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Kansas center of hoops universe

Sat., Jan. 11, 2014

State boasts three teams in Top 25

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Bill Self stumbled across a list the other day assembled by some self-described college basketball pundit. The idea was to list the best states for basketball in the country right now, and Self was amused to see Kansas listed second or third.

The Jayhawks coach couldn’t remember which spot, exactly, but it didn’t really matter.

As far as he’s concerned, it should have been listed first.

The only state with three teams in this week’s Top 25, the Sunflower State is suddenly the epicenter of the college basketball world. Sixth-ranked Wichita State is undefeated, while defending Big 12 co-champions No. 18 Kansas and No. 25 Kansas State are both in pursuit of back-to-back conference titles.

The Jayhawks and Wildcats just happen to meet today, too.

“It speaks volumes to when you have three Division I schools in the state and they’re all ranked,” Self said. “I think when K-State’s good it helps Kansas. I would think when Kansas is good it helps K-State.

“And then, of course, I think when Wichita State is doing the things they’re doing, obviously it brings attention to our state, which is very positive. So I see absolutely no negatives in that stuff.”

Well, maybe this negative: There’s an argument to be made that the Jayhawks, long the top dogs in Kansas hoops, are playing second (or third) fiddle to their rivals these days.

“It’s pretty flattering,” Self said, “to know that a state that’s not that highly populated and you only have three Division I institutions that all are doing as well as they are.”

In fact, there are only two other states that have more than one team in the Top 25 this week: Iowa State and Iowa are ranked, as are Kentucky and its rival Louisville.

Otherwise, nobody else can make the same boastful claim as Kansas. Not the talent hotbed of Texas, which counts only Baylor ranked among its 21 programs playing Division I hoops. Not highly populated New York, which among its 22 programs counts only Syracuse in the Top 25. And not North Carolina, which has only Duke – and not the Tar Heels or North Carolina State – in the poll.

In fact, the state with the most Division I programs – California, with 24 – failed to land a single one in the poll.

Several players on the Wichita State roster are homegrown, including sharpshooter Ron Baker, a sophomore from Scott City. Baker said he spent part of the offseason working with Kansas’ Frank Mason and Kansas State’s Will Spradling, and that they all root for each other.

“We all talked about keeping the success going,” Baker said.

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