You know, I spent the past few days making fun of Kansas State for how it’s going about celebrating a Big 12 basketball co-championship with Kansas. It felt over the top to me, from the Bramlage Coliseum bash this week to the big electronic billboard splashing a congratulatory message on Kellogg near downtown Wichita.
May I remind you K-Staters that (a) The Wildcats were beaten by Oklahoma State in the final conference game that, as it turns out, would have made all of this moot had the Wildcats held on to a nine-point second-half lead; and (b) K-State lost twice to KU this season, which is the case almost every season.
But with more time to think, I’m lining up as more EMAW than Rock Chalk on this. It’s for the simple reason that the rivalry between Kansas and Kansas State, which has been far too one-sided over the past couple of decades in basketball (Kansas) and football (Kansas State), needs this.
I’m well aware that there’s not enough love in the world and I do what I can daily to address that issue.
But when it comes to KU-KSU, there hasn’t been enough hate. Things have become too predictable. Both schools have been too comfortable taking their rightly places.
For most of the past 20 years, the Jayhawks have stood silent as K-State waxed them in football. And just the opposite in basketball.
But now K-State has tied Kansas in basketball. And KU, which could have avoided this mess by beating Baylor on Saturday in Waco instead of losing by 23, doesn’t like it one bit.
Sure, the Jayhawks can still claim the upper hand with their two wins over K-State. And that’s a valid reason for Kansas to proclaim superiority.
At least, though, K-State is finally nipping at KU’s heels. The Wildcats are being talked about as a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, just like Kansas. Bruce Weber, it turns out, is the Big 12’s coach of the year instead of the Jayhawks’ Bill Self.
This has been a K-State week as the Wildcats have parlayed the co-championship they shared with Oklahoma in football with the one they share, reluctantly, with KU in basketball.
Did you see Weber’s comments about how K-State would have won this thing outright had the officials in the Iowa State-Kansas game played in Ames, which KU won in overtime, not blown some calls down the stretch?
Weber didn’t just get under the skin of Kansas fans with that remark, he caused their eyes to bulge and their fists to clench.
Weber might have bitten off more than he can chew here. It’s still implausible to me that a coach who ultimately faded at Illinois when he no longer had the use of Self’s players there is going to be the guy who figures out how to beat Self and Kansas on a consistent basis.
Still, who isn’t hoping for another Kansas-Kansas State showdown in the Big 12 championship game Saturday in Kansas City? There’s nothing more potentially entertaining than a showdown between conference co-champions, is there?
Co-champions. There’s that term again.
It’s interesting that some of the same K-State folks who covered their ears when Oklahoma shouted its co-champion status during football — even though the Sooners dropped their game against K-State — now can’t be bothered with the notion that two basketball losses to Kansas in the regular season give a hollow ring to their claim.
Kansas fans, meanwhile, still see inferiority in the Kansas State basketball team. And not all the trophies, pep rallies or billboards in the world are going to change that perception.
Isn’t it fun? Finally, something to consternate about.
Weber, whose hiring last March was met with resistance by a fan base that had fallen in behind the tough-guy demeanor of Frank Martin, has won over many of those fans and, more importantly, his team. It was a rough start for the Wildcats, who were handled by Michigan and Gonzaga early. But for nearly three months, Kansas State has been consistently good. Not often great, but rarely sub-par.
Kansas, meanwhile, has had to endure more waves of inconsistency. There’s still no way to explain the February loss at TCU and even though Baylor has a supremely talented them, losing by 23 after KU won the same game by 17 earlier in the season is hard to fathom.
K-State played right with Kansas in Manhattan this season. It wasn’t as much of a game in Lawrence.
A whole lot of stuff has happened since the last time KU and KSU played, however. A whole lot of fun, interesting, rivalry-stirring stuff.
Kansas State and Kansas shouldn’t get along. When Missouri left the Big 12 after the 2011-12, KSU and especially KU were left with a void.
Then along came Weber, whose history with Self has been well-documented. He seems to be one of those quiet guys who gets in subtle digs when he can. Keep it up, coach. You’re just what this too-long-dormant rivalry needed.