Sideline Report: The importance of a Wichita State versus Kansas rivalry

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On Sunday, March 23 the University of Kansas men’s basketball team played against the Wichita State University Shockers in the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. To those outside of Kansas, this might not seem like that big of a deal. It’s just another competitive matchup of March Madness, right? Well, the significance of this game finally being played transcends just one game or tournament since the last meeting took place in the 1992-93 season.

Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall has been lobbying for this game to be played for the past few years now, with KU not giving in. The Shockers have gained a bit of a national following after making it to the Final Four in 2013 and finishing 35-1 last year. Led by guards Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker, this Shockers team can hang with anyone. But KU continued to deny his request for a game against them, not seeing any reward coming from it.

In all honesty, KU doesn’t really gain much from playing Wichita State. Kansas head coach Bill Self schedules non-conference games for recruiting purposes and Wichita isn’t a recruiting hotspot KU can’t normally reach. Also KU, champion of the past 11 Big 12 regular season titles, has quite a reputation as a blue-blood program that doesn’t gain much from playing some school from the Missouri Valley Conference. To some KU fans, Wichita State is considered to be beneath KU and not deserve to play. Even when these teams did play KU had dominated the series 12-2 and winning by margins of 103-54 (1992-93) and 84-50 (1990-91). KU did not need nor did they want this game.

But the “rivalry” was restored in the 2015 NCAA Tournament in the round of 32 in the Midwest region, with the seven seed Wichita State Shockers facing the two seed Kansas Jayhawks. Wichita State controlled the game’s pace and held the Jayhawks to a mere 35 field goal percentage. The Shockers themselves went 10-20 from three-point range and 49 percent from the field. Van Vleet was the leading scorer with 17 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals. Wichita State went on to win the game 78-65 and advance to the Sweet 16 and will face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Thursday, March 26. The game was exciting and showed that the Shockers not only belong on the same court as KU, but have the ability to beat them.

Granted, this game doesn’t necessarily determine who is the better team or program, nor does it determine which is the better school. But this matchup does give a new perspective to college basketball fans. It shows how that team from Wichita can hang with the best of them and finally got their long-awaited redemption against KU. Now that the series has added a new chapter, this cannot be the end. These teams need to continue to play each other because of the atmosphere and great for fans.

Wichita State versus KU would bring in a lot of money and provide a great game between teams from the same state. This could turn into a true rivalry and positively impact college basketball. Also, it would not be one-sided or boring to watch since Marshall and Wichita State have proven that they can hang with big bad KU. If these two sides could just come to terms, they could even more drama, excitement and storylines to the already fantastic college basketball regular season.

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