Bob Lutz

State's teams having seasons to remember

Can we stop the college basketball grind long enough — 15 minutes, tops — to take a deep breath and recognize what a historic and glorious season it has been in Kansas.

The Jayhawks are ranked No. 1; the Wildcats are sixth and the Shockers, with a win today against Southern Illinois, can reach 23 wins for only the seventh time.

There are still seven regular-season games to be played among the three Kansas teams. Then conference tournaments. Then the postseason.

With all of that remaining, KU, K-State and Wichita State already have combined for 72 wins and are sure to zoom past the 74 wins amassed during the 1980-81 season, when Kansas reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament and KSU and WSU made it to the Elite Eight. That's the most wins in a single season for the Big Three.

KU and K-State meet Wednesday night in Lawrence and a case can be made — providing neither team slips up in difficult tests today — for both getting to the Final Four in Indianapolis.

Kansas (27-1) has been ranked in the top three all season and K-State (23-4) has made a steady climb up the polls. Both are peaking at the right time.

If the Jayhawks win out, which means winning a national championship, they'll finish 39-1.

Kansas State looks like a sure thing to eclipse 25 wins for the first time. The Wildcats have been to four Final Fours, but none since 1964.

And Wichita State is within five wins of its record of 27 in 1952-53, when the Shockers played in the NIT.

What a season.

Kansas has been to 13 Final Fours, so trying to pick the Jayhawks' best team is a challenge.

Certainly, the 37-3 team that won it all just a couple of seasons ago is a candidate. So is the 1951-52 championship team that included Clyde Lovellette, and the 1956-57 team led by Wilt Chamberlain that lost in triple overtime in the NCAA final. Roy Williams had three or four teams that would be in the discussion.

But how can anyone discount this season's team, at least so far? The only blemish for Kansas is a loss at Tennessee in January and the Jayhawks have a deep and talented roster.

Kansas State played in its four Final Fours in the 17 seasons from 1947-48 through 1963-64. The Wildcats' best team might be the 1950-51 squad that lost to Kentucky in the national championship game.

Or it might be the 1958-59 team, led by All-American Bob Boozer, that was knocked off by Cincinnati in a regional final and finished 25-2.

Is this season's Kansas State team in the discussion?

No doubt.

The Wildcats have lost games to teams with a combined record of 85-25 and have a backcourt tandem — Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen — that rivals any in K-State history, including Chuckie Williams and Mike Evans.

I love Kansas State's tenacity and intensity. I love how Coach Frank Martin has developed frontcourt players Jamar Samuels, Curtis Kelly and Dominique Sutton. I don't think there's a team in America that wants to play the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament. And I don't think K-State will be the least bit intimidated when it plays at Allen Fieldhouse against the Jayhawks on Wednesday night.

Doesn't mean Kansas State will win. Kansas is one of those teams that beat the Wildcats, and it did so in Manhattan in one of the best college basketball games of the season.

The rematch should be every bit as good because not much separates the teams.

The scary thing is that, except in spurts, I don't think Kansas has put it all together. Perhaps I expect too much, but I don't think the Jayhawks have played their best basketball.

What happens when Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry click in the same game?

K-State has played closer to its ceiling, but the ceiling keeps rising. It's conceivable that the Wildcats could join Kansas as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament by either beating the Jayhawks in Lawrence or beating them in the final of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City in two weeks.

Great stuff.

Wichita State, meanwhile, has slowed since a 16-2 start, going 6-6 in its past 12 games. The Shockers are running out of time to get back on a run, but it's not gone yet.

It's been an amazing basketball season. And the best might be yet to come.

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