The hype can officially begin.
Wichita State against Kansas is a go. They will meet Sunday at CenturyLink Center in the NCAA Tournament round of 32 , renewing a dormant basketball series last seen in 1993.
The winner will advance to the Sweet 16. The loser will not play again until next season. High stakes, to be sure. Throw in bragging rights for a winning fan base and you have a truly intense setting.
“It will be one of the most talked-about games in state history,” said Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, “which would be great.”
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The game will certainly have more buildup than most. Fans have been clamoring for the Jayhawks and Shockers to reignite their basketball series in recent years, both locally and nationally.
It will be the first time the schools have met in the tournament since 1981 — a 66-65 Shockers victory in the 1981 Midwest semifinals — and the first time two Kansas schools have met in the tourney since KU beat Kansas State in the 1988 Midwest final.
“Kansas has great players, unbelievable coach, Bill Self does a great job, and they’re right up the road,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “It’s a game 23 years in the making. They whipped us last time. I don’t know where I was 23 years ago, I was a neophyte in coaching, I can assure you that.
“It’s an opportunity. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
Wichita State players are looking forward to it, too.
“When people saw the bracket they were already talking about this day on Sunday,” Wichita State guard Ron Baker said. “It’s a big thing for the state of Kansas — a lot of excitement. A lot of houses are going to be divided. It’s just going to be exciting. As a player being from Kansas, I am really fortunate to be in this game. These types of games don’t happen a whole lot.”
Not recently, anyway. Kansas and Wichita State have played 14 times and met almost annually for a brief span between 1984 and 1993. The Jayhawks lead the series 12-2, waving goodbye to the intrastate matchup following a 103-54 beatdown inside Allen Fieldhouse 22 years ago.
Marshall has said he is open to adding Kansas to future nonconference schedules. Self isn’t interested, saying it’s not in the best interest of his program.
So they will meet in the postseason by virtue of NCAA Tournament bracketing assignments. No. 2 seed Kansas defeated New Mexico State 75-56 on Friday afternoon and No. 7 seed Wichita State beat Indiana 81-76.
“It’s going to be very big,” Wichita State forward Shaquille Morris said. “I expect a packed arena and everybody tuned in to the TV and radio stations. I am just ready to compete against the best. That is what everybody always calls them.
“Everybody is always talking about KU this and Wichita State that. What would happen if they played? It is finally about to happen.”
Shockers senior Tekele Cotton can’t wait.
“Our fans want to play them bad, and we do, too,” Cotton said. “It’s just another hump we have to get over if we want to get to where we want to go. We have to get through Kansas.”
KU players issued more subdued comments.
That was to expected, though, as they spoke to media while Wichita State and Indiana were facing each other. They weren’t sure what to say about either potential opponent, though KU guard Frank Mason told CBS on his way off the floor that he would to love to play Wichita State.
“That is what everyone in Kansas wants,” added Jayhawks guard Wayne Selden, “but as a team we really don’t care who is out there. We are excited now for the next game.”
Many have said the Jayhawks have nothing to gain by playing the Shockers during the regular season, because they will be favored as a traditional basketball power. Some think a series would mean more to Wichita State.
Of course, it may take on added meaning for junior forward Perry Ellis, a Wichita native and four-time state champion at Wichita Heights High School. But Ellis repeatedly shrugged when asked about facing his hometown Shockers.
Still, he admitted it would be neat to play against Wichita State’s Evan Wessel, a teammate for three of those state championships.
“That would be fun,” Ellis said. “We used to play against each other growing up. We were on different teams. It would be great getting to play against him.”
One thing for sure: Marshall is ready for Kansas.
“We got Kentucky last year at the end, Indiana, now Kansas,” Marshall said. “I mean, I guess we could play the Lakers and the Celtics after that. But it’s amazing the lineup that we got.”
To reach Kellis Robinett, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @KellisRobinett.