First-Place Wildcats Set To Visit Kansas

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Red-hot Kansas State, winners of four games in a row, takes on the dazed Kansas Jayhawks, losers of three games in a row, Monday night at 8 in Allen Fieldhouse. It's a building where K-State has not won in since 2006. "Just another game," the players will say, but not with the Big 12 title on the line.

It's early … that's admitted. p>There's a lot of work left to be done … which is also admitted.

BUT … Kansas State is now the chased instead of the chaser. p>Yes, in this second week of February, it's Kansas State that sits atop the Big 12 standings one game ahead of Kansas and Oklahoma State. Monday, the ‘Cats will put that one-game advantage on the line against the Jayhawks in the Jayhawks' historic Allen Fieldhouse in an 8 p.m. tipoff on ESPN.

"Championships are what we're here to play for," said K-State coach Bruce Weber.

We talk around these parts of the storied tradition of Kansas State basketball, and it has been the school's pride and joy … if you're in your 60s, and beyond in age.

When was the last time K-State celebrated a league title? There have been plenty of seconds and thirds along the way, but friends, one has to go back to the Mike Evans-led Wildcats of 1977 … that's 1977 … for the last regular season league championship.

"It's time to hang another," said senior guard Martavious Irvine.

If it could be accomplished, what an athletic season that would make in the land of the Wildcats.

When was the last time that a team won the Big 12 football championship AND the Big 12 basketball regular season crown in the same sports year?

To answer the last question, only twice in Big 12 history has the football winner in the fall, which is K-State this year, also gone on to win the basketball championship in the winter.

• 2005-06 – Texas won the South and the title game over Colorado in football, and then tied with Kansas for the regular season basketball championship.

• 2004-05 – Oklahoma won the South and the title game over Colorado in football, and then tied with Kansas for the regular season basketball championship.

Like this past fall, to the eye this K-State team may not have those "star" studs that others have, but no team plays as selfless, and with the unity, and getting the most out of every position as Bill Snyder's boys did, and Weber's guys are doing.

While there are McDonald's All-Americans scattered around the league, Weber has taken … well, I guess the Burger King-type players of the world and in an amazingly short amount of time has them playing in a rhythm and cohesiveness that Jack Hartman would love.

While K-State's strength of schedule isn't real glossy, the fact is the Wildcats losses this year have been to No. 3 Michigan, No. 5 Kansas, No. 6 Gonzaga, plus Iowa State.

Significant Wildcat wins were over No. 2 Florida and No. 22 Oklahoma State, not to mention four Big 12 road wins at West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

While winners of the last eight conference titles in a row, most would still consider Kansas as the team to beat. But, the standings say otherwise as the Wildcats have truly demonstrated all the parts championship teams enjoy.

Teams that win titles play defense. With the ‘Cats, that starts with Rodriguez and Irving pressuring out front and the presence of the length of Jordan Henriquez and the bulk of Thomas Gipson stationed in the paint.

Teams that win titles have potential 20-point scorers every time out. With the ‘Cats, that starts with McGruder being over 20 in 10 games this year.

Teams that win titles have a touch of scoring depth. With the ‘Cats, that comes from Spradling (2), Southwell (2) and Gipson leading the team in scoring at least once in a league game.

Teams that win titles play with a selfless attitude. With the ‘Cats, that starts with Rodriguez being the best pass-first point guard in the Big 12, not to mention Spradling with a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover rating, and Southwell and Irving having ratios of better than 2-to-1.

Teams that win titles have all-league players. With the ‘Cats, McGruder and Rodriguez are certainly in that conversation.

Teams that win titles have pleasant surprises. With the ‘Cats, Southwell and Irving are certainly that.

Teams that win titles have unsung heroes. With the ‘Cats, Spradling fits that mold on defense as well as offense.

And, teams that win titles are coached well. With the ‘Cats, Bruce Weber certainly is on the short-short-short list for Big 12 Coach of the Year after the ‘Cats being picked fifth in the preseason poll.

Again, it sounds Snyder-like. It's not even the day of red roses, chocolates and smooches, but already K-State is 8-2 in the Big 12, which is a start to a conference year that has not been bettered since the 1974 Big 8 season (8-1). And, the overall 19-4 record has not been bettered to start a season since 1961-62 (20-2).

Now, can that roll continue in Lawrence on Monday?

Purple Pride Top Stories