ABOUT KANSAS (16-1, 4-0 Big 12): Last season, redshirt freshman guard Ben McLemore traveled to Manhattan and took in the atmosphere at Bramlage for the KU-K-State game. “The crowd was crazy,” McLemore said. One year later, McLemore will get the chance to pad his credentials for conference honors in the same building. After Saturday’s victory against Texas, McLemore is averaging 19.0 points per game in Big 12 games and was selected the Big 12 freshman of the week on Monday. He could also be the secret to getting KU’s offense back on track. The Jayhawks are shooting just 31.5 percent from three-point range in league games. Kansas, meanwhile, enters tonight 44-24 against ranked teams under Bill Self. The Jayhawks are 1-1 this year, with a victory over then-No. 7 Ohio State on Dec. 22 and a loss to then No. 21 Michigan State on Nov. 13.
ABOUT K-STATE (15-2, 4-0): The Wildcats are on an eight-game winning streak. Four of those victories have come during conference play, marking the first time they have started 4-0 since 2008. Rodney McGruder has averaged close to 20 points during the streak, but others such as Will Spradling, Shane Southwell and Angel Rodriguez have helped along the way. K-State has been competitive in the Sunflower Showdown at home in recent years, winning twice at Bramlage Coliseum since 2008.
Both have a handful of players capable of coming off the bench and impacting the game, but K-State has more. Jordan Henriquez might be the X-factor. If he’s at his best and challenges Withey inside, the Wildcats will take their chances. Martavious Irving has provided key defensive stops in recent games and Nino Williams is capable of getting hot from the field. For Kansas, Perry Ellis and Naadir Tharpe are the top two players off the bench. Both have shown flashes, but haven’t contributed as much as K-State’s bench.
The biggest intangible should be Bramlage Coliseum. The Wildcats played in front of sparse crowds while the season overlapped with football, and haven’t played in front of a packed home crowd yet. That should change Tuesday. With both teams ranked in the top 11 and school back in session, the atmosphere should rival the Texas and Kansas three years ago. A vocal crowd helped K-State upset Florida and the Sprint Center, and the Cats might feed off the atmosphere once again. Kansas has experience in wild environments, though. It won at Ohio State earlier this season.
Kansas’ Jeff Withey and K-State’s Jordan Henriquez are similar players with similar strengths, but Withey is an All-American candidate while Henriquez has struggled to get going this season. K-State’s Shane Southwell is a guard starting at the four-spot for K-State, but KU’s Kevin Young has the athleticism to chase Southwell on the perimeter.
The most important matchup may be found in the backcourt, where KU senior Travis Releford will be matched up with K-State leading scorer Rodney McGruder. Releford drew the assignment last year as well, and KU held McGruder to 13.5 points on 31 percent shooting in two victories. Releford said Monday that McGruder appears to be looking to score more this year. Thing is, even if McGruder gets going, KU still has freshman Ben McLemore to tilt the backcourt battle in its favor.
—Rustin Dodd, Kellis Robinett