By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
According to the idiom, home is where the heart is. In Big 12 Conference play, home is where you need to win if you're a team wanting to win the regular-season title. Winning home games and defending the home court are crucial and oft-repeated themes by coaches. Conversely, that makes winning league road games that much tougher and more valuable.
Kansas, seeking its ninth consecutive trophy, has one of college basketball's top home courts. Kansas State's Bramlage Coliseum (aka The Octagon Of Doom) is on the list of inhospitable arenas, especially when the Jayhawks visit for the Sunflower State Showdown. That's the case when Kansas visits Manhattan at 7 p.m. Tuesday night.
The Jayhawks, No. 2 in the coaches and No. 3 media polls, are 15-1 overall. The Wildcats are 15-2 and ranked No. 11 in the media and No. 13 in the coaches. Both teams are 4-0 in the Big 12 so the winner will be the sole resident of first place once the noise subsides.
"We tell the freshmen how crazy it's going to be and to not let the fans get to you," Kansas senior Travis Releford said. "It's going to be the next best environment to ours, so we're expecting all type of crazy chants, the crowd really getting into it."
The coaches have an interesting back story connection. Kansas State's Bruce Weber followed Bill Self at Illinois when Self left to take the KU job. Tired of answering questions about his popular predecessor, Weber once dressed all in black for a game and called it a mock funeral of the Self Era.
Now, Weber has replaced Frank Martin, who twice beat Kansas in his five seasons. The Wildcats are benefitting from the defensive and rebounding resolve instilled by Martin and are starting to thrive in Weber's motion offense. It's an offensive style that, when run properly, can leave a defense chasing and scrambling.
"Do they play with passion and reckless abandon and toughness and those sorts of things? Without any hesitation, they do," Self said. "That is a credit to the new staff. They have taken these kids and what they know and incorporated their system but kept the good, too. They should be commended on the job they have done."
The game also will match two players who are vying for post-season honors. Kansas State senior Rodney McGruder was named the Big 12 player of the week and Kansas freshman Ben McLemore was honored as the freshman of the week. McGruder won the award for the fourth time while McLemore has been the rookie of the week three times. Both lead their teams in scoring.
"I'm excited," McGruder said. "It should be a good matchup because I think we're two of the best guards in the Big 12, and we're the two best teams in the Big 12 right now.
"If you're a top 25 team you have got to have a swagger about yourself. I think we have a swagger about ourselves now. It feels great to be on an eight-game winning streak, but it doesn't stop here."
Turning The Page
A year ago, Keiton Page was in the midst of his senior season at Oklahoma State. He completed one of the most successful careers for a 5-foot-9 guard and was a fan favorite for his shooting range and endless effort.
This season, Page is a graduate assistant coach for his alma mater.
"I really thought about playing overseas early on in my senior year," Page told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "But the more our season went on, the more I talked to coach (Travis) Ford about it. He extended an opportunity for me to stay. I talked to my family and I kind of just felt this is where I was at. I decided I'd rather start here with what I wanted to do with my career."
Page wants to become a college head coach. He has discovered how much work goes into being a coach and understands there will be a lot of hard work and long hours required to fulfill his goal.
"You just see so much more," he said. "As a player you think you spend a lot of time in the gym in practices, individual work and extra time working on your game. As a coach it's unbelievable how much time you spend up in the office watching film breaking everything down and seeing all the aspects of the game."
Kansas is 16-1 or better for the third time in the last four seasons and the fifth time in the 10-year Bill Self era. The Jayhawks are 4-0 in the Big 12 for the second straight season and the seventh time under Self.
The Big 12 has six teams ranked in the top 45 of the latest RPI, tied for the most of any conference, while the percentage of teams (60 percent) leads the country. Three Big 12 squads rank among the top 20 nationally for strength of schedule, with four listed in the top 33.
Oklahoma State has lost 21 of its last 22 road games in the Big 12. The Cowboys lost at Baylor, 64-54, Monday. Oklahoma State's three losses on the road have come against teams (Kansas State, Oklahoma and Baylor) with a combined 11-2 record in league play.
In the 21 games in Big 12 play so far this season, three have gone overtime, with 10 others decided by 11 points or less. This is the sixth consecutive season every team in the Big 12 entered conference play with a winning record.
Big 12 squads are 74-14 at home this year. Three teams boast unbeaten home records.
Four of Texas' five Big 12 defeats have been by a total of 22 points. The Longhorns lost their first two games in overtime (to Baylor and West Virginia). "I could say that we are five possessions from being 14-4," UT coach Rick Barnes said. "But we are who we are."
There's more bad news for Texas, which is 8-10 overall and 0-5 in the Big 12. In the Longhorns' 73-67 loss at Oklahoma Monday night, sophomore forward Jonathan Holmes broke a bone in his right hand. He could be out for three to six weeks. Holmes is averaging 8.1 points per game and is UT's leading rebounder with 7.4 per game.
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford on freshman guard Marcus Smart:
"You don't see a lot of McDonald's All-Americans do a lot of things Marcus Smart does.He's old school to me. His strengths are not going out and scoring 30 points like most McDonald's All-Americans. His strengths are winning, playing hard, making other people around him better and bringing an incredible attitude."
Kansas point guard Naadir Tharpe on his 3-pointer that hung on the rim before falling through to pull the Jayhawks to within one point as they rallied to win at Texas:
"I think I was talking to the basketball at that point. I was looking up at it, like, 'Come on, you're not going to go in there for me?' The basketball gods definitely helped me with that one."
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins on his team's 8-9 start:
"I didn't see this coming. If you just look at us, you'd think we're pretty good. I mean, just look at us. We've got some big, strong guys. We've got some quickness on the perimeter. But I just don't know if we know how to play basketball.''