The temperature has finally dropped below 70 degrees in Kansas City. The wind is blowing. We’ve got overcast skies. It’s the perfect day to head inside and watch Kansas State take on Kansas in the championship game of the Big 12 Tournament.
The Wildcats beat Oklahoma State 68-57 last night in the semifinals to advance to its first tournament final since 2010. The seniors on the roster played in that game, and still bring up the disappointment of losing. They will get the chance to come full circle tonight against Kansas, the team K-State split the regular season Big 12 crown with, at 5 p.m.
K-State’s younger players want to send them out with another trophy.
“That’s what we came here for,” said sophomore guard Angel Rodriguez. “What more could you ask for. It’s also great because of who we are going to play. It’s a great opportunity for both teams. We are both going to go out and play for it. Even though we both deserve the title, somehow, we want to prove we are the best team in the Big 12.”
“This is their last go-around,” added junior guard Shane Southwell. “I want to see Martavious Irving dancing at mid-court if we win.”
Motivation and trophies aside, here are a few other things to keep an eye on today:
– Jordan Henriquez will once again be a key player tonight. His eight points, 11 rebounds and strong defense were major reasons why K-State defeated Oklahoma State last night. But he played poorly in K-State’s regular-season games against Kansas, combining for six points and 10 rebounds. The Wildcats were still able to hang around at Bramlage Coliseum without him playing at a high level, but Jeff Withey dominated him at Allen Fieldhouse and Kansas won big.
– K-State’s recipe for success lately has been for McGruder and Rodriguez to score in double-figures and one other player to step up more than usual. It might take two other players stepping up tonight. Shane Southwell scored 19 points in the first game, but K-State still lost by four when Will Spradling missed all five of his shots. If the Wildcats had a fourth player contributing, they would have won.
– The Wildcats significantly boosted their chances of returning to Kansas City for the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament next week by winning two games here, but they can all but lock up a trip back with a victory over Kansas. K-State is currently ranked 16th in the RPI and back-to-back wins over highly ranked opponents would help both its seeding and location in March Madness.
– Energy is always a factor in these type of games. Both Kansas and K-State will be playing their third game in three days. The Jayhawks will probably hold the advantage in that department. Though K-State took care of business against Texas and got revenge on Oklahoma State, it relied on all-out defensive effort in both victories. Kansas defeated Texas Tech by a mile and cruised past Iowa State in the second half.
– It will be interesting to see how split the crowd will be tonight. Three years ago, Jamar Samuels complained that he only saw blue in the stands.
– Both teams have a freshman playing at a high level right now. Perry Ellis led Kansas to a victory over Iowa State. D.J. Johnson has come up with big plays in back-to-back games for K-State.
– A few quick stats: K-State’s last conference tournament championship came in 1980 over Kansas 79-58 … The last time K-State lost to Kansas twice in the regular season, but beat the Jayhawks in the conference tournament was 1993 … K-State is 0-7 against Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament … Bruce Weber already has as many Big 12 Tournament victories as Frank Martin. The former coach’s only two wins came in 2010 on the way to the championship game … K-State (27-6) is two victories shy of matching the program record of 29 wins. If the Wildcats win today, they can reach their first 30-win season with a trip to the Sweet 16.