Jayhawks head to ‘The Octagon of Doom’

Bramlage Coliseum.

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Tyler Roste/KANSAN
Senior Travis Releford’s primary goal in Tuesday’s game is defending Rodney McGruder.

For a long time, this was “Allen Fieldhouse West” for Kansas fans, and for good reason.

From 1988 until 2008, the Jayhawks took the 88-mile drive down I-70 and returned with a victory against the in-state rival.

However, since Kansas State’s first victory inside the arena against Kansas on January 30, 2008, it’s been a frenzied battle between the two schools.

Now, the next chapter in this renewed rivalry takes shape today as No. 3 Kansas plays No. 11 Kansas State at 7 p.m. in Manhattan.

For senior guard Travis Releford, one his best memories in “The Octagon of Doom” was former guard Sherron Collins’ strong performance down the stretch on Jan. 30, 2010.

Collins dropped an off-balance layup over Wally Judge with 9.2 seconds left in overtime to propel the Jayhawks over the Wildcats.

“He just put the team on his back,” Releford said.

That year, Releford was a spectator after being redshirted earlier in the year, but this year, he’s got a different assignment: guarding Rodney McGruder, one of the hottest players in the Big 12.

On Monday, McGruder picked up his fourth Big 12 Player of the Week award of the season. He’s also averaging 19.5 points per game during the Wildcats’ eight-game winning streak.

A steadily improving player in his time with Kansas State, McGruder is now the key piece for its run to the top of the conference standings.

“It’s going to be a tough matchup,” Releford said. “He’s gotten a lot better on offense. He’s looking more to score on offense. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m looking forward to it.”

The Jayhawks counter McGruder’s exceptional play with an outstanding athlete of their own in redshirt freshman Ben McLemore.

The guard from St. Louis — who won Big 12 Freshman of the Week on Monday — impressed once again against Texas. McLemore scored 16 points and six rebounds, including a few emphatic dunks to seal the game. This came after scaring fans with a turned right ankle earlier in the week versus Baylor.

In those two games, McLemore averaged 16.5 points and seven rebounds while shooting 56.5 percent from the field. On top of that, he also made 57 percent of his three-pointers.

And with his unruffled demeanor in many pressure situations this season, he sees this trip to Manhattan as another game to prove himself and his teammates.

“I definitely think my confidence level is building,” McLemore said. “I give thanks to my teammates for helping me with that and getting me the ball and getting more involved in the game.”

The other storyline for this game — other than the matchup of two of the premier players in the conference — is the transition to Kansas State being Kansas’ main rival after Missouri’s departure to the Southeastern conference.

For Kansas coach Bill Self, it’s always been a rivalry, but he feels it will change in the near future.

“I think this will turn a little bit to become more heated as we move forward because we don’t have the Tigers around, and they don’t have the Tigers around,” Self said.

Along with putting this as the central rivalry for the Jayhawks moving forward, this contest is also a matchup of former Illinois coaches.

Current Kansas State coach Bruce Weber replaced Bill Self after he took the Kansas job in 2003. Weber was fired last March from the Fighting Illini.

While in Champaign, Ill., Weber attempted to move past Self’s departure from Illinois. At one point, he even dressed in black and told the team he was going to throw a funeral for Self after all the comparisons surrounding the two coaches.

At this point, none of that matters to Self. He describes his relationship with Weber as “cordial and fine,” having no issues with him.

“I don’t know if you can really take over a job and not, at some point and time, say something that appears to be controversial to the previous staff,” Self said. “I know I probably did it with Roy. That stuff happens.”

Ever since Weber replaced Kansas State’s former coach Frank Martin, he’s done an admirable job getting the Wildcats high in the polls and in a position to capture the top spot in the Big 12.

“I see a lot of similarities, not so much in the X’s and O’s standpoint, but in what’s most important in how hard you compete and how you play,” Self said when asked about comparing Martin and Weber.

But even with all the preparation coaches can do before a game and connecting the dots of a 10-year coaching carousel, it still comes down to players and, of course, the raucous atmosphere.

That’s why the Jayhawks are preparing for Bramlage Coliseum the best way they know how: relying on the experience of one of their veteran player.

“We enjoy going on the road and playing opponents with crazy fans because at some point, when we’re playing at our best, we get a joy out of it,” Releford said.

  • Updated Feb. 3, 2013 at 3:58 pm
  • Edited by Taylor Lewis
  • Big J

    Go Jayhawks!! Bill Self is the man!