K-State and Kansas Thrill the Sunflower State by Advancing to NCAA Sweet 16

Kansas Jayhawks

That there are only 16 teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament, and two of the schools share the same border is reason to go bonkers over college basketball in Kansas. The Jayhawks and Wildcats will dance for another weekend, and somewhere KU’s “Phog” Allen and KSU’s Mike Ahearn are smiling. Of course, they might be playing a game of h-o-r-s-e. Allen Fieldhouse legends Wilt the Stilt, Dr. James Naismith, and Mario Chalmers “big shot” vs. Memphis are countered with Ahearn Fieldhouse legends Bob Boozer, Coach Tex Winter, and Rolando Blackman’s “big shot” vs. Oregon State. They once played against one another for a spot in the Final Four in 1988, and only one of the two schools talks about that much.

Are you feeling me?

Up next for the Wildcats, are the Wildcats. That would be the University of Kentucky. The Bluebloods from the Bluegrass State have a former Jayhawk assistant named John Calipari as their head coach who this time, might not be regarded as the villain in this showdown. That’s because K-State bounced tournament darling Maryland-Baltimore County out of primetime. Kentucky is not a county; it’s more like a country, which is why they are sometimes called Big Blue Nation. Translate that as it is a short drive from Lexington to Atlanta. The match-up is set for an 8:37 CT tip and will air Thursday night on your Cox Communications channel CBS.

The South Regional has been turned upside down because it is the first time that the top four seeds are gone. Fifth-seeded Kentucky is the highest remaining seed. Nevada and Loyola-Chicago are the other remaining teams. If the Wildcats can beat the Wildcats, there’s a real opportunity to do the unthinkable. Can K-State advance? Oh my!

Kansas State Coach Bruce said, “We told the guys before, look at today (Sunday) alone: Michigan State, North Carolina, basically at home losing today. “It’s what makes March Madness special and it kills the coaches because it’s so hard and you think you have a great team. Matchups are important. Making the plays, having the right ‘mojo’ at the right time.”

Kentucky is 9-0 all time against Kansas State with wins in 2014, 2008, 1976, 1971, 1966, 1961 and 1951, and two wins in 1940. In fact, the Wildcats of Kentucky beat the Wildcats of K-State in the first round of its 2014 National Championship run.

So, who’s got the “mojo” in this fight? In mid February, Kentucky had lost four games in a row and seven of 11 in the SEC. Since then, they are 9-1, averaging just under 82 points per game.

But, K-State might get Dean Wade back from his foot injury and who knows…. the Wildcats may break out the lavender throwbacks. How’s that for mojo?

Despite less than stellar play that is expected from a top seed, Kansas has to feel pretty good about itself. Top seeded Virginia is gone as is defending champion North Carolina. And, as discussed, never in the 40 year history of the tournament had four top seeds in a regional been dismantled by the second weekend like it has in the South Region.

The Jayhawks head to Omaha knowing that the court is just 100 miles from the state line. Duke, Clemson, and Syracuse will share the Midwest Regional as the three visiting teams. Yes, when Kansas goes to Omaha, the Jayhawks are the home team. Just ask the citizens of O-town, who have been friendly and supportive fans of the Crimson and Blue in several trips to the state of Nebraska for NCAA Tournament play over the years.

Kansas will be trying to get over the Elite Eight hump after two consecutive regional-final losses. They will face a Clemson team that is part of the Sweet 16 for the first time since last century (1997). In fact, the Tigers were picked to finish 13th in the ACC preseason poll. Game time is set for 6:07 CT on Friday, live from Omaha, viewable on your favorite Cox Communications CBS station. Despite having won just five of their last 10, Clemson showed they belong when they crushed Auburn by 31 points. The winner will meet either No. 2 seed Duke or 11th seeded Syracuse on Sunday for a spot in the Final Four.

What’s the thermometer on the Jayhawks?

“Well, I think in the NCAA Tournament you don’t worry as much if you played well or if you played poor,” Bill Self said. “You worry more about, `Did we advance?’ And I think that’s all we did is we advanced.”

In Wichita, the Jayhawks got past Penn, and nudged Seton Hall. Both victories required plenty of labored breathing from its fan base as well as clutch plays from unexpected sources. The good news is that what Kansas got from Devonte’ Graham on Thursday, it received from Malik Newman on Saturday. It is good news for Kansas if seven-footer Udoka Azubuike continues to make progress from the strained knee. It will be even better news if more than one Jayhawk can have a big night in the box score.

Two Sunflower State teams among the 16 remaining is cause for great joy. It will be cause for great celebration if either can win two games this weekend. If both do, San Antonio will be far more than sweet for basketball in Kansas. However, as true rivalries are expected to be measured, should one school make history and the other be left as a spectator, the accomplishment will find a different page in their respective history books. Until then… it’s March… it’s Mad… and the Sunflower State is loving it!

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