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Big wins give Kansas, Kansas State boost in polls

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Monday, Dec. 24, 2012, at 2:08 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, at 7:16 a.m.

Statement victories over the weekend meant a rise in the rankings for Kansas and Kansas State

The Jayhawks, who won at Ohio State, are sixth the Associated Press and USA Today coaches’ polls.

Kansas State, which beat Florida at Sprint Center, entered the AP poll at No. 25. The Wildcats’ victory was the first over a top 10 non-conference opponent in the regular season for the first time since 1981.

The top five: Duke, Michigan, Arizona, Louisville and Indiana. Arizona and Louisville were tied for third in the coaches’ poll.

Saturday’s success brought individual recognition to both schools.

Kansas State’s Rodney McGruder scored 13 against the Gators, averaged 19.5 for the week and was named Big 12 player of the week for the second time in three weeks.

Ben McLemore led Kansas with 22 points against the Buckeyes and won the Big 12’s rookie honor.

Last season, the Jayhawks spent the final 10 weeks of the season ranked in the top 10. In four of those weeks, Kansas State also was in the top 25.

The reward for a high ranking? Not much early in the season, but when the NCAA Tournament bracket is crafted in March, teams with the best credentials get preferential site selection. This year, Sprint Center plays host to second- and third-round games. It’s possible — likely, even — the teams closest to Kansas City that would be among the top 15 or so would start their postseason journey here.

This season, the Border War rivals have worked their way into the top 10 after November stumbles against top-notch opponents.

Kansas, 10-1, lost its second game, to Michigan State in Atlanta. The Jayhawks have reeled off nine straight and are being led in scoring by McLemore, the redshirt freshman guard who is second in the Big 12 at 16.5 points per game. McLemore is surrounded with veteran talent — four senior start. Three of them— Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford — were starters last season when the Jayhawks reached the national championship game.

Kansas State, 9-2, got terrific play from McGruder and Will Spradling with 17 points against the Gators, but a big difference maker was center Jordan Henriquez, who in 18 minutes, scored nine, grabbed six rebounds and blocked five shots. He entered the game two of 17 from the free-throw line and made five of nine.

Each team has two non-league remains before conference play begins. The Jayhawks play host to American on Saturday. On Jan. 6, Temple, which is coming off a victory over No. 3 Syracuse, visits Lawrence.

Kansas State plays host to UMKC Saturday and South Dakota on Dec. 31.

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