No. 5 Kansas State aims to record a regular-season sweep of No. 9 Kansas for the first time in 40 years when the two Big 12 foes battle on Tuesday night at Lawrence, Kan.
The Wildcats typically struggle against the Jayhawks and last won the two regular-season meetings in 1983 when the conference was known as the Big Eight.
Kansas State recorded an 83-82 overtime home win on Jan. 17, raising its mark to 7-38 since Bill Self became Kansas coach prior to the 2003-04 season.
The victory was just the Wildcats’ second in the past 17 meetings with Kansas and is part of the reason why Kansas State (18-3, 6-2 Big 12) is tied for first place in the Big 12 while the Jayhawks (17-4, 5-3) are tied for fourth.
One player fueling the Wildcats’ rise is Florida transfer Keyontae Johnson, who leads the club in scoring (18.0 points per game) and rebounding (7.7 rebounds per game).
Johnson scored the decisive dunk in the recent victory over Kansas and has become the star attraction in Manhattan.
Just being on the floor is a big deal for Johnson, who collapsed during a Florida game against Florida State 25-plus months ago. He was hospitalized and survived the ordeal, but Florida’s medical staff declined to clear him to make a return to the floor.
So Johnson transferred, and he was cleared by the Wildcats prior to this season. Ironically, his former school visited Kansas State on Saturday in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, and Johnson had 13 points and 11 rebounds in the 64-50 victory over the Gators.
“It was a special day just seeing my old teammates,” Johnson said afterward. “It was fun out here playing against them. It felt just like practice. We were out there joking around throughout the game but we were also competitive. It was a great experience. I’m glad that this conference had this game going on and let me play Florida. I really appreciate it.”
Markquis Nowell, who averages 16.9 points and 8.2 assists, is also standing out for a squad that has matched the best 21-game Kansas State start since the 1972-73 squad also began 18-3.
Kansas star Jalen Wilson scored a career-best 38 points in the recent loss to the Wildcats and is averaging 28.3 points over the past four games. Overall, he has team-best averages of 21.4 points and 8.6 rebounds.
Wilson had 22 points and eight rebounds on Saturday when Kansas recorded a 77-68 road victory over Kentucky to halt a rare three-game losing streak.
Wilson said the skid didn’t bother him too much due to the quality of opponents. Kansas’ losses were to then-No. 13 Kansas State, then-No. 14 TCU and No. 17 Baylor.
“It was three games against three really good opponents like tonight,” Wilson said after the revenge win over Kentucky. “It was important to get the train going again. It was important knowing what (Kentucky) did to us on our home court last year.”
KJ Adams Jr. bounced back with 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting versus Kentucky. He had just four points in each of the previous two games while being a combined 2 of 11 from the field.
Kansas also would like to see long-range bomber Gradey Dick rediscover his stroke. He is just 6 of 26 (23.1 percent) from 3-point range over the past four games.
Overall, Dick is shooting 42.7 percent from 3-point range while averaging 14.8 points.
Though the Jayhawks ended their slide, Self isn’t ready to proclaim the funk is over. Not with the Kansas State showdown being followed by a road game against No. 12 Iowa State and a home game against No. 10 Texas.
“Our league is such a monster,” Self said.
–Field Level Media