Sunflower State sees successful seasons in 2012

The words “Kansas” and “basketball” have been synonymous since the inception of the college game.  

The year 2012 has been particularly successful for major basketball teams in the state of Kansas, as all but Fort Hays State and Newman will be playing in the NCAA Tournament in either the men’s or women’s bracket.

In the NCAA’s Division I, all three Kansas teams appear to be headed to the Big Dance. On the men’s side, the No. 3-ranked University of Kansas has been the strongest, thus far, despite losing a majority of its talent from a year ago. Under the tutelage of Head Coach Bill Self, the Jayhawks have been a force to reckon with.  They have strived off the strong play of senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor (17.2 PPG, 4.9 APG) and junior postmen Thomas Robinson (18.0 PPG, second-most rebounds per game in NCAA with 11.9), who won the Associated Press Player of the Year award, and Jeff Withey, the Big 12 defensive player of the year and the conference’s top shot-blocker with 100. KU won the regular season Big 12 title and now prepares for the Big 12 Tournament with a first round bye. The Jayhawks will play the winner of the Oklahoma/Texas A&M game Thurs., March 8, at 2 p.m.

Kansas State has also had a strong season under Head Coach Frank Martin, beating Missouri twice and pulling in the No. 5-seed in the Big 12 tournament. The Wildcats will face Baylor at 11:30 Thursday in the second round of the tournament, having also pulled off the first round bye. Junior guard Rodney McGruder leads the team in scoring with 15.5 points per game, and also leads the team in three-point percentage with a solid 39.3 percent. Sophomore guard Will Spradling also does a great job on the three-pointers, as he leads the team with 130 attempts and connects 34.6 percent of the time. Senior forward Jamar Samuels gives the ‘Cats a post presence, averaging 10.3 points per game.

No. 16 Wichita State has also flourished this season thanks to the strong play of 7-foot senior center Garrett Stutz, brother of former Washburn forward Logan Stutz, who averages 13.5 PPG and 8.0 RPG. Senior guards Joe Ragland (13.4 PPG, 50 percent from three-point line) and Toure’ Murry (12.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG) have also been huge for the Shockers this season. The Shockers lost 65-64 March 3 in the semifinal of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament to 4-seed Illinois State, but still have a pretty good shot at making the NCAA Tournament.

KU and K-State are both middle-of-the-pack in the Big 12 standings, but have solid enough overall win-loss records to make the tourney as a bubble team or can lock up an automatic bid by winning the Big 12 Championship in the women’s tournament, March 7-10. Both women’s teams have a first-round bye, with Kansas State playing Iowa State Thurs., March 8, at 11 a.m., and KU taking on Texas A&M later that day at 7:30 p.m. The Wichita State women finished third during the regular season in the MVC with a 12-6 conference record and 18-11 overall, and face Indiana State Friday, March 9, in the quarterfinals of the MVC Tournament.

In NCAA Division II action, No. 19-ranked MIAA-champion Washburn (24-7, 15-5) was the only Kansas team to make the NCAA Tournament behind strong leadership from the MIAA’s second-highest scorer junior guard Will McNeill (19.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG), who also averages an MIAA-high 2.5 steals per game on the defensive side.

On the women’s side, however, the NCAA Tournament is flooded with Kansas teams, as three of the four MIAA teams on the bracket are Kansas teams—No. 9 MIAA-champion Washburn (28-4, 18-2), No. 14 Pittsburg State (24-5, 17-3) and No. 23 Emporia State (21-8, 14-6) are the top three schools in the MIAA standings, followed by Central Missouri (20-8, 13-7). Young up-and-comers Fort Hays State (20-9, 12-8) just barely missed the tournament as the MIAA’s fifth-ranked team.

Washburn led the MIAA in multiple statistical categories, including scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin, field goal percentages, three point field goal percentages, rebounding defense, rebounding margin, assists, assist/turnover ratio and defensive rebounds, with ESU and PSU trailing right behind in most categories. PSU led the MIAA in blocked shots with 6.1 per game, followed by Fort Hays State’s 5.7 per game. FHSU was also a terrific rebounding team, with an MIAA-high 15.7 offensive rebounds per outing and the second-most defensive rebounds in the conference with 28.6 a game.

The Lady Blues had the conference’s fourth-highest scorer in senior guard Ebonie Williams, who also lead the MIAA in three-point field goal percentage. Senior guard Stevi Schultz, however, made the second-most three pointers in the MIAA with 66. Fort Hays’ freshman center Kate Lehman led the conference with 3.3 blocks per game, followed by PSU senior forward Larissa Richards with 2.7 and ESU freshman forward Merissa Quick (1.8). Sophomore guard Katelyn Edwards led Fort Hays State with the sixth-most points per game in the MIAA (14.9 PPG), followed by ESU senior guard Heather Robben (14.5 PPG) and PSU freshman forward Lizzy Jeronimus (14.2).

Overall, the state of Kansas has been able to produce some top-tier talent this season, each with the potential to make some noise in the tournaments and represent the state in the highest levels of collegiate competition.