Kansas and Kansas State are both off to historic starts. Kansas is ranked 2nd (And really should be ranked 1st) in the nation, while Kansas State, a team thought to be in a rebuild, has climbed to 11th with no signs of stopping. Both teams have had impressive wins over ranked opponents, both teams have also scraped by the skin of their teeth in some contests against "easier" opponents so far in conference play. The Big 12 is a tough, tough conference, like tougher than they've been in the past. Each team in the conference has given plenty reason to be ranked among the top 40 at least, and there's no signs that it's any one school's conference to lose...yet. The question at hand is, which teams have the best shot at winning the regular season title and/or the Big 12 Tournament? A follow-up, how good of a chance does the team that ends up winning those titles have at going deep into March Madness? Let's observe the two Kansas schools, I'll review the others when my midseason rest of the year predictions come out.
For Kansas, this is a team that has been incredibly inconsistent with how they play. One game they play like a team that won the National Title last year and plan to do it again, the next they play like a team that literally had their first practice together yesterday. The problem is putting too much faith in guys to do too much, and that faith is invested in mainly Jalen Wilson, Dajuan Harris, and Gradey Dick. Don't get me wrong, when these guys are on they are ON, but when they're not someone else has to step up, mainly the bench guys. The KU bench is where they lack in terms of production, and while guys like Bobby Pettiford have their moments, they're not doing what it takes to give the stars ample rest time. Part of that is Self not having faith in guys like Zuby Ejiofor, MJ Rice, and others, but another is having faith in guys that have really shown why they're on the bench i.e. Zach Clemence (though he has improved moderately) KU needs to utilize their bench more effectively and stop leaving it in the hands of a select few. Wilson, Harris, and Dick (That would be a wild name for a law firm, wouldn't it???) are going to have bad nights, it happens to all players especially at this level. What matters is there is a guy there to fit in seamlessly into the fold and make an impact, and to not play to the opponent's level. KU has shown what they can do, and they can make another deep run if they play their best game, but it has to be consistent and non-complacent first.
For Kansas State, Jerome Tang took this program and maximized their talent. This team always had key impact players that could make noise, the issue was there wasn't a guy at the helm to lead that group. That all changed when Tang walked into the office. The Cats are riding high and can go higher if they want to, but much like KU, they cannot get complacent and overconfident. We almost saw that last night against a team that KU knows all too well can make you pay for taking someone too lightly in Oklahoma State. In order to survive in the Thunderdome you have to play to your strengths, and K-State's strength is field goals, and lots of them. A massive offensive attack is K-State's bread and butter right now, lots of shots, lots of offensive rebounds and chances. Defensively there's still tinkering to be done, but Kansas State's offense is as good if not better than any other offense in the country when they're on. Last night was not a great example, Oklahoma State did well in containing sharp shooters Keyonte Johnson and Markquis Nowell, but they pulled it out nonetheless with a good enough defensive showing and keeping guys like Bryce Thompson under wraps. The Texas game however, was perhaps the best example. 116 points in regulation in a COLLEGE game is bonkers, and that's what this K-State team has the potential to do to teams that have sound defenses such as Texas. If Kansas State can develop that defense they showed against OSU further and not get complacent offensively, they can beat anyone in the country, and that includes the Jayhawks. This is a team that could make massive noise no matter where they end up in the bracket, but it'll require them playing their best game on both ends of the court to get to the heights this team has the potential to get to.
Overall, I think both squads have great chances to go far in postseason play. Both teams have excellent coaching, tons of talent, a solid game plan, and overall a chip on their shoulder. KU is trying to get back and be the first team to be repeat champions since the '06-'07 Florida Gators, and if they're on their best game have a great chance to do so, while Kansas State has shown that this is no rebuilding year for the Cats. They're out for blood and they're going to go for the throat with each offensive possession. They're both playing like teams with something to prove, but only one can come out on top (Except in the regular season title I guess but you know, details.) I am excited to see where each team goes, they've both shown that they can be beat yes, but they've also shown that when they are on their best game they are completely unbeatable. Forget Indiana, forget North Carolina, Kansas is THE basketball state. Bar none.
Burn Notice: 8/10 Twin flames rising (Except one is the much uglier twin, I'll leave that up to your discretion as to which one)