No. 18 Kansas State goes for Big 12 title vs. Oklahoma
No. 18 Kansas State has a chance for its first shared conference title in six years -- and its first outright conference title in 42 years -- when it hosts Oklahoma on Saturday in the regular-season finale for both teams in Manhattan, Kan.
With a victory, the Wildcats (23-7, 13-4 Big 12) would clinch at least a piece of the Big 12 regular-season title, which they last shared with Kansas in 2013. A Kansas State victory, coupled with a loss by No. 8 Texas Tech at Iowa State, would give the Wildcats their first outright conference title since the 1977 Big 8 crown.
"I'm just happy for our coaches and happy for our players that they have this chance," head coach Bruce Weber said. "Everyone has dreams and goals, but you'd better have a plan to get those dreams and goals. Get prepared.
"To me, the best thing is it's just another game. It's an important game. I told our guys, honor the seniors, play at a high level, be prepared."
Kansas State got to this point by overcoming an 0-2 start to the Big 12 season. Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year Dean Wade missed those two games, plus the next one against West Virginia, when the Wildcats overcame a 21-point halftime deficit for a 71-69 victory.
Wade came back for the next game, the second game on a nine-game winning streak that put the Wildcats at the top of the conference standings.
Senior guard Barry Brown, one of the leading candidates for Big 12 Player of the Year, has averaged 16.2 points per game during the conference season, while Wade has averaged 12.4 and Kamau Stokes and Xavier Sneed have averaged 10.3 points apiece.
As part of the most prolific senior class in K-State history, Brown, Wade and Stokes had several unattained goals as they entered their final season. They had not defeated in-state rival Kansas, something they did with a 74-67 victory on Feb. 5. They also hadn't won a conference championship.
All that will change if they take care of business Saturday.
"The thing we talk about is not being satisfied; we've talked about that this whole year," Stokes said following Monday's win at TCU.
"We can't get comfortable in first, because teams will want to fight with us to get us out of that position. If we take care of business Saturday, it's ours. We've got to prepare for that, because (Oklahoma) is going to come ready to fight too."
Weber knows that the game against the Sooners will not be easy.
"(Head coach) Lon (Kruger) has not a nice job," he said. "They're playing small-ball, they're switching everything, they're playing zone. We know we're going to have to play."
Oklahoma (19-11, 7-10 Big 12) seems to have secured an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament according to most prognosticators, helped by Tuesday's 81-68 victory over Kansas. The Sooners officially ended Kansas' 14-year streak of winning or tying for the conference title.
"The other nine teams in the league have kind of been pulling for each other," Kruger said. "It speaks well to Kansas and what they've done. When you get to that point where you've got the nine wanting any of the other (eight) to win, that's a compliment to what Kansas has done."
Oklahoma is not going to be satisfied with ruining just one team's chances at the title. They'd like nothing better than to derail a second team's shot.
"We have the 'next game' mentality," forward Kristian Doolittle said. "Once the game is over with, there's nothing we can do to get that game back. It's all about switching our focus and locking into the next game plan."
The Sooners are led by Christian James with 14.8 points per game. Brady Manek adds 12.0 and Doolittle averages 10.9. The trio also is pulling down its share of rebounds, with Doolittle (7.0), James (6.5) and Manek (6.2) combining for nearly 20 rebounds per game.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 8, 2019