LAWRENCE — Kansas got the typical scouting report on its next opponent, but some Jayhawks did some reconnaissance of their own for Kansas State.
Last month, they went to Kansas City curious and left impressed by the Wildcats team that will visit Allen Fieldhouse tonight.
Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford road-tripped to Sprint Center before Christmas to see the Wildcats take on Alabama, the team that includes Travis' brother Trevor. Each watched the player they might be matched up against, and they saw something else, qualities that go unnoticed from a broadcast.
"You see the way they carry themselves to the bench, the way they react with the coaches, the way they pay attention to the game on the bench, you see how much they're in tune," Johnson said.
And how in tune was K-State?
"They care a lot," Johnson said. "They got a tough coach over there. He chews them out. But they got players over there who go the extra mile."
That coach, Frank Martin, walked off the floor happy, a 13-point winner that night. Alabama talked about losing the hustle plays and the rebounding battle, and Kansas coach Bill Self has been emphasizing this part of the game since polishing off North Dakota on Saturday.
Actually, Self drove home the point during the game, keeping some on the bench instead of rewarding them with playing time. The message was that important. Kansas State is that aggressive.
Take rebounding. When a ball misses, in basketball parlance, it's a 50-50 opportunity. The defensive team has a better chance of getting the rebound. But Kansas State excels in offensive rebounding, getting second-chance opportunities on 42.3 percent of its shots. That ranks second in the Big 12.
"That is an alarming rate," Self said. "We get about (36) percent. Sometimes their best offense is missed shots, which is a testament to how hard they play."
That's what Robinson noticed sitting in the stands at Sprint Center. He kept an eye on 275-pound freshman forward Thomas Gipson, who averages 10.4 points and 7.1 rebounds. He saw front liners Jamar Samuels and Jordan Henriquez combined for 31 points.
"It impressed me how much their guys improved," Robinson said. "At the same time I want to beat them."
Last season as a reserve, Robinson played in the Jayhawks victory over Kansas State in Lawrence but missed the loss in Manhattan because of an injury. He sees the Wildcats not only as a rival but a challenge because of their style and success on the boards. K-State averages 41.8 rebounds per game, Kansas 38.5.
"It's definitely a challenge, but rebounding, that's my forte, that's what I live off of," Robinson said. "This is a man's game. I'll take that challenge."
Robinson leads the Big 12 in rebounding at 12.2, is coming off a career best 21 boards against North Dakota and has a fan in Martin.
"To see him as a high school kid, to know how much bigger, stronger and better he's become as a player, I have nothing but respect for that," Martin said.
In something of a series twist, Robinson is the game's potential big scorer. His 17.7 average tops both teams. Typically, the Jayhawks' scoring has been spread out, but look at Kansas State this season: Rodney McGruder leads a group of four in double figures at 12.5 points.
In the teams' last meeting, K-State guard Jacob Pullen scored 38 in a victory in Manhattan.
"They're more dangerous," Robinson said. "They're not dependent on one person scoring. It's more of an equal opportunity thing."
The series hasn't been equal opportunity. Kansas has won 42 of the past 45 meetings. But this is the conference opener, every team's starting line, and the Jayhawks, who have won seven straight Big 12 championships, set the bar there.
"Now, we're playing for keeps," Robinson said. "We have something to protect, that's our conference titles. We've got seven. We want eight."