LAWRENCE — There's something about being one of college basketball's favorite sons, a Kansas, a North Carolina, a Duke, a Kentucky, that makes it hard for those teams to fixate too much on any one game or stretch of games during the regular season.
It's rare that you hear KU players make one game sound more important than any other because they are all so important to their fan bases. If the Jayhawks began to think that the Texas game Feb. 8 was any bigger than the Nebraska game Feb. 6 and they turned around and lost to the Cornhuskers, the sky would be falling in Lawrence. So it's just safer that no regular-season game gets built up too much, at least in the public eye.
It's why KU center Cole Aldrich has taken to previewing just about every game with the comment that "It's going to be another one of those fun ones," because hey, they're all so much fun at Kansas.
Well, consider this week an aberration from the rule.
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Tonight at 8 p.m. in Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks meet Missouri on the ESPN Big Monday stage. Bob Knight and Brent Musberger will be on the call. Saturday night in Manhattan, Kansas will get the spotlight again against Kansas State, which will be welcoming the ESPN College Gameday crew and one Dick Vitale to Bramlage Coliseum.
So for those who take their college basketball labels directly from the World Wide Leader, this is Rivalry Week and Judgment Week all rolled into one. And, for the first time this season, the Jayhawks will feel a sense of urgency apart from the one they live with every day, the one that just goes along with being Kansas.
"We will be pumped," KU coach Bill Self said Saturday after KU's 84-61 win over Iowa State. "I don't know if we are yet, but we will be pumped. Of course, this'll be our biggest home game we've played this year. And then probably the most hyped game we'll play all year, with the exception of maybe Texas, will be in Manhattan on Saturday with Gameday. We'll take them one at a time."
Taking one at a time won't be a challenge this week. Missouri beat the Jayhawks last year in Columbia and then outplayed KU in March, winning the Big 12 Tournament and advancing to the Elite Eight. The Tigers, for the most part, have picked up where they left off.
"They always have our attention," KU guard Sherron Collins said. "Mizzou is a different team. They always turn up the pressure. We just gotta get ready for that. They try to speed you up. We like to play fast, but they could speed you up faster than what you like to play."
Yes, there was not much talk about the Wildcats on Saturday. That will begin immediately tonight around 11 p.m. once the post-mortem on this installment of the Border War is over.
"All you gotta say is it's Mizzou," Aldrich said. "It's one of those hard-nosed games. You're gonna have to get on the floor and really fight."
As much as can happen in January in Lawrence, this has the potential to be a season-defining week.
"It's real big," KU forward Marcus Morris said. "This is going to be a deciding factor for the conference. We're playing against two great teams."