The powers that be did K-State men’s basketball no favors when they scheduled in-state rival No. 3 Kansas (12-1, 1-0) as its first conference road game of the 2016-17 season.
The matchup against the Jayhawks tips off at 8 p.m. in Lawrence on ESPN 2.
The Wildcats (12-1, 1-0) are well aware of the pitfalls that Allen Fieldhouse holds historically for K-State as it attempts to get its first win in Lawrence since Jan. 14, 2006.
In the 10 games since, the closest the Wildcats have come was an 11-point loss back in 2015.
Most would point to the atmosphere as a major contributing factor in K-State’s struggle, but head coach Bruce Weber said it’s the team behind the noise that has dealt his Wildcats 10 straight road losses.
“It’s not only the environment, it’s how they play,” Weber said. “They play at a different level at home, there’s no doubt about it.”
That elevated level is something that K-State players have seen full and well — especially the seniors making their last trip to Lawrence. It’s a challenge to which they’ve been looking forward.
“For me and (senior forward D.J. Johnson) especially, this is our last chance to get a win in Allen Fieldhouse,” senior guard Wesley Iwundu said. “It’s a big-time game, one that we’ve kind of circled on our calendars. We’ll just be ready for the moment.”
The No. 3 Jayhawks are the highest-ranked team the Wildcats will face so far this season, and it’s only the second true road game after a 31-point dismantling of Saint Louis in early December.
Most of the Wildcat roster has experience playing in Allen Fieldhouse after last season’s 77-59 loss, but for the few that haven’t, including freshman Xavier Sneed and sophomore guard Kamau Stokes, who suffered a season-ending injury in the game before the Lawrence edition of the Sunflower Showdown, Iwundu has some thoughts to share from his past three experiences.
“Being the older guy on the team, I think it’s kind of my job to settle at a good pace,” Iwundu said. “Being patient at Allen Fieldhouse is a big-time key to win the game. You can’t go in rushing shots because bad shots lead to transition or easy buckets for them especially in their house.”
The Jayhawks come into Tuesday’s game after surviving an 88-80 scare versus TCU in Fort Worth in their conference opener.
Kansas features a veteran backcourt in senior guard Frank Mason III — one of the top guards in the country — and junior guard Devonte Graham, along with highly-touted freshman forward Josh Jackson.
The weakness for the Jayhawks is in the post where injuries have left them with little depth, and senior center Landen Lucas has struggled at times this season to be the strong inside presence that Kansas has become accustomed to over the years.
With that weakness comes opportunity for the Wildcats in Johnson and freshman forward Isaiah Maurice, whom Weber thinks will be returning after a three-game suspension for “violations of departmental policy.”
Maurice could become a focal point of the Wildcats’ offense if they can take advantage of that matchup down low.
“I have the same mindset for every game: Whatever it takes to win the game,” Johnson said. “If it means feed the ball to me a little more, that’s what we have to do. I know traps are coming so that will probably take me right back outside to my players, and I like that a lot because they can shoot the ball really well.”
Weber and his staff stressed preparation leading up to Tuesday’s game in the hopes of breaking the decade-long streak.
“The will to win is there, but do you have the will to prepare?” Weber said. “That’s what we talk about yesterday. We have to be ready with preparation mentally, not just be hyped for the game, we got to be prepared for the game if we want to have a chance to be successful there.”