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SLATE: Showdown in the Octagon

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First place on the line as Wildcats host Jayhawks

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Kansas State
Can Barry Brown lead K-State to victory against KU for the first time in his career Tuesday night in Bramlage Coliseum?
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

So, is anything happening to night? Oh, yeah. The State of the Union. Right.

Viewer ratings for the president’s annual U-S-A pep rally may be lower in Kansas than in other states, however. Our eyes will be glued to ESPN’s live feed from Bramlage Coliseum, where an in-state reunion on the hardwood tips off at the same time as the speech from the House of Representatives. In the age of DVR, we can experience both, fortunately. Let your personal priorities guide your path. We’re not here to judge.

Men’s Basketball

Tonight’s game will mark the midway point in the league season for K-State (16-5, 6-2 Big 12), while No. 13/14 KU (17-5, 6-3) celebrated its halfway mark by destroying Texas Tech Saturday in Lawrence, 79-63. Recent returns (and really, in this context, “recent” could be construed as a generational measure) have not been kind to the Wildcats. Through the coaching tenures of Larry Brown, Roy Williams and Bill Self at Kansas, the Wildcats have earned only 11 wins in 89 tries. K-State has not beaten KU since 2015. Its closest brushes with victory since then came in the last two games contested in Lawrence, where the ‘Cats lost both on the final possession. Two years ago Svi Mykhailuk’s long distance, dribble-free traverse to the basket ended a 90-88 KU win, and last year Barry Brown missed an off-balance three as time expired on KU’s 73-72 win in Allen Fieldhouse. The Manhattan rematch was not much of a contest, as K-State started tight, got behind big, and succumbed 70-56.

K-State seniors Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes have never beaten KU in their careers. Consequently, a win in the series is one of the many items on their “bucket list.” The atmosphere for the Sunflower showdown is always charged with emotion, and K-State is preparing to deal with the intensity. Wade tried to tamp down the hype a little bit, saying the team has not talked a great deal about the Jayhawks, and that he knew the coaches would have a great scouting report and game plan. But all acknowledge that containing the competitive fire has been difficult for the underdogs, particularly at home, and Barry Brown knows it will be important not to get too amped to start the game:

“It’s a game you want to win so bad you end up doing things you shouldn’t,” Brown said. “Right now, we understand we made those mistakes and we are trying to limit those.”

Despite trying to keep a measured perspective, Wade acknowledges a win would mean a lot, not only because he grew up watching the series, but also because a win would keep K-State in a share of the Big 12 lead and stretch the gap between the Wildcats and their longtime nemesis.

For the first time in quite a while, unranked K-State enters the game as a 1-point favorite. Kansas Coach Bill Self says his teams, which are 11-4 at Bramlage, have experienced “a lot of success there,” but not as much as he would like. Kansas guard Quentin Grimes, who will be playing his first game in the series, summed up the players’ perspective:

“It’s probably going to be the toughest environment we’ve played in all year. They don’t like us. We don’t like them, so it’s definitely going to probably be the craziest atmosphere we’ve played in this year.”

Yep: definitely, probably. Tip-off is at 8:05. K-State Athletics previewed the game, as did Kellis Robinett at the Star.

Women’s Basketball

A day after the men’s squads meet for the first time this season, the up-and-down K-State women will travel to Lawrence looking to avenge their 61-54 loss to KU in mid-January. K-State leads the all-time series 73-47.

Baseball

Pete Hughes and the baseball staff hosted media day yesterday. The season opens February 15.

Football

K-State secured a verbal commitment from Booker T. Washington high school running back Thomas Grayson yesterday. The three-star talent was originally pledged to Nebraska and also had offers from Tulsa, Tennessee and Texas Tech, among others.

K-State offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham has been impressed with Skylar Thomson’s leadership qualities and says his maturity and understanding of the mission should help the offense with the transition to the new coaching staff.

Despite being familiar with operations at Vanier as a holdover from last year’s coaching staff, Collin Klein stands alone after the departure of Blake Seiler for West Virginia, and is in some senses the “new kid on the block.”

Rest up for game-time, Wildcat fans. No matter the outcome, these games are always emotionally exhausting.