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(11) Kansas State (27-6) vs. (7) Kansas (28-5)
Saturday, March 16, 6 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sprint Center (18,972) -- Kansas City, Missouri. Television: ESPN. Home Record: K-State 15-1, KU 16-1. Away Record: K-State 7-3, KU 7-3. Neutral Record: K-State 5-2, KU 5-1. Conference Record: K-State 14-4, KU 14-4. Series Record: Kansas leads, 185-91.
GAME NOTES: Co-champions of the regular season meet up in the Big 12 Conference Tournament title game on Saturday night, as the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks take on the second-seeded Kansas State Wildcats at the Sprint Center.
A win for either squad will also likely assure it a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
After losing its regular-season finale at Oklahoma State (76-70), Kansas State has bounced back nicely with a pair of wins in the Big 12 Tournament over Texas (66-49) and most recently in a revenge match with OSU in Friday's semifinals, 68-57. The Wildcats have now won eight of their last nine to improve to 27-6 overall.
Kansas also lost its regular-season finale, dropping a 81-58 decision at Baylor on March, only to get back on track in the tourney with a pair of double-digit wins over Texas Tech (91-63) and Iowa State (88-73). Despite falling victim to a head-scratching three-game losing streak in early February, the Jayhawks are still considered among the nation's elite with a 28-5 mark.
Kansas pulled off the season sweep of Kansas State this year (thus earning the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed), most recently claiming a convincing 83-62 victory in Lawrence on Feb. 11. The Jayhawks have dominated the all-time series over their Sunflower State rival, 185-91.
Despite shooting less than 40 percent from the field in the semifinals, Kansas State captured the 11-point victory by playing lock-down defense, holding OSU to a mere 30.5 percent shooting. After scoring 24 points in the quarterfinals, Rodney McGruder continued his hot streak with 25 points on 8-of-14 from the field. Angel Rodriguez netted 17 points, and Jordan Henriquez tallied eight points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. On the season, the Wildcats' calling card has been the outstanding play of their defense, as they allow opponents to net just 60.1 ppg, and their offensive production (69.7 ppg) has been strong enough for them to rise to an elite level. McGruder is one of the Big 12's top playmakers and most clutch performers, pouring in 15.6 ppg, while grabbing a team-best 5.4 rpg. Rodriguez runs a strong point, scoring 11.7 ppg with a great assist (168) to turnover (73) ratio.
Although Kansas led by just four points at intermission over ISU, it opened up the second half with a 20-8 run to pull away. The squad shot a lofty 53.2 percent from the floor on the evening and was paced by an outstanding bench effort from Perry Ellis, who shot 10-of-12 from the field for a career-high 23 points. Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey poured in 14 points apiece, with Johnson handing out seven assists as well. Ben McLemore rounded out the balanced effort with 10 points and seven rebounds. The Jayhawks are no stranger to great all-around performances, as they not only score 75.5 ppg on a lofty 48 percent from the field, but they play top-notch defense as well, holding teams to just 36 percent shooting and 61.7 ppg. McLemore (16.7 ppg), a freshman, has proven himself to be one of the top shooters in the country, piecing together great percentages from the field (.511), 3-point range (.442) and the foul line (.867). Withey (13.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg) is a tremendous interior defender, managing 3.9 bpg. Travis Releford adds 11.6 ppg on nearly 57 percent from the field, while Johnson chips in 10.1 ppg and 4.8 apg.
With high national rankings this season and strong showings down the stretch, both teams have clearly earned their keep on the campaign. The Jayhawks though, have had a stranglehold on this series over the past several seasons. Expect for that trend to continue as KU cuts down the nets in this event for the third time in the last four seasons.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Kansas 66, Kansas State 63
03/16 10:34:09 ET