If the Kansas Jayhawks can’t win the second Sunflower Showdown of the college basketball season on Monday night, they can say goodbye to any chance of them keeping their Big 12 conference championship streak alive. It’s been a nightmare of a season for Kansas. Anything that can gone wrong has gone wrong as injuries, eligibility concerns, and personal issues have all stripped the team of a key player. The Kansas State Wildcats can smell blood in the water, and they will look to take advantage.
Kansas State might not have guard Cartier Diarra for the rest of the season. Diarra was averaging around 25 minutes per game before breaking his hand, and he underwent surgery to repair the hand two weeks ago. There is no timetable for his return yet.
As for Kansas, what looked to be one of the top frontcourts in the nation suffered successive blows that moved the Jayhawks from potential title contender to a team whose ceiling is likely the Elite Eight. Udoka Azubuike was lost for the year after tearing ligaments in his right hand during practice in early January. He was the most efficient shooter in the country, and not having him has deprived the team of its most reliable option. The NCAA declaring top prospect Silvio De Sousa ineligible also really hurt, giving the Jayhawks no depth in the frontcourt. To make matters worse, top guard Lagerald Vick left the team for personal reasons more than two weeks ago and has yet to return.
Despite all the things that are going against Kansas, the power of Allen Fieldhouse has them considered a favorite tonight. The Jayhawks are 3.5-point favorites according to the oddsmakers, and the over/under has been installed at 133.
What’s at Stake?
If Kansas State can win tonight’s game, the Wildcats will have a hammerlock on the Big 12. They are currently a game up on Texas Tech with four to play and two games up on Kansas. The Wildcats have already split their season series with Texas Tech, and with one previous win over Kansas, they can put themselves in a commanding position and potentially grab a No. 2 or No. 3 seed.
The Jayhawks have the longest conference championship streak in the nation, but their run is close to coming to an end. Kansas has won at least a share of 14 consecutive regular season Big 12 titles, and the school needs a win here to have a shot of keeping that streak alive.
Both teams were involved in blowouts Saturday, but they were on opposite ends. While Kansas State poured it on against a ravaged Oklahoma State team, Kansas was smashed by Texas Tech. A quick turnaround would normally lead to fatigue, but given both games were blowouts, that’s likely to be less of a factor.
The last time these teams met, the difference was turnovers. Kansas turned the ball over an incredible 23 times, and the Wildcats picked up the win despite not being particularly efficient from the floor. The Jayhawks must cut those out if they want to win.
Kansas State loves to shoot the three, but the team isn’t particularly efficient in this area. While the Wildcats have three players that have taken 100 or more attempts from three and have taken a three on 37.6 percent of their filed goal opportunities, they have sunk just 34 percent of their chances. However, 6’8 forward Dean Wade has been solid from range, and Kansas State can use this to their advantage.
Wade is hitting more than 44 percent of his triples on the year. His ability to come to the perimeter and play as a stretch five has been huge, and if he hits a couple threes that will put real pressure on Kansas. The Jayhawks have only one quality big man in Dedric Lawson, and if he leaves the paints, the visitors could have a field day on the boards. Along those lines, I think Wade is going to take more shots than usual, and I think he goes over his totals.
This line feels a bit weird considering the state of these teams, but Kansas has been on the ropes and fought back before. The Wildcats aren’t the most overwhelming team in the country, and don’t have great shooters, but I think they can get the job done and finally end Kansas’ streak.