Kansas making statement as college hoops hotbed
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Bill Self stumbled across a list the other day assembled by some self-described college basketball pundit. The idea was to list the best states for basketball in the country right now, and Self was amused to see Kansas listed second or third.
The Jayhawks coach couldn’t remember which spot, exactly, but it didn’t really matter.
As far as he’s concerned, it should have been listed first.
The only state with three teams in this week’s Top 25, the Sunflower State is suddenly the epicenter of the college basketball world. Sixth-ranked Wichita State is undefeated, while No. 18 Kansas and No. 25 Kansas State are both in pursuit of back-to-back Big 12 titles.
The Jayhawks and Wildcats just happen to meet Saturday, too.
"It speaks volumes to when you have three Division I schools in the state and they’re all ranked," Self said. "I think when K-State’s good it helps Kansas. I would think when Kansas is good it helps K-State. And then of course, I think when Wichita State is doing the things they’re doing, obviously it brings attention to our state, which is very positive.
"So I see absolutely no negatives in that stuff," Self said.
Well, maybe this negative: There’s an argument to be made that the Jayhawks, long the top dogs in Kansas hoops, are playing second (or third) fiddle to their rivals these days.
"It’s pretty flattering," Self said, "to know that a state that’s not that highly populated and you only have three Division I institutions that all are doing as well as they are."
In fact, there are only two other states that have more than one team in the Top 25 this week: Iowa State and Iowa are ranked, as are Kentucky and its rival Louisville.
Otherwise, nobody else can make the same boastful claim as Kansas. Not the talent hotbed of Texas, which counts only Baylor ranked among its 21 programs playing Division I hoops. Not highly populated New York, which counts just Syracuse among its 22 programs in the Top 25. And not North Carolina, which has only Duke — and not the Tar Heels or North Carolina State — in the poll.
In fact, the state with the most Division I programs — California, with 24 — failed to land a single one in the poll. UCLA? Nope. USC or California or Stanford? Nowhere to be found.
Several players on the Wichita State roster are homegrown, including sharpshooter Ron Baker, a sophomore from Scott City. Baker said he spent part of the offseason working with Kansas’ Frank Mason and Kansas State’s Will Spradling, and that they all root for each other.
"We all talked about keeping the success going," Baker said.
They’re doing a fairly good job of it:
— Wichita State is 16-0, one of six unbeaten teams left in Division I. After the loss of Missouri Valley heavyweight Creighton, some believe the Shockers could still be unbeaten by the time the NCAA tournament rolls around. Wichita State made the Final Four last year.
— Kansas starts three freshmen but has already beaten Duke, and its four losses all came to Top 25 teams. That’s a big reason why the Jayhawks, who are pursuing a share of their 10th straight Big 12 title, are No. 2 in the most recent RPI.
— Kansas State has rattled off 10 straight wins, knocking off then-No. 21 Gonzaga and then-No. 6 Oklahoma State along the way. The Wildcats, who also start a pair of freshmen, shared the regular-season Big 12 title with Kansas last season.
"It’s saying that Kansas is a basketball state," said Jayhawks forward Perry Ellis, who grew up in Wichita. "There’s a lot of good players that come through Kansas."
There’s no disputing that. The success of the state’s three flagship schools, in some ways, can be traced to the powerful prep programs that have popped up in recent years.
There were five Division I prospects in the state last year and nine the year before, and they weren’t low-major talents, either. Ellis and fellow Wichita product Conner Frankamp went to Kansas, Semi Ojeleye chose Duke and Willie Cauley ended up at Kentucky.
While the state has long had one of the nation’s premier junior college conferences, schools such as Sunrise Christian Academy near Wichita have become must-stop destinations for high-major coaches. Among the Sunrise products is Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield.
"I’ve been real pleased with who we’ve been able to recruit," Self said, "and I hope that there’s good players in our state every year. I wish we could get a kid out of here every year because I do think it adds something to your program to have some local flavor."