Time To Get Tough

The last time KU went on the road and faced a ranked foe it fell short at Tennessee. Phog.net looks at the keys to beating a physical and ranked rival on the road Saturday.

After contending with Missouri's speed on Monday KU faces its second rival this week this time with a much different feel. Saturday won't be about finesse or free-flowing offense. This one will likely be played as a physical brow beater down in the trenches at Bramlage Coliseum vs. Frank Martin's K-State Wildcats.

"They are a tough team and they're going to come out and pressure. It's going to be another tough game," senior Sherron Collins stated.

"From my standpoint, the hardest games to win are the games that don't have rhythm," said KU head coach Bill Self. "This is a way that you learn how to win hard games. I think there is a defensive mindset and the scouting is such where you are not going to get a lot of easy baskets. Usually that is what muddies up the game, making it not as rhythmic. I certainly anticipate a game against Kansas State where easy baskets will be few and far between."

The last time the Jayhawks went on the road and faced a team with a number in front of their name they came up woefully short in a disappointing loss to Tennessee. Kansas performed away from home against teams like UCLA and Temple but vs. the Vols the Jayhawks looked slower, were not the aggressor, and did not value the basketball. It was also a game where Cole Aldrich again got just five shots and KU was outscored in the paint (30-20). That can't happen again.

After the game Self again talked about KU not having an identity yet. The 7th year head coach admits that his team might've been too complacent early on and that they are playing with more of a sense of urgency in conference play. But quality conference road wins help you earn your stripes and build character.

 "It goes for any road game for us; you know, that's how you learn who you are as team," Aldrich told reporters on Thursday. "Once you get to the tournament, you don't have any more home games. So you have to play at neutral sites and road games to find out who you are as team."

This one will go a long way to determining who Kansas is, every road game does as Aldrich reminded us. Kansas must remember the past and learn from mistakes made against Tennessee because as boisterous as that crowd in Knoxville was, this will be the most hostile environment of the year.

"Since I have been here, playing there last two years, it is probably one of the best atmospheres we have played (in) as a road game," said junior center Cole Aldrich. "Their fans are crazy and they're also a lot of fun."
 
But they haven't had a whole lot to cheer for.

The rivalry hasn't really been much fun for K-State especially on its home court where Kansas is 25-1 in games played in Manhattan since 1984. But over the last couple of years the rivalry has gotten a boost with the Wildcats picking up a couple of wins. In 2008, the Wildcats ended KU's 24-game win streak at Kansas State with a nine-point win (84-75) handing the Hawks one of their three losses in a national championship season. But let's be honest, Wildcat fans aren't satisfied winning just 2 of the last 40 meetings against Kansas. They want more and stopping Kansas from possibly earning back its number one ranking would satisfy for the moment.

This might be the most ballyhooed matchup in over 20 years in this long rivalry. Two ranked teams, both physical, in front of a frenzied crowd, and an appearance by ESPN's College Gameday Crew. Rest-assured Bramlage will be rocking.

"It's a rivalry game, at K-State, and Gameday, so that's enough said," according to senior Sherron Collins.

"It is a first for everybody on our team. We had College Gameday here our freshmen year. Other than the juniors or seniors on the team nobody has been around it, but it is just another game and you have to come prepared," said Aldrich.  

If Kansas remains undefeated in conference play after Saturday's contest it will have earned it. This is tough K-State team with four wins over ranked teams including one over Texas. Martin's team is 11-1 in Manhattan with that lone blemish being a surprising home loss to Oklahoma State last week.

The Wildcats take on the personality of their coach. They're hard-nosed, hard-workers, and they're not afraid to mix it up and get after it. The Jayhawks will have to match the intensity and without question won't walk out of Bramlage with a win without providing one of Self's favorite intangibles – toughness.

"There are a lot of teams out there that can play tougher; I think that we are one of those teams. So, if we are not playing as tough as we can than I think that we are playing soft. That does not mean we are collectively a soft group. We are pretty tough and K-State is a pretty tough team too. Our toughness level needs to be a ten, because we know that we are going to face a serious challenge not only in their team, but by the atmosphere as well," Self concluded.

"It's fun. It is always tough to win down there, but I think if we stay in our game and do what we do, we'll be fine," Collins said.

"There are a couple of other physical teams in our league but always traditionally with K-State you're going to have to play physical if you're going to have a chance," Self continued. "I think if you go back and look at the Texas game, which I'd anticipate a similar type of physical game, that's probably about as physical a game as we'll have in college basketball this year. Totally clean but they do like to get after it pretty good."

Kansas State averages 33 free throw attempts a game which is nearly nine more than Kansas and it leads the Big 12 in offensive rebounds with 15.8 per contest. Keeping Martin's frontline off the line and off the boards will be a goal for KU. Dominque Sutton who is 6-5 but physical and often plays the forward position, UCONN transfer Curtis Kelly, and 6-7 Jamar Samuels supply a majority of the frontline production.

While the frontline is physical enough to stand toe-to-toe with Kansas it is KSU's backcourt that packs the biggest offensive punch. The tandem of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente account for almost 34 points per game. Pullen is second in the Big 12 in scoring at just over 19 points a game (19.2ppg), he leads the team in three-pointers (60), and is a factor on the defensive end with 30 steals on the season. Pullen can also distribute and is second on the team with 69 assists. That is just 13 assists less than team leader Clemente who compliments his 14.7 points per game scoring average with long range shooting and rugged defense. California, Missouri, Baylor, and Michigan had decent guards but this might just be the best guard tandem KU has faced all season.

"They have really good guards and have shown that they can be consistent between last year and this year. They have shown that they can score at any time," Collins said complimenting the K-State guard tandem. "The bigs have to help us corralling them on screens and getting back in transition to help make it easier for us to guard them. They are good guards and they're going to score, we just have to do a good job trying to limit them."
 
Last year it got physical in Manhattan between these two teams. Denis Clemente was eventually suspended by Martin after a controversial incident involving KU's Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed. With this game sure to reach a fever pitch and two teams getting after it --- hard --- the striped shirts will be the ones hoping to control this game.

"The most aggressive teams usually get the benefit of the officiating," said Self referring to the officiating in a physical game. "That is how it always works. Everybody thinks that the least aggressive teams don't foul, but the least aggressive teams foul the most. The most aggressive teams usually, at the end of the day, will feel like they got a pretty good whistle because they created the style of play or the way the game is going to be called. I think you will see Saturday two teams that, hopefully will play that way and officials that will get the majority of the calls right."

Neither team should have a problem going hard for 40 minutes in this one. Both teams boast deep benches. Judging by the comments throughout the media by both squads – both teams appear ready. The game has been hyped. The stage is set. A win by Kansas would be a huge step towards earning yet another Big 12 title. The Little Apple will be rocking and rolling and whatever the result the atmosphere will be one of the best of the year in college basketball.

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