MANHATTAN, Kan. -- There was one significant lesson learned from the middle of Kansas in college basketball's dog days of mid-February when the top ranking really doesn't mean squat.
When you are No. 1, maybe it's a good idea to keep it to yourself.
If Kansas' Marcus Morris doesn't realize he's being called out by the third paragraph, well, that's on him. A large portion of everything else was during Kansas State's 84-68 victory against the No. 1, for now, Jayhawks.
Forty-eight hours earlier, it was refreshing that the Kansas junior forward basically issued a come-and-get-us manifesto Saturday following a victory against Iowa State. Ohio State had lost and the polls were poised to elevate the Jayhawks to the top spot. Morris, whose elbows can be as sharp as his words, wanted everyone to know.
"I want to get everybody's best shot, because I think we can take it," Morris said Saturday before Monday's polls made it official.
Refreshing, not necessarily smart. Morris didn't play well (13 points, only three rebounds in 24 minutes). His twin brother Markieff was worse (three points, no rebounds). Meanwhile, K-State's Jacob Pullen played the game of his life -- a career-high 38 points with his team's tournament chances sinking like a Flint Hills sunset.
You would think Morris would have taken into account his audience. When we last saw the Jayhawks atop the rankings, they were crying into towels, having lost in the NCAA tournament last March thanks to a kid named Ali (Farokhmanesh) from a directional school in Cedar Falls (Northern Iowa). This time the opponent was better known and -- if possible, considering Northern Iowa's tournament upset -- a bit more motivated.
"Marcus is a classy dude," Pullen said when asked if he had read Morris' comments.
"They deserve to be No. 1," he added, "going into this week."
So here we go again. No. 1 goes down for the second time in three days. The saving grace for Kansas this time is that it has a do-over. Monday wasn't expected, but who among us would call it shocking? Kansas' real season will start next month. Kansas State is just trying to get there without the letters NIT somewhere in the press release.
|Kansas coach Bill Self knows how precarious it can be up there at the top of the polls. (AP)|
A beatdown so ridiculous in Kansas' world that Self could only joke.
"We held them to 46 points," the coach said, "if Jacob didn't play."
Unfortunately for Kansas, he did. The 38 points were the most by a player in a victory against a No. 1 team since Houston's Elvin Hayes scored 39 against UCLA in 1968. Now the Jayhawks can get on with things. With no truly great team, they have as good a chance as Duke or Ohio State or Texas or whatever directional challenger might pop up to challenge their manhood.
They probably don't want to be No. 1 going into the tournament. The Jayhawks spent 15 weeks there last season. When asked about his team's last loss at No. 1, Kansas' Tyrel Reed had to think a minute. The Jayhawks had gone into last year's tournament at the top before losing that second-round game to Farokhmanesh and Northern Iowa.
"That was an unbelievable loss," Reed said. "We've still got the NCAA tournament, the Big 12 tournament. We've got some games to play."
At least there's that. The reality for Kansas is that Monday's result proved it is going to have a tough time winning at least a share of a seventh consecutive regular-season Big 12 title. It's still damn hard to beat the Jayhawks, but at least now we know how.
The Morris twins have been off their games at the same time basically twice this season. Kansas has lost both games. The only other "L" came against Texas on Jan. 22. That was the difference in the conference race until Monday night.
Deep into that night, Self ran into Pullen in the tunnel underneath Bramlage Coliseum. The coach congratulated the player for pulling the ball out late when Pullen had a chance to score 40.
"Class all the way," Self said.
"I've hated it for four years," a smiling Pullen shot back, reminding the coach of the smothering defense Kansas had played against him.
"We might fall out of the rankings next week," Self concluded with a bit of hyperbole.
Don't count on it, just like don't count on the new No. 1 relishing its spot at the top.
"I don't know if anybody really, truly deserves it," Self said.