I'll give you the madness of March, but there's nothing better than the month of February in college hoops. Conference races are climaxing and teams are seeing each other for the second time through. There are no secrets in February, just tough, unyeilding, brawls in games that are usually close. Beyond that, the importance of every game in a tight race is magnified--both Kansas and Wichita State play in such games tonight.
Northern Iowa at Wichita State
The Valley race is the Shockers to lose--or win, as I'm sure they'd rather refer to it. Evansville's upset of Creighton last night gives WSU a one game lead inthe conference with five games to play. None of them will be easy, starting with a suddenly hot Northern Iowa tonight. The Panthers are coming off an upset of Creighton in which they committed just two turnovers. Head coach Ben Jacobsen has inserted Freshman guard Deon Mitchell into the starting lineup and are bringing leading scorer Anthony James off the bench. James hit the last second three-pointer to beat the Jays in Cedar Falls, IA last weekend and the Panthers come into Wichita on a two game win streak.
The Shockers struggled to get a road win at UNI just two weeks ago. They trailed through much of the game until Toure Murry willed his team to a win by tying a career high with 24 points. His play was the most clutch of the Shocker's season to this point. More than any team in the Valley--Northern Iowa(16-9, 6-7) comes to Koch Arena with confidence, they've won five of the last seven games in the Roundhouse. Add the pressure of the Shockers looking to protect a conference lead for the first time this season and tonight promises to be an interesting one.
Kansas at Baylor
KU hasn't lost back to back games since 2006, something they try to avoid tonight at Baylor. Is depth, or the lack thereof, starting to become a concern for Bill Self?
The season is long and team's are starting to grind, KU is playing with a short bench--just seven guys are contributing. That means guys like Jeff Withey can't afford to be held scoreless as he was at Missouri. The 'Hawks lost their composure at the end of the game in Columbia, but they played extremely well for 36 minutes. I'm sure that's what Bill Self is trying to accentuate as they head to Waco.
KU ripped the Bears 92-74 in the middle of January, when Baylor simply didn''t look ready for prime time. Scott Drews team has won a lot of close game and they'll probably have ty and do that again tonight. It's hard for me to imagine that Kansas won't show up ready to protect a share of the Big 12 lead. A Big 12 that they're trying to win for an eighth straight time, in what's one of the most impressive streaks in college basketball.