Saturday afternoon marked the 278th installment of the Sunflower Showdown as #25 Kansas State (12-4, 2-1) traveled to Lawrence to battle the #18 Kansas Jayhawks (11-4, 2-0 Big-12). The Jayhawks lead the overall series 186-91 and hold an 84-35 record on their home court. The first meeting between the two in-state rivals came on January 25, 1907 when the Kansas Jayhawks defeated the Kansas State Wildcats 54-39 in Lawrence.
The present-day Wildcats went into Lawrence carrying an active ten-game winning streak, which included a rather impressive victory over Marcus Smart and the #6 ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Kansas, sporting their new “throwback” unis, countered that win streak by putting together their most complete game of the season and routing the Wildcats 86-60 in this season’s first Sunflower Showdown.
The first half, quite similarly to the Oklahoma game, belonged to Freshman Massachusetts Native Wayne Selden, Jr. If this is the type of play that Selden is going to continue to bring to the table, opposing teams should fear the Kansas Jayhawks who are beginning to heat up as the season progresses. Selden notched 14 points in the first half on an outstanding 5-7 shooting from the field. The Freshman finished the contest with 20 points on 7-10 shooting and 3-5 shooting from beyond the arc. Selden has accumulated 44 total points in the Jayhawks’ previous two outings.
Even more impressive than Selden himself was the overall play of the team, who for the first time since November 11, 2011 completed an entire half of basketball without committing a single turnover. Complimenting their zero turnover first half performance was the Jayhawks’ 14 assists on 19 made shots from the field. The Jayhawks finished the contest with a season-low 7 turnovers.
Andrew Wiggins, top recruit of his class, took the reins in the second half and led the Jayhawks to victory. Wiggins scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half and finished the contest with 7-13 shooting from the field and 75% (3-4) shooting from 3-point range. Three of Andrew Wiggins’ top four scoring-performances this season have come against ranked opponents.
Perry Ellis, arguably the most fundamentally sound player on the Kansas roster, had another solid game scoring 12 points and pulling down 5 rebounds.
Joel Embiid, who finished the contest with 11 points and 9 rebounds, was on his way to his fourth double-double of the season before being ejected from the game for throwing an elbow in the face of Kansas State’s Nino Williams. The Cameroon native will not be assessed any extra time on the bench and will be active for Monday’s game at Iowa State.
All of the Kansas players had impressive performances, but one stood out above the rest in my eyes, despite his stat-line showing otherwise. Junior Point Guard Naadir Tharpe had the most important outing of this season. Finishing the game with 4 points on 1-7 shooting would leave most thinking “he had a good game?” The statistic that stands out the most was Naadir’s 9 assists to 0 turnovers in the Jayhawks win over Kansas State. Tharpe is the unsung leader of the young Kansas Jayhawks and is more important as a passer and game manager than a scorer. The importance of his is ability to take care of the basketball and put his teammates in positions where they can utilize their skills is unmeasurable. Intelligent playmaking with the basketball is Tharpe’s role on this team and Kansas will continue to be successful as long as Tharpe interprets his role correctly.
Kansas controlled every aspect of the game in their blowout victory. The Jayhawks shot 56% from the field and just over 44% from the three-point line. Winning the rebound battle 33-25, the assist battle 20-6, and the turnover battle 7-10, Kansas showed the nation that they are beginning to put it all together and have their sights set on a National Championship.
“It just shows we’re the dominant team in Kansas,” Wiggins said.
KU also received some significant help from the state of Oklahoma yesterday as the Sooners, who gave Kansas a tough game earlier in the week, topped the undefeated Iowa State Cyclones, while the Oklahoma State Cowboys edged a win over West Virginia to hand them their first conference loss of the season. With both of these games producing the outcomes they did, Kansas takes sole leadership of the Big-12 conference and remains the only undefeated team in conference play.
Kansas was able to put it all together on both ends of the floor as the stifling Jayhawk defense held Kansas State star Freshman Marcus Foster to only 7 points on 3-12 shooting from the floor. Foster was averaging 14 points per game coming into the contest.
“I feel like the pieces are starting to come together a lot better and we are starting to come together defensively,” Head Coach Bill Self said. “We are going pretty hard in practice so I feel like we are going to keep getting better.”
The Jayhawks will have their hands full again Monday night as they travel to Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State’s top performer and Big-12 Player of the Year frontrunner Deandre Kane went down with an ankle injury in the dwindling moments of their loss to Oklahoma. Kane is ruled out indefinitely at this time.
If last night’s performance was any indication of the direction the Jayhawks are going in, the rest of the nation should pay attention.