Kansas coach Bill Self was asked about his players, the opponent, the style of game he expects.
Kansas coach Bill Self was asked about his players, the opponent, the style of game he expects.Then came a question about Kansas State coach Frank Martin. Then another. And another. Another. Finally, after a lull, the sports information director asked if there were any more questions. Self couldn’t help himself.“You mean, any more questions about Frank Martin?” Self asked with a smile.Better get used to it, coach. Kansas is no longer a one-team state from a national perspective. Martin and the Wildcats have closed the gap.And here’s the funny thing: Self likes it. He wants Kansas State to be good. Not at the expense of his team, of course, but for the sake of college basketball in Kansas.“Competition brings out the best and worst in everybody,” Self said. “I’m not saying it hasn’t been competitive, but I think having K-State ranked in the Top 10 at one point, Mizzou going to the Elite Eight last year, it generates interest. It gets people talking about our league. It gets people talking about our area. Certainly, if it’s good for the masses in our area, then selfishly it’s good for us.”They’ll be talking all over the country today, when Self’s No. 2 Jayhawks head to the Little Apple to face 11th-ranked Kansas State in one of the most-anticipated games in the rivalry’s 102-year history.Kansas (19-1, 5-0 Big 12) is deep, talented and a national title contender. The Jayhawks spent the first eight weeks of the season at No. 1 and are on the cusp of getting there again after top-ranked Kentucky lost to South Carolina this week.To get back up there, they need a win at Kansas State. The Jayhawks are 25-1 in Manhattan since 1984 and have won 38 of 40 meetings overall since the inception of the Big 12.Another cakewalk, right?Hardly.Kansas State opened the season 11-1, its best start in 62 years, and knocked off top-ranked Texas two weeks ago. The Wildcats have one of the nation’s best backcourts in Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, a long, athletic front court and play in-your-jersey defense.Yep, it’s going to be a cage match at the “Octagon of Doom.”“We know each other, we want to win, they want to win,” Pullen said. “It’s a game that you really get involved in. Families come into town, it’s a big game on the schedule.”Back to the “Octagon of Doom.”The unofficial nickname of Bramlage Coliseum was coined a few years ago. No one paid attention much at the time because few people outside of Manhattan cared much about Kansas State basketball.They’ve sure noticed now.Once a sleepy gym on the plains, Bramlage has become a pit of despair for opponents.Kansas State is 11-1 at home this season and set a coliseum record of 14 straight wins by beating the Longhorns. The student section, once known for its vulgar taunts at opponents, has become more creative, breaking out fake beards and T-shirts with “Fear the Beard” in support of Pullen’s mossy-undergrowth beard he hasn’t shaved all season.Bramlage also is relatively small, so it holds sound like an amphitheater.It figures to be even louder today, when the teams will face each other ranked in the Top 15 for the first time since 1958.“We know it’s going to be an intense atmosphere,” Kansas center Cole Aldrich said.Bramlage has rocked like this before. It was 2008, when the Michael Beasley-led Wildcats ended a 24-game home losing streak to Kansas, setting off pandemonium. Fans stormed the court, players danced on the scorer’s tables, the fire marshal got nervous.It wasn’t the same last year. Sure, it was loud, intense, but the Wildcats ended up frustrated, with Clemente elbowing Brady Morningstar — he said it was retaliation — and swiping Tyrel Reed upside the head. Kansas won 85-74 and swept the season series on the way to its fifth consecutive Big 12 title.This year’s game could be the biggest in rivalry history.Kansas wants to show it’s worthy of a No. 1 ranking and build toward a second national championship in three years. Kansas State has that chip on its shoulder — just like its coach — and is ready to show the rest of the country just how much the gap in the Sunflower State has closed.“We’re not going to be Kansas,” Martin said. “Our job is to compete at the level that they compete at because they’re the best. It’s not about second, third or fourth place. It’s about competing to be the best. We want to be who we are, but we want to be where they’re at.”