Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade have several goals they hope to accomplish as a senior class before their time as Kansas State basketball players comes to an end later this year.
They can achieve one of them on Tuesday when the Wildcats host the No. 13 Kansas Jayhawks in what is shaping up to be the biggest game of the season at Bramlage Coliseum.
“We seniors have bucket-list games, and this is one of our bucket-list games,” Stokes said. “We haven’t beat them at all, the whole time we have been here. This is definitely real big for us.”
The Wildcats (16-5, 6-2 Big 12) haven’t beaten the Jayhawks since 2015, a year before K-State coach Bruce Weber hit the reset button with a disjointed roster and brought in what turned out to be a transformational recruiting class of Brown, Stokes and Wade. Together, they have knocked off top-ranked teams, been to the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight. But they’ve never beaten their cross-state rivals.
Kansas (17-5, 6-3) has won eight straight in the series, including three straight at Bramlage Coliseum.
K-State has come close on several occasions, losing at the buzzer of its past two trips to Allen Fieldhouse. But they have oddly played the Jayhawks better on the road than they have at home.
“It’s a game you want to win so bad you end up doing things you shouldn’t,” Brown said. “Right now, we understand we made those mistakes and we are trying to limit those.”
K-State basketball fans create a fun atmosphere for every home game, but they take it to a different level when the Jayhawks come to town. That will once again be the case on Tuesday, with students lining up early for the best seats. Things may feel even bigger than usual with K-State looking to protect its first-place standing in the Big 12.
The Wildcats look forward to the setting every year. So much so, that it has hurt them at times.
Last year, in particular, they looked tight in the early going and lost 70-56. Managing the emotions that come along with a big-time game will be important this time around.
“You prepare for moments like this and as a senior you know what to expect,” Stokes said. “We have got to control that excitement, but at the same time be ready to play and have a lot of energy to play. We can’t overwhelm ourselves.”
Perhaps a change in scheduling will help. In each of the past five seasons, K-State hosted KU after first losing to the Jayhawks in Lawrence. This year, K-State gets the first home game in the Sunflower Showdown.
The Wildcats enter as slim (one-point) favorites. That’s also new for this series.
Maybe that will help K-State handle the atmosphere of a bucket-list game.
“You have got to be mentally ready to play,” Weber said. “You can’t just think because you are playing at home you are going to win the game. The last two years it didn’t happen. That’s my big thing. We have to come prepared and be who we are, make sure we are good at it. We have to execute on offense and we have to execute on defense and we have got to do it for 40 minutes. They keep coming at you.”