LAWRENCE, Kan. –The stakes are high for the Kansas State men’s basketball team when they tip off against Kansas Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse. Both teams come into the Sunflower Showdown Part II with similar records – 19-4. But the teams are going in opposite directions.
Kansas lost to Oklahoma 72-66 Saturday, the team’s third loss in a row, and it’s the first time the Jayhawks have lost three in a row since February of 2005. They currently sit one game behind Kansas State in the Big 12 standings, and if they lose Monday night, their streak of eight straight Big 12 titles will be in jeopardy.
Kansas State has never won a Big 12 title, even though several of their past teams came close. The last time the Wildcats won a conference title was the Big Eight in 1977. Kansas State has won four games in a row, most recently over Iowa State 79-70 on Saturday, and if they win in Lawrence Monday night, they will have a two game lead over Kansas. It will be a challenge, though. The last time Kansas State won at Allen Fieldhouse was January of 2006. The time before that? 1994.
Kansas head coach Bill Self challenged his team’s toughness after they lost to Oklahoma State on February 2, and they responded by losing to Texas Christian University 62-55 on February 6, a loss some consider to be one of the worst in the program’s history. With no true point guard to run the offense, senior Elijah Johnson has been asked to handle the ball but he has been prone to turnovers. The entire team has not been shooting the ball well lately. Despite losing three in a row to unranked foes, Self believes his team can rebound.
“Let’s be real,” Self said. “When you’re ranked number two in the country seven days ago, you don’t go from a good team to a bad team overnight. We’ve had a couple bad outings.”
Kansas State’s new coach, Bruce Weber, has taken a team with few stars and taught them to play well together. Senior point guard Rodney McGruder is averaging a team-high 15 points per game – he’s the only Kansas State player averaging double figures – and the Wildcats rank first in team defense.
“It’s great for the kids,” Weber said. “I told them, enjoy it, enjoy the opportunities, enjoy each other, we get along, have fun, keep fighting, that’s all we can do, and worry about the task at hand.”
Tip off is scheduled for 8pm. The game will be televised on ESPN.