Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Firm of Beasley and Walker

Anyone familiar with the Kansas/Kansas State "rivalry" knows two things:

1. KU owns K-State to the tune of 35-1 in the last 36 games.

2. K-State's home court, Bramlage Coliseum is affectionately known in Lawrence as "Allen Fieldhouse West" (same thing goes for the Coors Events Center in Boulder).

It's simply known as "The Streak." The Wildcats opened Bramlage Coliseum in 1988, and for the last 19 years, the home team has come away a loser. The complete streak sits at 24. That's right, it's been 24 years since Kansas State has beaten Kansas in Manhattan. As good as KU has been this year, #2 in the country, 20-0, and viewed by many as the best team in the country, this could be the Wildcats best shot at ending the streak. That's because of the great Freshman Forward Michael Beasley.

The man who declared over the summer: “We’re gonna beat KU at home. We’re gonna beat ’em at their house. We’re gonna beat ’em in Africa. Wherever we play we’re gonna beat ’em,” has the game to back up his boasts. He leads the Big 12 in scoring (25.3) and Rebounding (12.7) and is maybe the best big man in the country and is probably going to be the #1 pick in the NBA draft this summer.

While Beasley is going to get all of the attention, the key player tonight for K-State is fellow Freshman phenom Bill Walker. Walker, best known as O.J. Mayo's running mate in high school, quietly averages over 15 PPG and has picked up his play in the last 10 games. No coincidence, K-State is 9-1 during that stretch. Like Beasley, he is capable of taking over a game if need be, just as he did against Cal when he dropped 30, or the 22 he had in the big road win over Oklahoma. Expect KU to put Brandon Rush on him all night long.

As for the incomparable Beasley, KU will run a combination of Darnell Jackson, Darrell Arthur, and Sasha Kaun on him at times. Self was throwing bouquets at him all week: "I thought I’d never see a freshman dominate college basketball like (Kevin) Durant did as evident of him winning national college player of the year as a freshman. Michael has the same opportunity to be national player of the year.”

KU in the meantime, continues to downplay "The Streak." Said Senior leader Darnell Jackson “That’s in the past. That’s about guys here before me. We just have to stay focused and be ready to play.” Freshman Cole Aldrich, playing in his first Sunflower Showdown agreed with D-Jack: “Not many people have been talking about it,” Aldrich said. “We take it game by game. We tried to take it to Nebraska before we played ’em. Now we are concentrating on K-State.”

The bottom line here is that you don't want to be on the team that ends the streak. A bunch of streaks have gone by the wayside under Self's watch the last four years including the overall 30 plus winning streak over K-State (ended two years ago in Lawrence), a 52 game home court winning streak against unranked opponents (2004 vs. Richmond), and worst of all, KU's record of never losing a first round NCAA Tournament game (2004 vs. Bucknell). Self's veteran team is loose and ready to go. They cannot wait for the craziness that will be going in inside Bramlage.

Self loves the passion to win this game out of the Wildcat faithful: “We’ve played in front of three atmospheres in my opinion that have set themselves apart: Our first year in Stillwater when they hammered us. The first year when they closed Hearnes (Missouri) down and last year in Bramlage. To me those three were the best atmospheres we played in. I guarantee this atmosphere will go right in that category.”

Beasley agrees: “It’s going to be nutty. It’s already nutty. We can’t go anywhere. I was just in the Student Union and people were coming up to me, ‘You’ve got to beat KU. You’ve got to beat KU.’ About 50 students came up to me.”

Prediction: We've said in the past that this was the game KU would lose, when the streak finally would come to an end. But I don't know if it's the homer in me, or the fact that I have such a turst that this team refuses to buckle under pressure on the road, but I think somehow, the Jayhawk defense swarms the Wildcat guards and they turn the ball over 20 plus times. This will lead to a ton of KU uncontested layups.

The big mismatch in this game is indeed the backcourts. While K-State Freshman Jacob Pullen has really improved the team's offense, he has never been guarded by a ball-hawk like Russell Robinson while having to wonder where Mario Chalmers is and if he is about to pick his pocket. The KU bigs will go right at Beasley and try to get him into foul trouble, leaving Rush, Chalmers, and Sherron Collins open to knock down deep shots.

In the end, Beasley and Walker will get there's, but KU will be too much for the rest of the kitties from Manhattan. Kansas 86 Kansas State 82

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