With Missouri out of the picture and (struggling to beat South Carolina) in the SEC, Kansas is looking for a new rival in the Big 12.
Enter Kansas State, who has had as much success as any other program in the conference over the past five or six years. Tonight’s matchup, which featured two of the top 11 teams in the country, was billed as the Sunflower Showdown by most parties heading into the game.
Only, it’s tough to have a game be considered a rivalry when one team is clearly little brother. Kansas has now won 45 of their last 48 games against the Wildcats, including 23 of their last 25 in Bramlage Coliseum, after a 59-55 win on Tuesday night.
Travis Releford led the way for the Jayhawks with 12 points, while Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey both chipped in with 11. Both McLemore and Withey battled foul trouble.
No. 3 Kansas has now won 16 straight games since losing to Michigan State in the Champions Classic in the second game of the season. They are not necessarily doing it in the prettiest manner — the Jayhawks needed a last-second, banked-in three from McLemore to force overtime at home against Iowa State and then had to dig themselves out of an 11 point second half hole at Texas on Saturday — but they just keep winning.
And that’s not to say that there aren’t concerns with this group. Elijah Johnson is talented, but he’s playing out of position at the point guard spot. The problem? He’s still a better option that Naadir Tharpe, who’s not yet ready to take over the point guard spot full-time. Kansas is also looking to find a secondary scorer alongside McLemore. Releford does the majority of his work spotting up on the perimeter and getting out and scoring in transition. Jeff Withey’s improved offensively, but it’s still a bit of an adventure when he gets the ball on the block. Even McLemore, as talented as he is, has a tendency to let the game come to him.
Too many possessions that end up with the ball in Johnson’s hands as he looks to create, which, again, is not exactly his forte.
But Kansas just keeps winning.
And I have a theory why.
There may not be a team in the country that is better at executing the sets that their head coach calls than Kansas. While there are some issues with the talent level and there is a lack of creators offensively on the roster, the bottom-line is that, when Kansas does what Bill Self asks them to, they can get shots within the flow of their offense.
With a defense that is as good as ever, the Jayhawks don’t necessarily need to have a roster full of lottery picks. They don’t need to score 100 point on a nightly basis to win.
They do enough to get by.
So far, it’s working.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.