LAWRENCE, Kan. —
The result? Turn on the tournament this week and you’ll see Oklahoma against North Dakota State in a second-round game. Wichita State and Kansas State could meet in the third round, as could Nebraska and Creighton, a tantalizing matchup that just might generate as much interest in the state as Cornhusker football does on an autumn Saturday.
“If we’re going to go and play and Nebraska is going to the NCAA tournament, why not go to the same place,” asked Bluejays coach Greg McDermott. “I think it’s going to be a great deal of fun.”
McDermott’s son, Doug, is the odds-on favorite for national player of the year. Those teams from the heartland? They’re not short on talent, even if they often have to get creative — and go to great lengths — to land some of it.
Kansas star Andrew Wiggins is a freshman of the year candidate and potential No. 1 draft pick. So is the Jayhawks’ Joel Embiid, who will miss the first part of the tournament with a back injury.
Oklahoma State features a dynamic guard in Marcus Smart. Iowa State has Canadian forward Melvin Ejim, the Big 12 player of the year. Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble and Oklahoma’s Cameron Clark are game-changers. Kansas State has a talented freshman in its own right, Marcus Foster.
It’s enough to make more traditional basketball states such as Indiana and Illinois — both of which were shut out of the NCAA tournament — feel just a wee bit jealous.
“There’s great basketball in this area,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “You look at the Big 12 and what we’ve done this year being the No. 1 basketball conference in America, by far, I think it says a lot about the basketball in the Midwest right now.”