Ask a Kansas fan who their biggest rival is and you will likely get one of two answers. Some will likely point to the Jayhawks upcoming opponent Kansas State. Others will remain pretty adamant that Missouri is where the true hatred lies.
Some of that probably depends on what era of Kansas sports you grew up in, where you might reside in the State of Kansas or elsewhere or perhaps other family factors. But when all is said and done I would think that based on the nature of the rivalry and the way things have played out over the last 25 or so years, Missouri has probably raised the blood pressure for most Jayhawks a little bit more than the rival Wildcats to the West.
However tonight might just signify the beginning of a shift in that way of thinking for some, at least it does a bit for this Jayhawk. While Kansas still have a lot to play for in two upcoming meetings with the Missouri Tigers in 2012, that series ends this year and all indications are pointing to the two sides moving on for the time being. With any future non-conference meeting between Kansas and Missouri having little to do with anything of significance, Kansas State and the in-state rivalry suddenly gets a makeover.
When you step back and look at the Sunflower Showdown over the years it just hasn't been competitive for an extended period of time. Whether it's football or basketball it just hasn't sustained the back and forth that Missouri vs. Kansas has been able to. That thinking really applies to either sport with either Kansas or Kansas State holding a decided advantage on the football field or the basketball court for quite some time. This leads to the 'cheer for anything Kansas' mentality.
On the basketball court the Jayhawks hold a 181-91 edge currently in the series and since 1990 Kansas has only lost FIVE games in the series. While Missouri has struggled to compete at times of late, they have always been a bit more competitive and they have always had the players and coaches that made you love to hate. Missouri's departure leaves a bit of a void and a shift toward a more significant Sunflower Showdown begins tonight.
Based on early season predictions Kansas State looked like a team that was going to have to experience some growing pains with the departure of one of the better Wildcats in recent memory Jacob Pullen. Frank Martin has taken his team and done the opposite. The Wildcats could actually make an argument that they are playing better at this point this season when compared to where they were at this same juncture a year ago. As much as people have doubted Martin and his ability to sustain success in Manhattan, he's been proving some of those doubts wrong up to this point.
Combine that sustained growth as a program with the departure of the Tigers to the SEC and Kansas vs. Kansas State becomes all that more compelling if you're a Jayhawk fan. Sure there is the budding Texas v Kansas rivalry that for the moment features a home and home every year and Baylor has put themselves on the map of late, but for my dollar the best basketball in the Big 12 is played in the State of Kansas and now there is one clear and defined in-state, in-conference rival and that's going to be Kansas State. I find it even more compelling due to the tough physical nature of Kansas State and Bill Self's ability to coach toughness when it's needed most. The game becomes a dogfight.
Obviously things change and conference realignment never seems to end so it's possible that this to could eventually be ruined by money and television. But for now at least, the battle for the State of Kansas is getting a new lease on a long standing rivalry and with Frank Martin and Bill Self running these two respective programs it could become a pretty good one with time. At least that's this fans opinion and I'm a Kansas fan who has ALWAYS hated the Tigers with far more passion than I've ever hated Kansas State.