Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tobacco Road dominance makes way for the Wheat State

Is the center of the college basketball universe shifting from Tobacco Road? Possibly... and over the last three years, it may have moved to the geographical center of the continental U.S.

With two teams firmly entrenched in the Top 10, and one in and out of the rankings, the state of Kansas has become one of the big stories in NCAA men's basketball this year.

Wichita State has proven their Cinderella run to the Final Four last year was no fluke with teamwork, defense and a play angry work ethic. The Shockers just became the first team to win 30 regular season games and Coach Gregg Marshall has WSU firing on all cylinders. They play with a toughness that harkens back to the days of Xavier McDaniel and Antoine Carr, with an unselfish, team-first mentality.

Kansas plays the toughest schedule in the country, has seven wins over Top 25 teams, and just locked up its 10th regular season Big 12 title IN A ROW. The tradition of Jayhawk basketball is no secret; Allen Field House is regularly named by opponents and coaches as the best place to play a road game. When you walk into the place, you definitely feel the presence of some of the ghosts of the game, including coaches James Naismith, Phog Allen and that guy who currently stalks the dadgum sideline at North Carolina.

Kansas State has been left out of the discussion this year, which is unfortunate. The Wildcats, 19-9 with five wins over Top 25 teams (including one over KU) and once again, will probably punch their ticket to March Madness. No one looks forward to playing in Manhattan; and the K-State faithful fill their barn every game, which feeds the Wildcat players without a doubt.

KU and WSU are both in the Top 5 in the rankings, with the possibility of both being #1 seeds for the NCAA tournament. Of the three teams with the highest winning percentage over the last three years, WSU and KU count for two of them.

How long this shift will last remains to be seen. But for this moment, if you love college basketball, it's a good time to be in Kansas.