KU Has Its Fortress, KSU Has to Render it Irrelevant

     The first time I set foot in Allen Field House was just a couple of days after arriving on the KU campus. Along with a couple thousand of my newest friends I was not watching a game, or even soaking in some history. I was registering for classes. Long before computers did all the work, we dutifully pored through catalogues and decided what classes we would take. Then we would stand in long lines to get a card for each class and then turn them in to create a schedule.

     Back then you could also go to the Field House and play pickup games on the tartan floor of the then not so old barn. It was just a simple part of college life, and it would be months before I would get to enjoy what truly makes it special…a KU home game. It was back then a definite destination for college basketball, but having only been opened for a couple of decades it wasn’t yet quite the iconic edifice it is now.

     But for the terms of today’s topic it is a vital part of what Kansas is trying to do in extending their streak of conference championships to 15. That effort is in dire peril right now. The only reason that it is still viable in any way is that after yesterday’s pull away win over Oklahoma State, Kansas once again remains unbeaten at home. The Phog has become The Fortress for the Jayhawks. Kansas has long had the best collection of talent in the league, but still, that doesn’t mean it has to translate into basically a half a league home loss per year. Kansas has lost a ludicrous eight Big 12 games during this streak.

     One thing is virtually for certain as we hit the back half of the league schedule, Kansas had better cap off another unbeaten home season or somebody else will he finally holding the hardware. With just three home game remaining, that seems mighty likely with Baylor, West Virginia and Kansas State the opponents.

     The Wildcats caught some breaks and grabbed a roadie yesterday at Baylor. The Bears starting backcourt, and probably their two beat players, were out for the game, and K-State survived a pretty shaky first thirty minutes to grab the win, which has them alone at the top of the league, two games up in the loss column on anyone else.

     K-State has four games until they head to Lawrence, and they desperately would want, and likely would need, to still have that two- game edge when the February 25th matchup comes up. No, Kansas has not been their usual dominant selves at home, only one blowout in six league games, but they have indeed won them all. I am sure that the Wildcats and Bruce Weber would say all the right things, but trying to put your eggs in an Allen Field House win basket, sounds like a messy scenario.

     The Wildcats surely would love to take care of their own business and win the four games leading up to the Sunflower Showdown, but that will be hard, and they may not have to. It’s not a withering stretch, the two road games are at Texas and at West Virginia. But Kansas themselves found out that Morgantown and Austin are not walkover destinations. Next Saturday’s home matchup is a showdown-type game with Iowa State, but the ‘Cats get a breather right before the KU game with a home game with Oklahoma State.

     KU has just three games before the contest, two tough road games at TCU and Texas Tech wrapped around what should be a freebie against West Virginia. Kansas has to turn around this season’s so far defining narrative, their 1-6 record on the road. Four of those games didn’t even come down to the end. Bill Self has managed to extract an 8-2 record out of this year’s squad in tight games, but making them look good away from their fortress might be an even more daunting task in this star-crossed season.

     Before the season, Kansas State might well have thought that sharing the title with Kansas is not what they were looking for. About a month ago when they were still struggling, a share would have seemed delightful. At where they sit now, the Big 12 championship is theirs for the taking. In this topsy-turvy league season, letting the Jayhawks extend their streak in any fashion would be a letdown. They should smell blood in the water.

     The K.U. schedule is soft enough that it won’t exactly be a Houdini act if they make this happen, but it’s not miles from it. If Kansas gets the fifteenth, even with a share, they will have overcome a mountain of adversity (some of it of their own doing), and it would no doubt leave the rest of the league with the feeling of “If not now, when???”.

     Things change so fast in the league. Iowa State was surging with four straight wins, and looked like perhaps the next most likely team to KSU to take the title, and then they go out yesterday and lose handily at home to TCU, their second dreadful home loss this league season.

     That has been the story so many times in this conference, because that is exactly what Kansas doesn’t let happen. They have used their impregnable home court as a permanent force field. They may indeed have enough other flaws this season that playing their annual Allen Field House trump card still leaves them with a hand not good enough.

     But the cards are still being dealt, although it’s Kansas State doing the dealing.

Danny Clinkscale