Yesterday during Wichita State’s narrow victory over Indiana, CBS analyst Chris Webber joked (?) that Kansas was scared to play Wichita State and that the Jayhawks were ducking the Shockers. Joke or not, that sentiment has poured out of Wichita (conveniently only in the last couple years) and now the national media seems to be grabbing that story.
However, this simply isn’t true. Bill Self hasn’t been contacted by Gregg Marshall about playing, and it makes no sense for the Jayhawks to do so. Kansas doesn’t need an extra nonconference game to increase recruiting in Kansas, because the Jayhawks already get anyone in Kansas worth going after, and the game is an obvious lose-lose scenario. Win, and you were supposed to; lose, and you have to hear about it for a year. No thanks.
Just so I can put the “KU avoids Wichita State” story to bed once and for all, here is what really happened:
The two teams did not play each other for almost 30 years (1955-’81), before they met in the 1981 NCAA Tournament. Third-seeded WSU beat seventh-seeded Kansas by a point. When Larry Brown took over as Kansas head coach in 1983, he put Wichita State on the schedule almost every year, playing once at each home campus, and once in Kansas City. The Jayhawks won three of the four.
When Roy Williams took over for Brown in 1988, Eddie Fogler was still the coach at Wichita State. Both Williams and Fogler played at North Carolina and then became assistants to Dean Smith. Rooted in the powerful bond they shared, they felt it was important to keep the series going.
The series ended because of the January 1992 game played at Wichita State. In that time, Kansas had a TV package where a lot of its games were on local TV. However, in those years Wichita State had a pay-per-view package for its games, and WSU refused to let Kansas broadcast the 1992 Shockers-Jayhawks contest. Roy Williams, being Roy Williams, obviously took that personally. Kansas won the game in Wichita, 81-51.
The schools had to finish out the contract in January of 1993 (Kansas won that final meeting, 103-54), and by this time Fogler had departed for Vanderbilt. There was no reason to continue the series. Williams didn’t have a friend on the other sideline, the games weren’t competitive, and there was no outcry on either side for the games to keep going. It only conveniently started to become a thing again in recent years when Wichita State has become good again under Gregg Marshall.
The Jayhawks have won 12 of the 14 meetings between the schools, and they’ve won the last five by an average of 32 points. It’s no wonder Kansas abandoned Wichita State for playing in events like the Champions Classic. With how cyclical most mid-majors are, I’d be very surprised if the Shockers are still clamoring for a meeting in five years.
(Side note: The possibility that Marshall could leave for another program is the specific event which could cause Wichita State to decline, though such a statement should not be taken as an indication that Marshall is in any way likely to leave. That decision is up to him. The possibility, though, exists, and if it becomes reality, Wichita State could be in trouble.)
Regardless of whether or not it makes sense for the Jayhawks to play Wichita State (it doesn’t), the absolute fact is that Kansas isn’t ducking anybody. Wichita State hasn’t asked to play the Jayhawks recently, and if the Shockers won’t even do a 2-for-1, then a game isn’t going to happen outside of the NCAA tournament. Wichita State certainly can beat the Jayhawks, but it’s time for this narrative to die.