With three games remaining in the Big 12 season, Kansas fans were hoping for what seemed unlikely. Kansas was trailing Kansas State and Texas Tech by a game. To keep the streak alive Kansas needed to win its final three games and get help with at least one loss for each of the teams they trailed. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, they lost at Oklahoma while Kansas State and Texas Tech won out. It’s a new day for the Big 12. The champion is still from the state of Kansas but it’s not who we expected.
Although all of the Big 12 teams wanted to be the one to dethrone Kansas, none could have wanted it more than the Kansas State Wildcats. Early in the conference season it looked like Kansas State was going to have another disappointing season.
The Wildcats dropped their conference home opener to Texas 67-47. A twenty point loss to Texas, in Manhattan! What?! This group of seniors was supposed to change things for Kansas State. It was supposed to be different this year but things started terribly.
The Wildcats followed up that loss with a loss at Texas Tech 63-57 in what turned out to be not a bad loss at all. Nevertheless, the Wildcats were 0-2 and headed home to play West Virginia who was also 0-2.
A home game against a struggling West Virginia team seemed like exactly what Kansas State needed. However, it started off terribly and without Dean Wade it looked like the Wildcats were going to fall to 0-3. West Virginia led by 15 at halftime, 36-21. Kansas State fell down by as many as 21 points in the second half until Barry Brown had apparently had enough of how things were going. Barry Brown carried the Wildcats with 29 points to a 71-69 win to not only win the game but also to change the season. The Wildcats lost only two more conference games: home against Iowa State and at Kansas.
Most seasons you can watch Big 12 basketball and see that Kansas has more talent and the confidence that they will win close games because they have always done it. But this season was different.
Ever since Kansas was officially eliminated you can’t help but hear about their injuries and losing Lagerald Vick during the conference season. The loss of Udoka Azubuike did hurt Kansas. If Udoka had remained healthy then Kansas would have had a great chance of extending its streak. However, the other injuries and loss of Vick played no role. Other teams have injuries as well, maybe not as important to their team as Azubuike is to the Jayhawks, but injuries are a part of all sports.
The fact is that if you watched the Big 12 conference season anyone could see that the experience of Kansas State and the talent of Texas Tech was just superior to Kansas. There was always some doubt in the back of your mind because somehow, someway, Kansas has always pulled through to get at least a tie for the conference. You couldn’t see how it would happen this year but you didn’t feel completely comfortable if you are a Kansas State or Texas Tech fan. You just knew something was going to happen to give Kansas the opening they needed.
But somehow, it didn’t happen this year. It shouldn’t have happened. We watched it game after game. Kansas State and Texas Tech were better than Kansas. But it wasn’t until Kansas was officially eliminated that they could feel comfortable. Then it was a battle between Kansas State and Texas Tech with just one game to go.
It looked like Kansas State had a decent chance at an outright conference title. Although Iowa State struggled more than ever at home this year, nobody likes having to go to Ames and get a win. That’s what the Red Raiders had to do. Kansas State just had to win at home against an Oklahoma team that has not been very good this season.
Kansas State had done it. While they would have loved to have won the Big 12 title alone, they still won it to break Kansas’ streak of 14 straight, the best conference title streak in college basketball history.
Kansas State is the #1 seed at the Big 12 tournament this week. They get the pressure that Kansas has felt for 14 years. Meanwhile the expectations for Kansas are low. Will Kansas be able to get by Texas in the first round? If so, do they have a chance against Texas Tech who they would likely play in the semifinals? Doubtful. The pressure this week, for the first time in a long time, is not on Kansas. It’s on Kansas State and the Wildcats wouldn’t want it any other way.