faced a top ten team this season, they’re 2-2 in the four previous tests.
Indiana St. at Wichita St.
The Shockers try to win at least twenty games in a season for the third straight year tomorrow when they host Indiana State. The 9:00pm start might make for some yawns late in the game, although this one should be pretty entertaining. The Sycamores, picked to finish third in the MVC, have started to recover from a slow start. They’ve won three straight coming to Wichita where they’ve lost six in a row. The Shockers beat Indiana State 75-65 on the road on January 15, despite shooting just 40 percent and getting only eight points from Garrett Stutz. Indiana State actually had more field goals in the game, but the Shocks hit 10-20 three-pointers and outscored the Sycamores by 13 at the line.
Wichita State is one game back of Creighton with six to play. The Jays have Northern Iowa on the road and still have to go to Indiana State. If the Shockers have any design on a Valley title they can ill afford another loss.
Texas A&M at Kansas State
Did you know that if you gave K-State 12 points they could be 19-2 instead of 15-6? The point that Frank Martin is trying to make---is that his ‘Cats are close. Texas A&M comes in this afternoon as KSU tries to end a two game skid. It’s interesting that the Big 12 may have the most surprising team in the country in Missouri and the most disappointing one in A&M. The Aggies were picked, along with KU, as Big 12 preseason favorites. They’ve been beset by injuries, but have started to play through them of late having pushed both Kansas and Baylor. In his first year as head coach Billy Kennedy has his team playing great defense, something the Wildcats like to hang their hats on. The result may be a low scoring slug-fest.
Texas A&M has never won in Manhattan and are oh-seven there in the Big 12 era, and will be without injured starters Dash Harris and Chris Middelton. Kansas State has to be desperate for a win, especially after leading Iowa State for so much of the game in Ames last Tuesday. Twice in the waning moments they let a defensive rebound get away and Royce White killed them with the last second jumper. Martin still isn’t sure what he’s sure of with this club. Yes, they’re generally going to rebound and defend, but outside Rodney McGruder there’s not a real consistent offensive presence. That will force the top cat to mix and match his lineups even more than usual during the game—especially against the Aggie’s pressure.
Last weekend, KU, WSU and KSU all lost on the same day for the first time in four years—my best guess tomorrow? That they take two of three—I’ll leave you to discern the winners.