Believe the Hype?

This one has it all – a final home game for the winningest player in Kansas history, an outright conference title, a rivalry that keeps getting better, NCAA seeding implications, a top five matchup, and a raucous Fieldhouse crowd.

If you polled the KU coaching staff on Tuesday you'd come up with one universal answer: "this place is going to be juiced up tomorrow night".

I've been fortunate enough to be at some pretty special Fieldhouse environments since Bill Self arrived as the head coach at KU but I think this one may rival all of them.

It's impossible to escape the hype. Kansas Media Relations Director Chris Theisen told Phog.net that the amount of media requests for KU's final two games is a lot larger. It was so large that some media will have to use passes leftover from a game played earlier this season! The KU Athletics website is streaming the game and Sherron Collins senior day speech live.

Tuesday Kansas proceeded as normal and held a spirited two-hour practice and scout of Kansas State with a film session after.Wednesday will be anything but normal and everybody knows it.

"It will be as hard a game as we've played," Self concluded. "I am sure that they're thinking if they knock us off and Missouri knocks us off they can get a piece of the Big 12 championship which is right for them to think that."

If Kansas State is spending a lot of time thinking about conference titles head coach Frank Martin is doing his best to "cover it up". The Wildcats have won seven in a row since that loss to KU in January but they their mind set on one thing – the next game on the schedule.

"Yeah I mean we've talked about that and we're happy we're playing in a meaningful conference game at this time of the year but we're not going to dwell on that," continued Martin. "We can't worry about what happens Saturday and what happens a week from now, or ten days from now. We can only worry about one thing and that's what we can control. That's the next practice and the next game."

"Our objective as a team is to prepare to win the next game. That's the way we've done it all year and that's not going to change."

The game was physical and intense during a late January overtime thrilled in Manhattan that went to KU (81-79) but yet this one has the potential to be even better.

"I'm sure they'll be as excited as they've been all year long to play but you know what? I think we will be too," said Self.

"After the three losses they had, they have been one of the best teams in the country. They are going to come in and they are going to give us their best shot," assessed KU's leading conference scorer Marcus Morris. "They want part of the Big 12 and they are going to play like that want part of it. We are going to play like we want it."

Will KU want it too bad? The biggest concern for the Jayhawks coming in might not be the backcourt combo of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente or the fervor with which the Wildcat big men crash the glass. The biggest obstacle might be getting too amped up for this game.

"We're playing a really talented team and it's also Sherron's last home game which I think definitely adds a piece to the equation. Are we going to be able to control our emotions is he going to be able to because this will be a big deal," Self assessed.

So Martin continues to downplay the game while Self admittedly knows this game is huge. For Kansas the schedule ends with quite a bang facing its two biggest rivals with one at home and one on the road in Columbia against Missouri. No seeds are locked up just yet in the NCAA Tournament but by the end of this week K-State could have a nice feather in its cap while KU will likely have a nice barometer to judge itself by.

"This will be the toughest week that we have all year long - and we know that so what better preparation for the postseason then to play a tough schedule like this the last week so we'll be excited about it," Self proclaimed.

Self has nothing but respect and admiration for the team that K-State has become and  the man who patrols the opposite sideline. In a testament to the true definition of "team" Martin refused to answer the question on Monday in the Big 12 teleconference when asked which of his talented players would/should earn league honors. Martin refused to single out one player and sternly said would leave that up to the media. Martin may not want to point the finger at a player of the year but Self knows who he believes has done the best coaching job.

"We're playing a terrific team and of course Frank's done a marvelous job – as good a job as anybody's done in the country let alone our league," Self concluded.

Martin is likely taking a look at the reason KU gave way to Syracuse as the top team in the nation this week.  Did Oklahoma State's 85-77 victory open up a can of worms on how to beat KU? After watching the tape Martin had a pretty simple assessment.  

"They made 67 percent of their shots in the first half. When you make that many shots -and I think they were 14-20 from the three-point line - it's on your home court, it's going to be hard to lose. They jumped up and made shots. Kansas is one of the better defensive teams in the country and yet Oklahoma state just made every shot. It's hard to beat a team in the Big 12 at home when they shoot that well," said Martin clearly marveled by the Okie State shooting performance.

Certainly the rebounding numbers against a smaller Oklahoma State don't bode well for KU. In a rebounding effort Marcus Morris said was, "horrible for us" KU was outworked by and undersized Cowboys squad. Those numbers alone could have an excellent rebounding team like K-State salivating.  

"They go after every ball," Self said. "They are relentless. We can talk about technique, but forget that. Go get your man and go get the ball. That's the bottom line, and they are relentless at doing so. They play a lot of big guys and (Dominique) Sutton is as good an athlete as anyone in our league at the three spot. They are very, very good at that."

"They are real aggressive. The rebound well and you have to make sure you box out. You can't fall asleep because they are aggressive rebounders. They are an aggressive team," sophomore Markieff Morris stated.

The aggression, the rebounding, and the maturity have all contributed to the Wildcats going 11-2 away from Manhattan this season. But the Cats haven't been in an environment quite like what they are about to face at Phog Allen. It will be tough but Martin hopes his squad can stick to their guns.

"I just think we've learned to stay the course," commented Martin. "In the past we've allowed games where we didn't make shots to effect our spirit and enthusiasm. Our experience has shown we've gotten better there. We're able to play through those moments and just stay the course and that's what maturity does. It allows you to be more consistent and stay focused and not give in to the emotion of situations."

It will be a tug of war and we'll see who gives in to the emotions that are sure to be running high on Wednesday night.

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