After Kansas State lost back-to-back games to Kansas and Iowa State, getting back into first place seemed all but impossible.
But then the impossible happened, with Kansas losing three straight games to unranked conference foes. Suddenly, the school that has won eight straight Big 12 titles looks vulnerable, and the Wildcats have sole possession of first place in league.
The Wildcats (19-4, 8-2) have a chance to widen their lead against the Jayhawks (19-4, 7-3) tonight at Allen Fieldhouse at 8 p.m. And this time, it means more than it has in some time.
The game will mark the first time K-State has led the league standings going into a game against Kansas since Jan. 30, 1988. The Wildcats won the game 72-61.
The Wildcats haven’t been in first in the Big 12 since the 2007-08 season when they set atop the league standings on Feb. 12. It will be the first time K-State has been ranked higher than Kansas before a Sunflower Showdown since March 2, 1982, when the Wildcats beat an unranked KU team 65-53 in Manhattan.
Despite all the hype building around the second showdown of the season, senior Rodney McGruder said the Wildcats don’t view the game as any bigger than any other during Big 12 play.
“It seems like people always try to amp that Kansas game up more than any other game — it’s just any other game,” he said after the Wildcats’ win over Iowa State on Saturday. “We have to treat it like any other game. You can’t say ‘oh man we’ve got Kansas,’ and get wrapped up in the rivalry. We have to treat it just like it’s Iowa State, Oklahoma State, anything like that.”
Sophomore guard Angel Rodriguez echoed McGruder’s thoughts, saying he doesn’t think anyone would make as big a deal of the game if it wasn’t against Kansas.
It will mark the 17th time both teams have been ranked in a meeting, dating back to the first time both were ranked in 1950. Kansas is 12-4 all time in those games and has won the last five times both were ranked.
Despite the Jayhawks being in the midst of a three-game losing streak, K-State coach Bruce Weber said he expects a tough game against Kansas.
“They’re good,” he said. “I think when they came here their coaches kind of talked to our coaches and said ‘we’re not sure how good we are, but we believe we can win.’ Once they had the one loss with Oklahoma State, it kind of knocked them off their pedestal. They’re going to be back. They’re good, Bill (Self) is a good coach.”
Weber said they will be facing a Kansas team that is hurting, but will be fired up and ready to play at a high level. The key for the Wildcats, he said, is playing basketball the way they have played all season, and not letting the outside factors effect them.
“Every game is different,” Weber said. “I’ve never been (to Allen Fieldhouse), I’ve watched it on TV, but (Kansas has) won a whole bunch of games there. We’re going to have to pay a really good ball game to win there.”