For the 23rd time in 25 years, Kansas (No. 3) visited Kansas State's (No. 11) Bramlage Coliseum and returned to Lawrence with a win in the latest installment of college basketball's most one-sided rivalry.
The Jayhawks now hold sole possession of the lead in the race for another Big 12 title, which would be its ninth consecutive title. They are 17-1 after the 59-55 victory against their in-state rival.
It was a close game, providing lessons for both teams upon which to build. Here are five lessons learned last night or established more solidly during the game.
This has become a trend in recent games (Texas, Iowa State and now K-State). In games where the offense is not running smoothly and there is not much rhythm, Kansas does not seem to be at a disadvantage. This is a team that plays well when the track is muddy.
On Tuesday night, both teams were able to shut down the other team's best scorer, at least for a stretch. Kansas' Ben McLemore and K-State's Rodney McGruder each scored just 2 points in the first half. Kansas held a four-point lead at the half, which would also be the final margin of victory.
It was a defensive battle, and Kansas seems to have the ability to match up with any team in the country in that kind of contest. Kansas State used a lineup of four guards, and that proved to be nothing that Kansas couldn't handle.
The Jayhawks have shown an impressive ability to win games in any scoring range, from the 50s to the 80s or 90s. Kansas can play different styles and still be effective.
Coming into the game, there was a question of whether Ben McLemore and Rodney McGruder would turn the game into a one-on-one scoring battle—or if the battle would be to see which team could shut down the other team's scorer.
In the end, neither McLemore nor McGruder reached their average for points, though McGruder outscored McLemore 13 to 11.
It was the first half that showed both of the Big 12's best scorers could be removed from a game for at least a half, as they each scored only two points. Kansas senior Travis Releford did not let McGruder out of his sight all night; only by good off-ball screens could K-State get McGruder decent shots. For the Wildcats, it was McGruder himself who held McLemore in check.
At the end of the night, both teams were able to keep the other team's best player from beating them. Kansas proved to have more skilled role players.
There are some very good perimeter defenders in the Big 12—the best post defender is without a doubt Jeff Withey—but it seems as if there isn't one guard many consider the best. I think that the defensive job that Travis Releford did on Rodney McGruder—arguably the league's most valuable player before the game—was the most impressive individual defensive performance from any guard in the Big 12 this season.
"Trav played unbelievable," Bill Self said after the game of Releford guarding McGruder. "[It was] one of his better games he's played for us. Travis did a great job, keeping him out of the lane and still getting to him on the three-point shot."
As mentioned in previous slides, Releford held McGruder to 2 points in the first half and 13 points total. McGruder had scored 20, 21, 17 and 28 points over the last four games for K-State.
It always deserves mention that Releford is able to play much more aggressively on defense because the 7'1" Withey serves as the final defense of the rim, but Releford uses that cushion to become the league's best perimeter defender.
The mix of defense both inside and outside the paint arguably makes Kansas the best defensive team in the nation.
Even without the intensity and toughness of Frank Martin's coaching, the Wildcats still played a very physical game with Bruce Webber on the sidelines.
More surprising was that with four guards on the court for most of the game, K-State still played a very physical style of basketball. That was a big part of why they were able to keep the score close until the end. Kansas is not a very physical or tough team, and it was not able to speed the game up as much as it may have liked.
The referees allowed the teams to play through a lot of contact. A picture taken by photographer Travis Heying of the Wichita Eagle shows K-State sophomore Thomas Gipson holding Kansas senior Jeff Withey by the throat. As far as I know, no foul was called on the play.
Kansas freshman Perry Ellis has struggled at times this season. In some games against strong competition, Ellis did not look ready for this level of play; occasionally he looked lost.
That was not the case against K-State. Ellis demanded the ball. He dove on the ground and gave the Jayhawks extra possessions. He took shots and drew fouls. He ended the game with eight points and four rebounds, which does not speak highly enough of how much he forced his way into the game by being much more aggressive than in other games.
Ellis shot six free throws on the night, which does say something about his aggressiveness, but he needs to make more than two of those. The point is that the freshman seems to be developing mentally, which is the biggest thing for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. Ellis involved himself in a tough, physical game, and if he continues to do that, we will probably be watching a different Perry Ellis come tournament time.