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Wichita State-Kansas: A Day Late and a Dollar Short; But You Can’t Stop This Rivalry

The biggest round of 32 matchup is undoubtedly Wichita State versus Kansas. By why is this not a rivalry? And more importantly, who’s going to win?

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Through the first round of the NCAA Tournament this year (excuse me, second round), March Madness has not disappointed. My bracket is already busted after picking Iowa State in the Final Four, and only one perfect bracket exists out of ESPN’s over 11 million entries.

And yet, when you take a step back and look, 27 of the 32 games ended in chalk

And yet, when you take a step back and look, 27 of the 32 games ended in chalk, with the higher seed winning (granted some were in dramatic fashion). Upsets happen sure, but I’ll be shocked to see more than one of those five teams advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

Despite what some may say, this is a good thing. While we may not see a Cinderella run, what we are going to see is better. Very good teams facing off against each other, and juggernaut match ups we could only dream about in the regular season.

One match up I have wanted in the regular season is between Wichita State and Kansas. The schools are just 162 miles from each other, about a two-hour car ride, and both have lived inside the Top 25 non-stop for the last two seasons. And yet, they haven’t played each other since January 6, 1993?

January 6, 1993. “I will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston (RIP) was the No. 1 song in the U.S., and Aladdin was the No. 1 movie. The only players for either team that were alive are seniors, and even then they were in diapers. But Kansas coach Roy Williams shut down this rivalry in 1993 because he said there was nothing to gain — by Kansas playing what they saw as their little brother school — and everything to lose.

To be fair, Wichita State was really, really bad back then. From 1989 to 1996, the Shockers had a combined record of 72-126 and Kansas had won 12 out of the 14 meetings between the “rivals.”

When I was in fourth grade, my AAU team played in the MAYB Nationals. The semifinals and finals were hosted on the Shockers home floor, and I got to play on their court for two consecutive years (helps that my team had several players who had hit puberty early). Back then we thought nothing of it, and to be honest didn’t care that much because Wichita State kinda sucked.

But let’s be clear here, this ain’t yo momma’s Wichita State team.

But let’s be clear here, this ain’t yo momma’s Wichita State team. Mark Turgeon turned the program around from 2000-2007, and then Greg Marshall sent it into the stratosphere the last few seasons.

A Final Four run in 2013 was followed up by a 35-0 season in 2014 which was cut short by a Kentucky team that played out of their mind (I firmly believe that if Wichita State wins that game they go on to win it all 40-0 and we wouldn’t be bowing at the shrine of Kentucky right now).

And now finally, after 22 years, the NCAA Tournament has given us the dream match up. And I can’t help but still be a little disappointed.

A Day Late

Kentucky has made people forget that last year’s Wichita State team started 35-0. The one-and-done rule has made people forget last year’s Kansas team was loaded with two of the NBA’s brightest young stars. But it really can’t be over-stated how perfect a match up between these two schools would have been during last year’s season.

Kansas had Andrew Wiggins, the future No. 1 pick in the NBA draft and the most hyped high school recruit since Lebron James. Wichita State had Nick Wiggins, Andrew’s older brother and a good ball player in his own right. Brother vs. brother. The senior schooling the freshman. TV producers would have drooled.

Brother vs. brother. The senior schooling the freshman. TV producers would have drooled.

But that wasn’t the only connection. As this article from the KC Star mentions, Brannen Green worked a summer camp with Ron Baker, Perry Ellis and Evan Wessel played at the same high school, Frank Mason and Rashard Kelley grew up playing against each other in Virginia, and Connor Frankamp transferred to Wichita State from Kansas.

While the article then said that these connections means that the players are friendly, I disagree. Familiarity breeds contempt, and any time I was at an AAU Tournament and we drew a team from our local area, we went at it like cats and dogs. Far more is on the line in Sunday’s game than a spot in the Sweet Sixteen, it’s ultimate bragging rights.

Add to all of these player connections, you had the storyline of Wichita State’s pursuit of perfection, and Kansas trying to keep up its Big 12 regular season championship streak. Honestly I can’t imagine how incredible this game would’ve been last year, but for sure it would be must-watch television.

I know what you are saying, that this year’s game is must-watch television also. You are right. But the Shockers aren’t as good as last year, losing Wiggins, a pair of 6-9 big men, and NBA 1st Round draft pick Cleanthony Early. The Jayhawks aren’t as good as last year either despite grabbing the same seed as this year (No. 2 seed), because of their loss of NBA Rookie-of-the-year-to-be Andrew Wiggins, top three pick Joel Embiid, and tough big man Tarik Black.

As great as the game Sunday is going to be, it won’t be quite as good as what could have been just a year ago.

A Dollar Short

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of being in Chapel Hill and going to the Duke-North Carolina game. I’m good friends with the UNC Athletic Director’s son, and we were eating lunch before the game. I asked him, “So you have this huge rivalry with Duke, do you all think of NC State as a rival?” And he said basically that UNC refuses to acknowledge the rivalry exists, which makes NC State fans even more angry because even if they lose every year they at least want to be acknowledged as being a rival.

Granted that situation is a little bit different because those schools play against each other twice a year, it is the same principle. Kansas is the top dogs of the state, no one can deny that, even if the only players in Sunday’s contest on either team with any Final Four experience will be Shockers. But how Kansas is handling the rivalry is by refusing to even acknowledge it exists.

But how Kansas is handling the rivalry is by refusing to even acknowledge it exists.

From Kansas’s perspective, it’s brilliant. They have no threat of losing their belt if they never have to face their No. 1 contender. The only thing that could change their status as alpha dog of the sunflower state would be losing to Wichita State consistently for a few years in a row.

