It was a lot of fun watching Wichita State's improbable run to the Final Four, even if their coach doesn't exactly radiate class and their offense is at times similar to the old Frank days of "just throw something at the rim and then crash the glass hard." That's still an excellent team with a lot of great athletes, and it was enjoyable to see them play their hearts out.
In fact, with the possible exception of when I was lucky enough to go to Arch Madness in 2006, it was the most fun I've had watching the Shockers since 2003. That was, of course, the last time K-State and Wichita State played in what I remember as the most anticipated nonconference matchup throughout most of my childhood.
Beginning in the 1985-86 season, the two teams played every year except for the 99-00 season. Other than back-to-back games in Manhattan in 95-96 and 96-97, they rotated between the two campuses, playing what I remember to be mostly hard-fought, interesting games, with 7 of 18 being decided by single digits.
Not for the first time, these last couple weeks I found myself reminiscing on those earlier days and wishing they could return. Well, except for the whole part where K-State was a terrible basketball team. No need to go back to that.
I'm no expert on the history of the series, but I assume it ended because Wichita State wasn't interested unless it got to play at home every other year, and KSU simply didn't see the value of playing a game in Wichita that frequently. After all, it seems the only noncon true road games the ‘Cats play these days are trips back home for star players (i.e. Loyola for Pullen, George Washington for McGruder), and this formula hardly makes K-State unique across the country.
If there's anything more to why K-State hasn't played Wichita State in almost 10 years, well, then it shouldn't be difficult to get rid of those grudges. Certainly, as someone who grew up near Wichita with parents who were and still are loyal Wichita Eagle subscribers, I'm a little biased, but it's time to bring this series back.
I think it's safe to say Kansas State wouldn't be worried about a black mark on its tournament resume. The ‘Cats won only 4 of 8 in Wichita (compared to 8 of 10 in Manhattan) during that stretch, though interestingly enough KSU still made it to the 1987 and 1993 tournaments despite losses at WSU.
In fact, this season I'd argue that even a loss at Koch Arena in place of one of the 250+ RPI victories at Bramlage could have been better for K-State's tournament resume, provided it wasn't a blowout. Certainly it would have helped the nonconference strength of schedule that was (unfairly, in my opinion, but that's another discussion) touted as a major weakness all season.
Wichita isn't exactly known as a basketball recruiting hotbed, but every once in a while really good players do come out of the city (see: Maurice Evans, Perry Ellis), and it certainly couldn't hurt Kansas State to have a presence there. The Shockers are kind of a big deal these days and only getting bigger, so being able to tell recruits they could still play at Koch Arena in front of their family and friends every other year could be critical.
Honestly, after this season, Gregg Marshall might not be afraid to go head-to-head with Bruce Weber for recruits if the opportunity arises. Wouldn't it be better if Kansas State could say it went head-to-head with Wichita State on the court and came out on top?
Most of that could also be said about Kansas, but the Jayhawks have a much more legitimate excuse for never playing Wichita State. KU is already the more established program in the state, basically guaranteed to win every recruiting battle, plus they're going to sell out every home game whether they're playing Wichita State or Emporia State, so why bother setting up a home-and-home?
The harsh reality is Kansas State is not too close to being on that level. Supposedly, the Dec. 29 game vs. UMKC was a capacity crowd of 12,528 and every other awful home game (attendance for the Lamar game was not listed) drew at least 12,000.
Anyone who even watched those games on TV (or ESPN3, like me) knows that is not the number of people who were there, even if it was perhaps the number of tickets sold. Bring in Wichita State, and chances are very good you would have an actual sellout, meaning much larger concession revenues, not to mention the potential boost to the local economy from the old Shocker fans who would undoubtedly make the trip.
Add in the fact that you're not paying Wichita State like I'm betting K-State does for many of those other teams, and maybe you could come close to offsetting the potential money lost in a game at Wichita State every season. Anyone who knows more about that than I do is free to chime in, but it seems like it might at least be close.
Even if there is some money lost, you can't tell me this wouldn't be a great idea for both fanbases, and there might even be some money to be made through clever marketing. These are two nearby basketball programs with recent sustained runs of success, and it's a real shame they're never going up against each other.
I'm not suggesting we need some sort of law to make this happen, but it sure would be great if the two coaches could come together and recognize the desire from their fanbases for the return of this rivalry. Then again, considering what happened to Missouri-Kansas, Memphis-Tennessee, and Kentucky-Indiana, just to name a few much bigger now-defunct rivalries, it's unlikely an emotional appeal from the fans is going to get us anywhere.