MANHATTAN — It's not enough to say Kansas State and Nebraska are both coming off a good week of basketball. Memorable may be a better fit.
In the past nine days, both teams have been the center of massive celebrations with fans storming the court following big victories, commemorative DVD sales and NCAA Tournament talk.
After defeating then top-ranked Kansas and Oklahoma, the Wildcats improved to .500 in Big 12 play and are fighting for a top-four finish in the conference. The Cornhuskers are in the same position after downing Oklahoma and then third-ranked Texas. They are trying to play their way into March Madness for the first time since 1998.
Both teams are playing their best basketball of the season, and will meet in an intriguing game tonight at the Devaney Center. It will feel much different than their first meeting three weeks ago at Bramlage Coliseum when K-State thumped Nebraska 69-53 and both squads looked destined for the NIT.
"Those are the twists and turns a season puts you through," Wildcats coach Frank Martin said. "I know we're both excited. We're going to have to play our tails off to figure out a way to win that game. If we're in the game, we're going to have to figure out a way to win it. I expect to get their best shot."
Before K-State players could leave the postgame locker room on Saturday, Martin told them their next game would be their toughest of the season.
"We're walking into a buzzsaw," Martin said. "There's a lot on the table."
Few have ever talked that way about the Cornhuskers basketball, but Martin has as much respect for Nebraska coach Doc Sadler as he does for anyone in the Big 12.
Most of his players have never been challenged by the Cornhuskers, but they believed Martin's words after watching Nebraska's frontcourt outmuscle the Longhorns, who were previously unbeaten in conference play.
"This is going to be a real hard game," freshman guard Shane Southwell said. "It's tough to win there and we beat them already. Any time you lose and have to play the team that beat you again, you go harder. The same way we felt when we had to play Kansas again, they're going to feel that way toward us. They're going to have a lot more energy."
They will also have backup center Andre Almeida, a 6-foot-11, 315-pound junior, who did not play against K-State three weeks ago but scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds against Texas.
Martin and Sadler both say he will make a difference, but Sadler thinks it will take more than one extra player to make up 16 points against the Wildcats. Especially while dealing with expectations for the first time.
"This team hasn't been in this position very many times," Sadler said. "... For everybody this time of year, for any team that is playing their next game, no matter who you're playing against, it becomes the biggest game that you're going to play. If you're not able to move beyond that last ballgame than you're just going to be shooting yourself in the foot."
Both teams are playing better than they were the first time they met.
K-State has gone away from an offense that emphasized its forwards and centers to a spread out, four-guard look that relies on ball movement and cutting. The Wildcats have won four of their past five games and averaged 74.4 points while doing so.
Nebraska, meanwhile, has won with an emphasis on defense. It has won three-straight games and hasn't allowed more than 67 points along the way.
But something has to give.
"It's going to be a tough game and I expect it to be a dog fight," K-State guard Rodney McGruder said. "Whoever is the biggest dog is going to come out with the win."