The “Octagon of Doom” will be jumping as No. 2 Kansas visits No. 13 Kansas State in a battle for the lead in the Big 12 Conference on Tuesday night in Manhattan, Kan.
The game means more than in-state bragging rights for a change. The winner will have at least a share of the conference lead.
Kansas has won seven straight and 15 of the last 16 in the series.
Kansas State (15-2, 4-1 Big 12) lost its first conference game of the season Saturday at then-No. 17 TCU, 82-68, which was more of a blowout than the score showed. The Wildcats were down by 14 points at halftime and never threatened in the second half.
Kansas (16-1, 5-0 Big 12) survived a gutsy effort by then-No. 14 Iowa State in Lawrence on Saturday. The 62-60 win put the Jayhawks in the top spot in the conference, a game up on K-State, Iowa State and No. 7 Texas.
K-State got an off night from Markquis Nowell, who had 16 points, his lowest total in the conference season, and more turnovers (six) than assists (four).
“I just wasn’t poised,” Nowell said. “I feel like I’m way better than what I displayed today. I could have done a better job leading and I could have done better with my defense.”
There isn’t much time to regroup before hosting the defending national champions. Wildcats coach Jerome Tang doesn’t think his team will have a competitive hangover.
“Panic about what?” he asked after the game. “I don’t know our record off the top of my head, but I know we only have two losses. So there’s nothing to panic about. I got a veteran group, I got a bunch of winners in a locker room, both on the staff and on the team. And this is the Big 12.
“Right now, no one is expecting anyone to go undefeated in this league. You can prepare, and you can play well and still lose, right? And so there’s no panic. It is on to the next thing. Tough teams do the next right thing. That’s what we’ll try to do.”
The “next thing” is a matchup against its archrival. And don’t expect Kansas to overlook the Wildcats.
“It’s going to be a great environment like it always is,” said Jayhawks forward Jalen Wilson, who had 16 points in Saturday’s win. “They’re going to be super pumped to play us. They’re having a really good season. I know they took a tough loss, so they’re going to be amped to play. It’s going to be a heated environment.
“We just have to stay focused.”
Kansas took Iowa State’s best shot Saturday, grabbing its final lead with 11.7 seconds left on K.J. Adams Jr.’s go-ahead jumper and then surviving a 3-point attempt by the Cyclones’ Caleb Grill.
“That was a high-level game,” coach Bill Self said. “You saw two teams that enjoyed playing in a tight game like that in an atmosphere like that. No easy baskets. I wish we would have shot it better. But they’re good.”
Kansas celebrated 125 years of basketball Saturday with more than 160 former players, coaches and staff in attendance.
“The building was great,” Self said. “To win with so many guys back for the reunion will definitely make tonight a lot more pleasant.”
–Field Level Media