When watching the Selection Show last Sunday, Wichita State fans noticed it, Kansas fans noticed it, and every observant college basketball fan noticed it.
If No. 7 seed Wichita State and No. 2 seed Kansas survived their Round of 64 games, they would meet Sunday with a Sweet 16 berth in the Midwest Region on the line.
Kansas trounced New Mexico State on Friday, and then Wichita State held off Indiana to make the matchup a reality.
This will be more than just an ordinary Round of 32 game Sunday. It will be a game for supremacy in the state of Kansas.
“It will be a big game our state, without question,” Kansas coach Bill Self said after his team’s game.
Kansas is one of the most storied programs in college basketball, and the Jayhawks have been arguably the most dominant team in Division I since Self took over in 2003. They have won 11 straight Big 12 titles and made two Final Fours, an additional two Elite Eights and two more Sweet 16’s.
And of course, Kansas won the 2008 national title.
But Wichita State has also received plenty of national relevance under eighth-year coach Gregg Marshall.
The Shockers are playing in their fourth straight NCAA Tournament. They advanced to the Final Four in 2013, and although they were eliminated by eventual runner-up Kentucky in last year’s Round of 32, they entered the 2014 NCAA Tournament with a perfect 34-0 record.
Kansas has refused to schedule Wichita State in the regular season because it has no reason to schedule Wichita State.
If the Jayhawks win, they were supposed to win. After all, they are the bigger program from the bigger conference.
And if Kansas loses? Watch out, because then Wichita State has a case as the best college basketball squad in the state.
The magnitude of the matchup does not get past the players.
“Obviously when people saw the bracket they were already talking about this day on Sunday,” said Wichita State guard Ron Baker, who is also a native of Scott City, Kansas. “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, just really, really fortunate to be in this game. Obviously these type of games don’t happen a whole lot.”
Marshall has said before he wishes Kansas would schedule Wichita State, but he has also acknowledged he understands why the Jayhawks do not.
“It’s an honor to be able to play them and it’s an honor to compete with them to win,” Marshall said. “That’s what we’re after, no matter who the next opponent is, our goal is to get to Cleveland and the Sweet 16. That’s our goal. Kansas has great players, an unbelievable coach. Bill Self does a great job, and they’re right up the road.”
All quotes transcribed by ASAP Sports.