For one day, at least, the speculation can cease.
Wichita State and Kansas are actually going to play.
It’ll be Sunday, in the NCAA Tournament, with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.
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They are big stakes that might seem infinitely bigger to those who have pined for this matchup for years – largely on the WSU side.
“I think there are going to be a lot of houses divided,” WSU president John Bardo said Friday. “There are a lot of WSU alums in the state, a lot of KU alums … and a lot of KSU alums who, some are going to want a Big 12 team to win and some just want KU to lose.”
“They’re the big dog in the state,” Bardo said, “so any time we can play them, that’s a good thing.”
The Shockers will get their first shot at KU in the tournament since 1981 – a 66-65 WSU victory in the 1981 Sweet Sixteen in New Orleans – thanks to an 81-76 win over Indiana that followed KU’s 75-56 win over New Mexico State on Friday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha.
The 1981 game even earned its own nickname, “The Battle of New Orleans,” and inspired signature coffee mugs and T-shirts for a generation. The Jayhawks won the last regular-season meeting 103-54 in 1993 in Lawrence.
“It will be one of the most talked-about games in state history,” KU basketball coach Bill Self said Friday after his team’s game, “which would be great.”
The Shockers got an unexpected boost toward the historical meeting on Sunday thanks to thousands of Jayhawk fans who remained in their seats for WSU’s game – a good portion of them up and cheering for the Shockers as they rallied against Indiana in the second half.
“I thought (the KU fans) doing that was a great show of support for the state of Kansas,” said WSU fan Art Davis, who sat directly behind the Shockers’ bench. “I’ve been a WSU fan all of my life. It’s exciting … and it’s nerve-wracking.”
Davis sat right behind WSU coach Gregg Marshall’s family – wife Lynn, son Kellen and daughter Maggie.
“I’ve tried to stay off talking about the possibility of the (KU-WSU) game on social media because both teams still had to take care of business,” Kellen Marshall said. “But, yes, Sunday is going to be crazy.”
To get in the proper mood for the game, WSU will host a pep rally for fans at the DoubleTree by Hilton in downtown Omaha – in the Aksarben Room – two hours before the game, with a cash bar available. A game time was not immediately available Friday evening.
To prescribe calm in a less-than-calm situation is hard to do, but that’s exactly what WSU athletic director Eric Sexton did after Friday’s game. Not that many will listen.
“You know, I’m probably not the person to come to for the hyping up part of it,” Sexton said. “My issue, my big thing is that it’s the postseason, it’s NCAA play so you play who comes at you.
“It’s awesome to play an in-state school and a great competitor like the University of Kansas. To get two great programs to come face-to-face, from the state, is wonderful.”
WSU junior guard Ron Baker, who is from Scott City, perhaps summed it up best.
“It’s a big thing for the state of Kansas,” Baker said. “As a player, being from Kansas, I’m just really, really fortunate to be in this game.
“Obviously, these type of games don’t happen a whole lot.”
Wichita State vs. Kansas
When: 4:15 p.m. Sunday
Where: CenturyLink Center, Omaha
Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM; KFH, 1240-AM, 98.7-FM
TV: KWCH, Ch. 12