Sunflower Showdown: Kansas looks to bounce back on Big Monday

As Kansas (19-4, 7-3 Big 12) prepares to face in-state rival Kansas State (19-4, 8-2 Big 12) on ESPN’s Big Monday, they find themselves in disarray. Lack of a true point guard, and a slipshod defense have been glaring issues during the Jayhawk’s rare three-game losing streak. Bill Self has seemed beside himself with how to help his team both in-game and during press conferences, a rarity for the National Championship winning coach.

Kansas State, in their first season under former Illinois coach Bruce Weber, has thrived defensively, allowing 70 points only three times all season. Weber has the Wildcats off to a great start in conference play as well, losing only to Iowa State and dropping the first meeting with the Jayhawks in Manhattan.

Both teams have players competing for the Big 12 Player of the Year Award in Ben McLemore and Rodney McGruder. Each lead their respective teams in scoring, and are threats to score 15-20 points every game.

Players to watch for:

Kansas:

#24 Travis Releford: Redshirt senior Travis Releford will have his hands full Monday. Likely drawing the assignment to guard Rodney McGruder, Releford’s defense will need to be top notch for 40 minutes if Kansas wants to keep the game close. Offense will also be a focus for Releford, who scored only eight points against Oklahoma, on 3-7 shooting.

#40 Kevin Young: Young makes this list purely on his rebounding ability. He pulled down six key rebounds in the first meeting against Kansas State, a 59-55 win for the Jayhawks. Young will again need to crash the boards, as the Wildcats always seems to be a great rebounding team when facing Kansas.

#15 Elijah Johnson: Mental fortitude will once again be tested for the senior point guard. Johnson will have to rebound quickly from yet another poor offensive performance against Oklahoma in which he missed a key layup late in the game that sealed the win for the Sooners. Johnson has all the ability he needs to be a great player, he just needs to regain his confidence.

Kansas State:

# 22 Rodney McGruder: The key to the Wildcat’s success, McGruder has to be the top concern for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. Averaging 15 points per game and five rebounds, McGruder is a threat all over the floor and will need to be looked after constantly by Kansas.

# 1 Shane Southwell: Southwell had 19 points the first time Kansas and Kansas State met this season, a statistic that has surely been discussed among Kansas players. A streaky shooter, Southwell is a tough defensive assignment who could shoot the lights out on any given night.

#55 Will Spradling: Another streaky player, Spradling could pose problems to the Kansas defense if left open for too long. Spradling has scored in double figures 10 times this season and is a 36% three point shooter. Known for drawing questionable charges, Kansas will have to be aware of where Spradling is on the court.

How I See It:

The Wildcats come in to Allen Fieldhouse in a much better mental state than the Jayhawks.  Losing three straight games before a huge in-state rivalry game does nothing helpful for a team’s morale, and Kansas is struggling mightily at the moment.

Kansas will not necessarily have to score a lot of points to win this game, but if Kansas State gets ahead by eight points or more, it may not matter.  It is hard to tell how much fight the Jayhawks have in them and in this game, Allen Fieldhouse may not even be enough to save them should the Wildcats get a lead.

Smart possessions will be the key to have a chance at winning for Kansas. Getting out in transition is crucial for the offensively challenged Jayhawks as well as limiting the Wildcat’s opportunities for easy points.

Last Time They Met:


Prediction:

Nothing in the last three games has shown me that Kansas can win this game against an all around solid Wildcat team. Players and coaches alike sound confused on where the team needs to go to succeed, which is a bad recipe for getting back on a winning track.

With that said, Kansas wants this game desperately. They realize how crucial this game is to determining the outcome of the regular season conference championship and will not concede their potential ninth straight title lightly. Bill Self will have the team ready to play against their top rival and will get a much needed 71-66 win over his Illinois successor.