Tom Keegan: Former background players on marquee for Sunflower Showdown

Kansas guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (10) hangs his hand after hitting a three against Kansas State forward Dean Wade (32) during the first half, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Highly skilled for a man his size, he showed flashes of brilliance early in his college basketball career. But just when you thought he was about to burst out, he would lapse into retreat mode, deferring to flashier stars.

Now, he’s a marquee player, a consistently aggressive scoring threat playing the best basketball of his life who deserves mention in conversations about the nation’s most improved players.

All eyes from opposing defenders and the crowd will be on him Monday night in Bramlage Coliseum, where Kansas visits Kansas State for a renewal of a rivalry that has featured three consecutive close games.

Bet you thought I was writing about Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, didn’t you? So much of what can be said about the arc of the Kansas senior’s career also applies to K-State junior Dean Wade, a native of St. John, a town of 1,214 residents located an hour west of Hutchinson and settled in 1875 by members of the Mormon church.

The word “potential” used to work its way into most conversations about where both of their games stood. Production is the “P” word of choice now.

Both players do their best shooting at home. Wade is a .538 3-point shooter in 12 games in Bramlage, Mykhailiuk a .542 3-point shooter in 12 games in Allen Fieldhouse. It’s not that they shoot poorly on the road, Wade hitting .444 and Mykhailiuk .438 from long distance.

Their confidence travels, but they’re downright deadly at home.

Mykhailiuk is looking to produce his first career three-game streak of 20-point scoring games.

Wade has an active streak of five 20-point scoring games, the second coming against Kansas, when he totaled 22 points and six rebounds in 38 minutes.

Mykhailiuk had trouble checking the 6-foot-10 Wade, who has a two-inch height advantage and shot over him, in that one. Udoka Azubuike, not as well equipped to follow Wade to the 3-point line, did a better job on him, so it will be interesting to see how Kansas defends Wade.

After that game, KU coach Bill Self said, “Dean had a fabulous game, played great, but I thought (Azubuike) guarded him great in the few possessions he was on him.”

Marcus Garrett gives Self another option to guard Wade at times, although he would be giving up four inches.

K-State brings a four-game winning streak into the game, its last loss coming in Allen Fieldhouse.

Wade and Barry Brown have played a big part in K-State’s surge from wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble to solid at-large-bid footing.

Other than Trae Young, Brown (22.8, 40 minutes in each of past three games) and Wade (20.3) are the two leading scorers in Big 12 games. KU’s Devonte’ Graham (19.3) is next.

In the first game, a 73-72 Kansas victory, as soon as Graham picked up his third foul, Cartier Diarra took advantage, scoring his team’s next 11 points, sandwiching a couple of 3-pointers around a pair of drives. In conference play, Diarra leads the Big 12 with a 60 percent accuracy rate from 3. Wade ranks second with a .536 Big 12 3-point percentage. Mykhailiuk and Texas Tech’s Brandone Francis are tied for third at 50 percent.

“They’ve found ways to win games when the games are in the 50s. They’ve found ways to win games when the games are in the 80s,” Self said. “They can score. Of course, Brown and Wade both have had great conference seasons. They’re a good team. They don’t beat themselves.”

Neither does Kansas, which consistently executes well down the stretch and has won its last three games vs. K-State by a combined six points.

In preparing for the first Sunflower Showdown, Self saw a team gaining steam.

“I thought they played great against us here,” Self said. “I knew that they were getting good fast.”

The Wildcats are particularly tough in Bramlage, where their only loss came against West Virginia.

The K-State students follow Kansas basketball closely, so that they can try to call attention to the hottest negative storyline. At the moment, that would be Azubuike’s free throw woes. A year ago, it was Mykhailiuk’s walk-on-by, game-winning shot against the Wildcats in Allen Fieldhouse.

“There were a lot of posters about traveling,” Mykhailiuk said. “It’s just always fun to go there and play in that environment. They have great fans.”

Those fans are particularly vocal when gathering to watch the school from 85 miles to the east.

“I would anticipate the same thing that we anticipate every time we go to Manhattan,” Self said. “It will be the best environment that we face from a competitive standpoint. I mean, we won’t go to a place that will rival the energy that they have for us, even though we play in front of some great home courts. There’s a little venom and hatred in this one.”

And a lot of talented scorers — Mykhailiuk and Wade the most hot-handed among them.