A spot at the top of the Big 12—and atop the Sunflower State—will be on the line on Tuesday when the No. 11 Kansas State Wildcats play host to the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks.
(Although No. 20 Wichita State might have something to say about that second part.)
Kansas struggled to put Texas away in its last game, but Ben McLemore and Naadir Tharpe hit some key late baskets to keep the Jayhawks undefeated in conference play.
But after a stellar pre-conference showing, that's where everyone expected Bill Self's team to be at this point.
The Wildcats, who were picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll, are much more of a surprise to be 4-0 in the Big 12 heading into this contest. Nevertheless, wins over Florida, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State prove Bruce Weber's squad is for real.
Let's take a look at everything you need to know about what promises to be one of the most crucial Big 12 battles of the year.
When: Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Fred Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan, Kan.
Watch: Big 12 Network
Live Stream: ESPN 3
Kansas Injury Report (via USA Today)
None to report
Kansas State Injury Report (via USA Today)
None to report
What They're Saying
CBS Sports' Seth Davis foresees Kansas slipping up on the road:
Kansas has to go to Little Manhattan on Tuesday. Gotta think K State wins that one, right?— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) January 20, 2013
It's difficult to argue against that thought process. Kansas State's only two losses on the season have come at Michigan and on a neutral court against Gonzaga, while the Wildcats have already knocked off two potential NCAA Tournament teams (Oklahoma State and Oklahoma) at "The Octagon of Doom."
That being said, Kansas has an impressive win in Columbus against Ohio State.
Meanwhile, Kellis Robinett of The Wichita Eagle provides us with this intriguing stat:
Sunflower Showdown Fact: Kansas and K-State have combined to win 23 straight games.— Kellis Robinett (@KellisRobinett) January 21, 2013
Just like that one bad movie with Jack Nicholson, something's gotta give.
Kansas Player to Watch: Ben McLemore
I usually like to give a non-obvious name here (Travis Releford and Naadir Tharpe come to mind), but not listing McLemore feels a little bit like blasphemy.
The redshirt freshman guard has simply been too dominant to ignore.
First and foremost, McLemore is an unstoppable scorer. But unlike many players who tend to rack up points, he does it within the offense.
While the 16.4 points per game is a nice number to look at, McLemore's 50.8 field-goal percentage, 88.1 free-throw percentage, 44.4 three-point field-goal percentage and 64.33 true-shooting percentage (which ranks him 50th in the nation) are all truly sparkling.
To put it more simply, McLemore is 690th in the nation in usage percentage but 114th in scoring. That's mind-boggling efficiency.
As a result of McLemore's insane production (and you know, the fact that his athleticism is off the charts and his jumper is nearing Ray Allen beauty), he has entered the conversation of being the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NBA draft.
On Tuesday, he'll have the crucial task of leading the Jayhawks' offensive attack against Kansas State's ultra-tough and ultra-physical defense.
Just another day at the office.
Kansas State Player to Watch: Rodney McGruder
Even with the way McLemore has been playing, McGruder deserves a lot more attention as a Big 12 Player of the Year candidate.
His numbers don't necessarily jump off the page at you: 15.5 points (with an effective field-goal percentage of 49.8), 5.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals per contest.
Nothing to be ashamed of, sure, but certainly not a Player of the Year-type resume. Until you realize what he's doing in conference.
In four Big 12 wins, the explosive senior guard is averaging 21.5 points per game on 53.2 percent from the field and an absolutely scorching 58.1 percent from deep (with 4.5 make per game). Despite not getting to the free-throw line all that often, McGruder is averaging a fantastic 1.39 points per field-goal attempt.
Simply put, he's been unstoppable on the offensive end.
If McGruder can once again catch fire against Travis Releford, who is easily one of the best perimeter defenders in the conference, look for him to start receiving a lot more deserved attention.
Key Matchup to Watch: Jeff Withey vs. Jordan Henriquez
While the overwhelming talent in this game is obviously on the perimeter, the key matchup in what should be a physical, defensive battle will undoubtedly be on the inside.
Withey is clearly one of the best post defenders in the land. He is second in America in blocks per game (4.6) and third in block percentage (16.66).
Even more surprisingly, his offensive game has been far from a liability, as he has developed some nice post moves and a hook shot with both hands.
Henriquez is a similar player. He is far less established on the offensive end (shield your eyes when he's on the line: 28.9 free-throw percentage), but he has the size (6'11", 250 pounds) and impressive athleticism to be a force on the defensive end.
The senior is averaging 1.9 blocks in just 15.0 minutes per game, but ranks 10th in the nation in block percentage and has been getting more minutes (when he doesn't foul out) as of late.
Whoever controls the inside in this one will have a significant advantage.
Can I just say it's going to be a hard-fought defensive struggle and leave it at that?
Kansas is ninth in the nation in points allowed per possession and sixth in defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy. Kansas State is 41st and 38th, respectively.
It's going to be very close, especially at Bramlage Coliseum.
In the end, however, I have to go with the inside-outside duo of McLemore and Withey while Releford slows down McGruder better than anyone else has in the last eight games.
Kansas 66, Kansas State 64
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