MANHATTAN — When will Bruce Weber get a better chance to shovel dirt on Bill Self?
That’s probably not the best choice of words, considering the mock funeral Weber planned for Self after replacing him as basketball coach at Illinois a few years ago.
The point is, Kansas State has been getting double-dribbled by Kansas on the basketball floor for a long, long time. And Wednesday night, on his home floor at Bramlage Coliseum, Weber had a chance to do something about it.
And he and his team almost did.
K-State played tooth and nail with the Jayhawks before losing, 59-55. In fact, I’d be surprised if a few teeth weren’t lost and a few nails weren’t broken in a predictable defensive battle between teams that are — how to put this gently — offensively challenged.
Kansas continues a strange season. The Jayhawks are ranked No. 3, and rightly so, but this team hasn’t been pretty offensively in a while now.
It hasn’t mattered because defensively, Kansas sets bear traps. In what I think is one of the most incredible statistics in college basketball, no Self team at Kansas had ever allowed opponents to shoot 40 percent for a season. And we’re talking about 10 seasons now.
This might be Self’s best defensive team yet.
Kansas limited K-State to 35.1 percent shooting, actually better than what the Jayhawks have been giving up to other opponents.
Self admits to liking a dirty game of basketball, and he has the perfect team for disorder. The Jayhawks sling mud with the best of them and are making up for a strange deficiency in offense with pure nastiness on the defensive end.
Kansas State can nearly match the Jayhawks when it comes to defense, which is why Wednesday’s scrum was expected. I wondered whether a team could get to 60 points and I got my answer.
Kansas shot 45.7 percent, but got off 11 fewer shots than K-State.
But 30 of the Wildcats’ 57 shots were from beyond the three-point line. They just don’t have anybody to pound the ball into. True, KU’s Jeff Withey didn’t have a single blocked shot against Kansas State, the first time that’s happened in 28 games. But he defended the rim like he always does and made it nearly impossible for the Cats to get anything from close — K-State scored only 16 points inside the paint.
Weber, in his first season at K-State, was philosophical and, truth be told, probably not all that displeased with how his team played. Since a slow start to the season, Kansas State has hit a stride. The Wildcats had won eight games in a row before Wednesday and jumped all the way to No. 11 in the rankings.
Kansas State’s losses are to Michigan, Gonzaga and Kansas, teams with a combined record of 50-4 and all ranked in the Top 10. There’s also a win over No. 8 Florida.
A couple of hundred people used to hang around Bramlage for Frank Martin’s post-game radio comments, made at court-side. There probably weren’t that many in the stands when Weber was interviewed after Wednesday night’s loss, but there were some. And they applauded both as he came back on the floor and as he left the court after the interview.
I think Weber is winning over Kansas State fans who felt somewhat jilted and somewhat forlorn after Martin left following the 2011-12 season for South Carolina.
Martin, in all of his fiery bravado and sometimes profane language, empowered K-State basketball fans after years of futility. He literally breathed fire into Wildcat Nation.
Weber might not be 180 degrees from Martin, but he’s pretty far around the circle.
Kansas State athletic director John Currie obviously thought the program needed a calming influence in the post-Martin era, but had to be careful not to put the fan base to sleep.
Weber has been a success so far, but part of his job – whether he likes it or not – is trying to find a way, any way, to beat Self and Kansas. And that would sit especially well with K-Staters inside Bramlage, where the Jayhawks are now 23-2 since the building opened in 1987-88.
More than 12,500 purple-clad people showed up with hope Wednesday and went home with resignation.
Once again, Kansas State didn’t have enough. The Wildcats rallied from a 10-point deficit in the final 6:49 to get to within three points a couple of times.
Like Kansas, the Wildcats are tough and tenacious.
But they haven’t gotten over the hump, which has evolved over the years into Mount Everest. Put on your climbing boots, Coach Weber.