Kansas coach Bill Self is a man with a near mastery of his sport’s history. Self, for instance, can tell you that neither former KU coach Larry Brown nor All-American Danny Manning ever won inside Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum.
In other ways, though, Self can claim ignorance. Like the fact he needs just one more victory to reach 500 for his career.
“I don’t even know how many I got,” Self said on Saturday, after posting career win 499. “But I’d like to win the next game.”
Those two story lines will intersect on Monday night at Hilton Coliseum, when Kansas (23-4 and 11-3 in the Big 12) faces Iowa State in a Big Monday matchup in Ames, Iowa.
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The Cyclones have compiled a 15-0 record at home, with third-year coach Fred Hoiberg rekindling some of that old “Hilton Magic”. For years, Self was mostly been immune to the building’s powers. The Jayhawks had won seven straight in Ames before falling last season, a day that ended with Iowa State’s students flooding onto the floor in a raucous court-storming.
“It’ll be packed,” Self said. “And it’s loud. A lot like our place in a lot of ways.”
For Self and Kansas, though, tonight’s game could mean just as much for the history of the program — that is, if the Jayhawks’ Big 12 title streak means anything to the Kansas brand.
The streak, of course, now sits at eight. But with four Big 12 games left, the Jayhawks are still tied atop the standings with in-state rival Kansas State. After tonight’s game, Kansas will end the season with home games against bottom-feeders West Virginia and Texas Tech and a road trip to a fading Baylor squad.
As Self says, the Jayhawks can’t win the conference against Iowa State, 19-8 and 9-5. But they can turn the probabilities largely in their favor with a strong performance tonight.
“If we could have a road win on Monday," Self said, "that would probably put us in the best of positions, because we got two of our last three at home. So the league race will not be won or lost on Monday, but certainly it’s gonna go a long ways in determining who has the best chance.”
For Kansas, the best chance starts with a victory tonight against a team that nearly took down the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in January. If freshman Ben McLemore misses a three-pointer at the buzzer, and KU doesn’t win in overtime, the conference standings would certainly have a different look. Then again, KU senior center Jeff Withey said that performance served as a wake-up call, and Kansas now has a better idea how to guard Iowa State’s wide-open offense — a unit that leads the country in three-point attempts.
Statistics show that teams generally shoot better at home, so perhaps that’s one reason this Cyclones team has been so dangerous at Hilton.
“I don’t believe anybody’s won in Ames yet,” Self said, “so if we’re able to go up there and pull one off, we would have done something that no one else has done yet.”
It would also mean this Kansas squad accomplished something that last year’s team couldn’t. Kansas senior Kevin Young can still remember what it felt like to watch Iowa State’s student storm the court. And Withey says Kansas knows what is at stake tonight.
“This is for a conference championship,” Withey said. “I think that if we win our next couple road games, we’re fine. So this is a huge game coming in for us, and we gotta come ready to play.”