(My week of being embedded with Baylor ended Friday with the Bears' 82-75 loss to Kansas State. Now the focus shifts to the third meeting of the season between Kansas and Kansas State.)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It had to be this way. They didn't pack the Sprint Center since Wednesday to watch a couple of outsiders play in the Big 12 Tournament championship game.
And so it will be Kansas-Kansas State in the final Saturday. Never mind the Sunflower State rivalry will be played out for a third time this season in the Show-Me State. That is a mere detail with KU 40 miles away and K-State two hours away. Despite the best efforts of Texas A&M and Baylor, the day's semifinal losers, it's on between the Jayhawks and Wildcats in a conference final for the first time since 1981.
Here's what it means nationally: Some mild interest with two top 10 teams matching up. Kansas is still going to be a No. 1 seed. Kansas State could still finish as high as a No. 2 seed.
Here's what it means to those of us who have watched these rivals take shots and lob insults at each other for what seems like forever: Heaven.
It figures to be one of the best sports days in the city's history. Fans will be able to eat (and drink) all day at the still-new Power and Light District, literally across the street from the Sprint Center.
They will migrate over to the arena with more than full bellies. If there isn't extra security here, I'll be surprised.
"It's what you practice for," K-State coach Frank Martin, fresh this week from signing an extension, a just reward for coaching up the best K-State squad in 22 years.
"I've got to think that it's going to be the best environment of any conference championship game in the country."
The last time this game was this big was, well, last week. On March 3, the rivals met ranked together in the top five for the first time since 1958. Prior to that game nine days ago, you have to go back to '88. Kansas and Kansas State met in a regional final in Detroit to decide who would go to the Final Four. KU, of course, won going on to win the championship with Danny (Manning) and the Miracles.
Manning is now a KU assistant coach. K-State is still waiting for its miracle. Kansas State last won the conference tournament championship in 1980 when Rolando Blackman was starring.
With all day left to get "ready" for the 5 p.m. CT tip, it will be an epic day.
But not without forgetting Baylor. It was not pleasant to see hanging heads in their lockerroom after the loss to Kansas State. In my four days with the team this week I've learned that Bears' coach Scott Drew likes chicken parmesan, rims on his Escalade and the 1-1-3 zone.
I've learned that two rabid guards from down South -- LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter -- are called the "The Louisianimals."
I've learned that Baylor's bus driver is from Scotland and its best big man (Epke Udoh) is from Michigan, by way of Oklahoma.
I haven't learned how to deal with separation anxiety. As jazzed as I am about Saturday, my time with Baylor ended too soon. It might have been foreshadowed at Friday's scouting meeting.
I found out that assistant Jerome Tang's son is named Ivan Seven Tang, aka Seven. The religious significance is that the number symbolizes perfection. Nine-year-old Seven didn't get to come here because his uncle died and he had to travel to Houston with his mother.
Seven loves the Bears and he would have loved to see them attain tournament perfect. But it would have depressed little Seven to see Baylor end its run losing by a little ... seven to be exact.
Thanks Bears. Now let's bring on the Show-Me version of the Sunflower Shootout. It had to be this way.