There is a new top dog in the Big 12 Conference. As usual, a school from the state of Kansas sits atop the league standings but now it is the Kansas State Wildcats who are looking down from on high. The Kansas State Wildcats (8-2, 19-4) beat the Iowa State Cyclones (6-4, 16-7) on Saturday, 79-70. It was the 4th straight victory for the Wildcats. The last loss came on January 26th, to these same Cyclones, in Ames. The win, coupled with a the third straight loss by the Kansas Jayhawks, thrust K-State into sole possession of first place in the conference.
On Saturday, the Wildcats won with defense, especially in the second half. KSU forced ISU into 16 second half turnovers, and 26 for the day. Kansas State turned those 26 turnovers into 27 points. The Wildcats were led, as usual, by Rodney McGruder, who poured in 22 points while adding 5 assists and 4 steals to the winning cause. Angel Rodriguez chipped in 20 points.
The timing of Kansas State’s ascension to the top of the Big 12 standings could not be more perfect. The Wildcats visit Lawrence for Big Monday tomorrow night. While normally, this trip may cause some trepidation for Wildcat fans, the Jayhawks are reeling and mired in their worst slump in eight years. The Wildcats are playing their best basketball of the season. Not even Allen Fieldhouse can be considered a safe haven for KU at this particular time as the Jayhawks lost the last time they took the floor at home. If ever there was a ripe opportunity for the Wildcats to step on the necks of their rival, Monday night is that time. A K-State win would push their league lead to a game and a half over Oklahoma State, and it would push Kansas down into the middle of the pack in the conference standings. It would also go a long way toward destroying the lock hold their rival has had on the Big 12 title over the years. More importantly, it would establish the Wildcats as the team to beat for the rest of conference play.
Kansas State is holding their fate in their own hands. If they continue their winnings ways, they will earn the Big 12 crown. This latest edition of the Sunflower Showdown, on a national stage, is a chance to crush their in-state rival and show the country that the Kansas State Wildcats are a force in the Big 12, and also as a legitimate contender in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. The opportunity is there; the Wildcats just need to take it.