Looking Forward to the Battle in the Bram

It's the biggest game of the year to date for Kansas. It's against their arch-rival. It's against the second hottest team in the Big 12. It's a matchup between the only two unbeaten teams left in conference play. It's a battle in a city where Kansas has won 24 straight games. And it's a game featuring arguably the greatest player in college basketball.

This could only be KU vs. K-State, and it happens this Wednesday at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan at 7 p.m.

The Jayhawks come into the game at 20-0 and 5-0 in the Big 12. Kansas State, meanwhile is 14-4, winners of its last nine of 10 games, and also tied for KU atop the Big 12 race at 4-0.

Does it get much better playing in such a frenzied atmosphere in Manhattan with state bragging rights and the Big 12 lead on the line?

“I think you love playing in a game that means a lot to a lot of people,” KU coach Bill Self said at his press conference on Monday. “This is certainly one of those games. ...Our players could care less about (the streak), and their players could care less, too. But what happens is because there’s so much interest and the questions you guys ask, our players feed off the interest level, which makes the game that much bigger.”

And about that road environment in Bramlage?

“It’s as good as it gets,” Self said.

K-State freshman forward phenom Michael Beasley (6-10, 235 pounds) may be “as good as it gets” in college basketball. He’s averaging 25.3 points and 12.7 rebounds, while shooting 56.6 percent from the field and blocking almost two shots per game. He’s been compared to last year’s freshman superstar from Texas, Kevin Durant, although Beasley is more of an inside force, whereas Durant was the better perimeter player.

“I thought you would never see a freshman dominate college basketball as Durant did as the unanimous national Player of the Year as a freshman,” Self said. “Michael has that same opportunity in front of him, if he finishes the season strong, to be the national Player of the Year also. He's strong, he's long and he's got great balance. But some guys just know how to score. Some guys know how to use their bodies better than others, initiating contact and getting to the free throw line. He's really good with either hand around the basket. He's a terrific prospect. He's one the best prospects that college basketball has seen in many, many years."

While Self said he didn’t “know exactly how we’re going to match up,” he commented that Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, and Cole Aldrich could all guard Beasley, a confident frosh who is guaranteeing a Wildcat victory.

“He is not a one-man team,” Jackson said. “Beasley can't beat one team by himself. It takes five guys. It maybe even takes seven guys, so we'll concentrate on everybody and not just him."

Self talked about trying to contain Beasley and K-State.

"We need to do a good job of making sure the (guards) don't have easy vision to the post,” Self said. “(Beasley) is going to get open. He is going to catch the ball. He's just going to go where he needs to (go) to catch it. He has enough offensive repertoire that he can put the defense in a difficult situation either off the catch or off the bounce. ... He's very, very efficient and unselfish, but he's not the only guy they have. We could focus in on him and other guys can have big nights. Primarily Bill (Walker). Bill is a terrific player."

Walker, a red-shirt freshman forward, is KSU’s other star. He’s averaging 15.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Walker and Beasley have been receiving plenty of attention all season and combine to score more than half of the Wildcats points. Reserve guard Jake Pullen is another good freshman, ranking third on the team in scoring (9.4 ppg) and first in assists and tied with Beasley for team lead in steals.Senior guard Clent Stewart (7.6 ppg), junior forward Andre Gilbert (5.2 ppg), and senior guard Blake Young (6.2 ppg) are all solid players who complement Beasley and Walker in the starting lineup.

With Beasley and Walker getting all the hype, Self was asked if his players have been overshadowed. The KU coach said his players were “underrated” because of KU’s great balance and no dominant scorers.

“Our guys may be overshadowed a little bit, but in our world we know,” Self said. “But maybe that is good motivation for them, too. Here are a couple freshmen that we are getting asked a lot of questions about, rightfully so, but these guys have been in the trenches before, too and they are pretty good.”

Senior guard Russell Robinson downplayed that question about being “overshadowed” by Beasley and Walker.

"They are two talented guys, but we are the number two team in the country,” Robinson said. “I don't think we are being overshadowed by any means. We just have to go out there and play."

And if they play well, the Jayhawks will stay undefeated, run their winning streak in Manhattan to 25 games, and most important, stand alone atop the Big 12 race.
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Self was asked during his press conference about whether Darnell Jackson had an NBA future.

“Sure, I think he could. Yeah,” Self said. “We talk so much this week, rightfully so, about K-State’s main two guys, Beasley and Walker, we got some good guys, too. Darnell is really played into a very, very solid power forward prospect, but there’s a lot of solid guys out there. He has a lot of work to do between now and the end of the season to posture himself better, but I think he’s a really good player, one of the elite power forwards out there.”

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