The end is near. For the first time in 15 years, the Kansas Jayhawks may not win the Big 12. Kansas has dominated the conference like no other school has dominated its conference, and it is one of most impressive streaks in sports today. However, the Jayhawks have been on the ropes for the last couple weeks and in-state rival Kansas State is looking to deliver some serious body blows. The Wildcats could deal Kansas its fourth conference loss on Tuesday, moving 1.5 games ahead of the Jayhawks in Big 12 play in the process.
Kansas State has no injuries or suspensions to report coming into tonight’s game, but the Jayhawks have a few things to note. Star center Udoka Azubuike broke his hand at the start of January and is lost for the rest of the season, and one of the top recruits in the country has been declared ineligible for the year too. Silvio De Sousa was the latest athlete to feel the wrath of the NCAA, and it’s unlikely he will ever suit up for the team. Sophomore guard Marcus Garrett is questionable with an ankle injury, and he missed Saturday’s game with Texas Tech.
This line is a bit of a shock at first glance. Kansas State is a two-point favorite over the team that has dominated it for decades. Kansas has won eight in a row in this series and you can bet a lot of public action will be on the Jayhawks given their reputation. That will make the Wildcats even more sharp come tip off. The over/under in this game is 130.5.
What’s at Stake?
A win here would be huge for Kansas State. The Wildcats are 16-5 this season, and they are 6-2 in conference play. They have road wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma to their credit, and that has them in the driver’s seat in the Big 12. A win here would further solidify their spot as they have already split with Texas Tech too.
The pressure is on every class that Kansas recruits to keep the streak alive. The Jayhawks have had a stronger grip on the Big 12 than the New England Patriots have had on the AFC East, and that’s saying something. Kansas has lost on the road to Iowa State, Texas, and West Virginia already, and the losses to Iowa State and Texas were by double digits. That’s not a good sign.
Both of these teams last played on Saturday, and both Kansas and Kansas State did the Sunflower State right with conference wins. Kansas smashed a very good Texas Tech in a pseudo must win game for its conference ambitions, and Kansas State took care of business against Oklahoma State.
Without Azubuike and De Sousa, the Wildcats have been incredibly dependent on Dedric Lawson. The former Memphis Tiger was a huge addition in the offseason, and he is the only reliable big man on the roster. He is averaging a double-double on the year and has been great in the low post, but no one else has really distinguished themselves down low. That has led to Kansas starting four guards since the Azubuike injury, and good big men are able to zone Lawson away from potential rebounds.
Kansas State has a great big man in Dean Wade. Although Wade missed almost a month of action from mid-December to mid-January, he is back at full strength and was fantastic against Oklahoma State on Saturday. Wade went 9-9 from the floor and ended with a season-high 24 points.
The match-up between Wade and Lawson is something to focus on here. Wade will likely try to pull Lawson away from the basket on offense, setting up on the perimeter often to take Kansas’ big man out of the paint. Lawson will attempt to overpower Wade, but while he has the size advantage, Wade has a ton of experience as a four-year starter.
This is one of those lightbulb games where sharps know more than anyone else. The sportsbooks know that there will be a lot of public action on Kansas, but they still felt the need to make Kansas State the favorite here. Go with the Wildcats.