University of Kansas

Sunflower rivalry could get new spark

For Kansas coach Bill Self, the differences are subtle and come straight from the chalkboard. Frank Martin’s teams liked to guard ball screens a certain way; Bruce Weber does it differently. Weber’s teams play a brand of motion offense; Martin’s always seemed to be changing and evolving.

This is what Self talks about when asked how Kansas State is different, now that Weber has replaced Martin on the sideline at Bramlage Coliseum. These are the things that Self, presumably, was focused on when he skipped out on Monday’s presidential inauguration and hunkered down in the film room.

From an outsider’s perspective, though, Tuesday night’s matchup between No. 3 Kansas and No. 11 Kansas State in Manhattan features a few other large-scale changes. As a new chapter in the Sunflower Showdown begins, Self and Weber will meet for the first time in the series. And with former rival Missouri out of the picture, Kansas will have to make do with what’s left. In other words, if the Jayhawks want to be tested in hostile territory, an angry and deafening Bramlage Coliseum will have to do.

“I think on both sides of the Missouri rivalry, there was a lot of hatred that was involved,” Self said. “We obviously didn’t like them, and the feeling was very mutual.

“I never felt that way against K-State. I don’t know why … but I never did.”

Self believes this will soon begin to change, a healthy byproduct of more emotion thrown into one rival. And it leads to the question: If this is KU’s only remaining natural rival, are the Jayhawks better off playing against a K-State program that can put up a fight on an annual basis?

While K-State climbed to No. 11 in Monday’s Associated Press poll and is positioned well for a Big 12 run, there are still a few numbers that underline this series. For one, even as K-State improved under Martin and now Weber, the Jayhawks have won 44 of 47 basketball games in this series, dating back to 1994.

“I would much rather play a K-State team that’s ranked high,” Self said, “than … play a K-State team that isn’t ranked.”

After all, Kansas may be 16-1 and 4-0 in the Big 12, but the Jayhawks could use a trip into a sea of juiced-up purple against a K-State team that has started 15-2 and 4-0 in the Big 12. For KU, the last month has been mostly forgettable. The Jayhawks needed late comebacks to down Iowa State and Texas, and victories against Texas Tech and Baylor were a little more laborious than expected.

That makes tonight’s game all the more compelling. The winner will own the only perfect record in Big 12 play, and Kansas can take early control of the league race with a road victory. It’s also not altogether certain the next time Kansas will play in a road environment as wild as the scene at Bramlage is likely to be tonight.

“We tell the freshman how crazy it’s gonna be, and to just not let the fans get to you,” KU senior Travis Releford said. “It’s gonna be the next-best environment to ours. So be expecting all types of crazy chants.”

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