One of the most anticipated moments of any Kansas State men’s basketball season takes place about one hour before the Wildcats host Kansas.
That’s when KU players start trickling onto the court for warmups, and Bramlage Coliseum transforms itself into an eight-sided concrete hornet’s nest.
Students who waited hours for front-row seats mercilessly boo the Jayhawks and hold up clever signs that point our their foibles. This goes on until the game starts and then a capacity crowd sends the decibel levels climbing to ear-piercing heights.
“It’s one of the special games in college basketball,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said Tuesday. “It’s a special rivalry. Obviously, the fans on both sides get pretty excited about it.”
Unfortunately, the atmosphere will feel much different than usual when K-State hosts KU at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Only a limited crowd of about 1,500 will be allowed inside Bramlage Coliseum, because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the student section won’t be bearing down on the action, as it has been temporarily moved away from midcourt.
Weber wishes things were different. He actually began the week by telling K-State’s eight newcomers that he hopes they get to experience the Sunflower Showdown under normal conditions in future seasons.
Big crowds have rarely helped K-State defeat KU at Bramlage over the years, but they have made for exciting games that are filled with energy and the occasional hometown call from the officials.
This time around, the Wildcats will need to bring their own energy and make their own luck to create a homecourt advantage.
Here are a few other things K-State can do to compete against the 14-point favorite Jayhawks under unusual circumstances at home.
Get hot from the outside
K-State only makes 30.9% of its shots from three-point range, which is the worst mark in the entire Big 12. But plenty of other sub-par shooting teams have gotten hot from the outside against Kansas.
The Wildcats will have a shot against the Jayhawks if they can do the same.
That means K-State will need to manufacture some open looks for their best two shooters — Nijel Pack and Mike McGuirl. And fewer outside looks from poor shooters like Selton Miguel and Antonio Gordon. That didn’t happen much in their first matchup, when KU won 74-51 at Allen Fieldhouse with K-State shooting five of 21 from three-point range.
But crazier things have happened before. The Jayhawks are allowing opponents to shoot 34.4% from the outside.
Play off Pack
Kansas guard Marcus Garrett locked down Pack earlier this month in Lawrence, holding the K-State freshman to 10 points in 36 minutes. Worst of all, Pack turned the ball over four times against his pressure defense.
Pack will need to be better prepared this time around.
If KU continues to focus its defensive efforts on him, Weber wants him to dish to the open man rather than force up a contested shot. After reviewing film from the first game, Pack and Weber uncovered a few instances where he could have passed to freshman forward Davion Bradford for an easy buck at the rim. But he didn’t see him.
“Nijel got out of kilter a little bit,” Weber said. “He was out of his pace. They made him rush. Anytime he came off a cut they jammed him. We showed him that stuff. He just needs to keep a good pace.”
Pack passing the ball out of trouble, and making a few shots, could make a big difference.
Take advantage of KU scoring droughts
As good as KU has been on defense this season, the Jayhawks have occasionally been just as bad on offense.
Remember when they only led TCU 19-18 at halftime of a game at Allen Fieldhouse earlier this year?
A low-scoring Sunflower Showdown would be a dream come true for the Wildcats in this game. It could happen, but that doesn’t mean they can kick back and hope to win a race to 40 points.
It will be important for K-State to go on scoring runs of its own if KU goes into another scoring lull on Wednesday. Matching the Jayhawks brick for brick for an extended period of time won’t mean anything for the Wildcats in the long run. They need to push for 60 points or more, even if buckets are at a premium.
DaJuan Gordon could help in this area, if he is able to play a limited role after recovering from a foot injury. He feeds on hustle plays, and could prevent K-State from going on long scoreless stretches by grabbing rebounds and scoring put backs.
That could be a difference in this game. He was on the sideline on crutches in Lawrence.