Until the last couple of years, Kansas would have dominated this rivalry. And to be honest it really wouldn’t be pulling in the money that they could get by selling off non-conference games to teams that will kill to play at Phog Allen Arena. But the fact that Kansas is selling out on its in-state rivalry like that is pathetic right? Wisconsin plays Wisconsin Green-Bay every year, who do you think wins that?

Sunday’s game is on a neutral court, and so neither programs get to share in the lions share of the riches that could be had with a regular season game. And no matter how dramatic and awesome the game is, I don’t think it’s going to spark these teams to start scheduling one another.

If Kansas wins convincingly, then ho hum and these teams go off into the night and the chatter quiets down, but if the game is a classic and comes down to the wire or if Wichita State wins, then this fire will burn extra bright.

When the Shockers and the Jayhawks take the court Sunday, they want to tell us it is no more than a No. 2 seed versus a No. 7 seed. But as much as they try to cover it up, you can’t deny this rivalry

But as much as they try to cover it up, you can’t deny this rivalry

The Truth

I think the truth is, Bill Self is scared of what would’ve happened these last three years, and becoming the second best basketball team in the state.

Live look in at Greg Marshall’s pre game speech:

(Skip to :40 seconds in)

“…the guy is scared, scared of you sick degenerate convicts, and you know what, he should be..”

The more I think about it, The Longest Yard is the best comparison for this storyline. Kansas has all the privilege, all the opportunity, all of the studs. Kansas has had 36 McDonald’s All-Americans in its history, Wichita State has had 2, and hasn’t had any since Aubrey Sherrod in 1981.

But just like Adam Sandler’s team in the movie, these teams are hardly big brother versus little brother. No one in The Longest Yard seemed to realize that the Cons had NFL Hall of Famer Michael Irvin and let’s not forget Cheeseburger Eddie or The Great Khali. In the same way, I’d take the backcourt of Fred Vanvleet, Tekele Cotton, and Ron Baker up against any in the country, including Kansas’s Frank Mason, Wayne Seldon and Kelley Oubre.

Here’s a slide show of pictures from the Kansas basketball facilities, and here’s one from Wichita State’s. Honestly I think I like WSU’s more. Bill Self is one of the best coaches in America, but there’s no question in my mind that Greg Marshall needs to be thrown in that conversation now as well.

All of the above are examples of two juggernaut programs going at each other.

All of the above are examples of two juggernaut programs going at each other. Wichita State is no mid major, this is a powerhouse program. These players have the confidence of superstars, and carry themselves just like All-Americans from Kansas would.

Young kids growing up in Kansas the last few years have been cheering for WSU in the Tournament, not the Jayhawks, and idolize that Shocker trio as much or more than anyone. They sign autographs, they dress like celebrities, and they play with swagger, all of those little things that don’t mean anything statistically but are crucial to the mindset of a top tier team.

Who’s Gonna Win?

Kansas is a No. 2 seed, Wichita State is a No. 7 seed, so Kansas is going to win pretty comfortably right? Wrong (cue up Lee Corso “NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND”). Seeds get thrown out once the bracket is set. And on paper, these are pretty even teams talent wise. But anyone who has ever played in a big rivalry game can tell you that talent does not win rivalry games, but rather who wants it more.

A lot of people picked Wichita State in their brackets for the same reason: “Kansas refuses to schedule Wichita State, and they are mad about that and because they are like the little brother school, so they’re going to come out with a chip on their shoulder.”

This is absolutely true and valid, but how come nobody is looking at this from the opposite view point. I am the younger brother, so my whole childhood I was competing to be better than my brother at things, particularly basketball. Despite being three inches shorter, I got to the point where I could beat him a decent amount of the time.

You know what would make him angrier than anything? Whenever any of his friends or anyone else would mention (joking or not) that hey your little brother is better than you. He would absolutely lose it, and the next time we played he would pound me.

You know what would make him angrier than anything? Whenever any of his friends or anyone else would mention (joking or not) that hey your little brother is better than you. He would absolutely lose it, and the next time we played he would pound me.

You don’t think Kansas is hearing about how they are scared and not as good as their little brother Wichita State? You don’t think they are going to be playing angry and wanting to prove why they are Kansas and hang National Championship banners?

Both sides are going to be motivated, both sides are going to play with a chip on their shoulder, and the game is going to be one of the hardest fought of the entire season. No matter who wins, the other side is going to want revenge, and a rematch.

But you know why I like Wichita State to win, and an even more bold prediction, that they could make the Final Four?

Because Wichita State doesn’t just have that attitude for this game, they have it all the time. Every single day of off-season training, every single day of practice, every single game against “weaker competition.”

Greg Marshall doesn’t need to take a better job, he doesn’t need to sign McDonald’s All-Americans, because the only thing better than a talented team (i.e. Kansas) is a motivated team that has been using that “us against the world” mentality since day one.

That culture produces team chemistry, bonding, toughness, hard work, and most of all winning. And winning breeds winning, and a culture of winning breeds confidence. If you think the Shockers are going to be intimidated by Kansas or anyone, you are dead wrong.

Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker were ready for the spotlight of the Final Four as freshman in 2013, and now have close to 90 wins in their careers. This is going to be an intense, emotional game, and that’s because yes, this is a rivalry. No matter how much they try to tell us it isn’t. And oh by the way, I got the Shockers for a victory on Sunday.

And oh by the way, I got the Shockers for a victory on Sunday.

About Matt Craig (65 Articles)
Chirp City Founder & Director of Content. Hey Bill Simmons, if you're reading this, hire me.

1 Comment on Wichita State-Kansas: A Day Late and a Dollar Short; But You Can’t Stop This Rivalry

  1. Great story.

    …now that we know the outcome. Score one for the “little brother”. Better guard play.
    It’s time for Bill Self to change the “nothing to lose” mentality, & revive this series.

    Like

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