Preview: Rivalry will be renewed once more Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse

Kansas head coach Bill Self tries to put some fire into his players during a slow stretch in the second half against Kansas City on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 at Allen Fieldhouse. Photo by Nick Krug

Missouri will make its latest attempt to reverse the course of its rivalry when it visits Allen Fieldhouse Saturday for this year’s edition of the Border Showdown.

The Tigers have lost eight of the last nine matchups against the Jayhawks, including both meetings since the rivalry first got renewed as a nonconference contest in 2021 — 102-65 in Lawrence that year and 95-67 in Columbia last season.

Because they were so lopsided, Kansas point guard and Columbia native Dajuan Harris Jr., said Thursday, “I really didn’t get to experience (how) the games usually are. The last two years we played them, I haven’t really got the Mizzou and KU experience, how it was back in the day.” He added that he’d like to get that experience but still wants to win by a lot along the way.

Even with those adverse results for his Tigers, Dennis Gates has the MU program on the upswing since arriving from Cleveland State, and led Missouri to its best win total in 11 seasons when it went 25-10 during the 2022-23 season. He’s got seven wins already this year, though sustained a stunning, turnover-laden home loss on Nov. 19 to a previously winless Jackson State team that now ranks No. 261 on KenPom.

Sean East II is the only player averaging more than 30 minutes per game for the Tigers, who have worked in a lot of talent. East, a 6-foot-3 guard in his second season at Missouri, has taken advantage of his increased time on the court to the tune of 16.8 points per game on an impressive 57.9% shooting. Forward Noah Carter (12.6 points, 6.2 rebounds) and guard Nick Honor (11.8 points), also both second-year Tigers, join East as the only players to start all nine games.

Gone is first-round NBA Draft selection Kobe Brown, and the rest of the lineup has been a bit of a revolving door, including new faces like Iowa State transfer Caleb Grill, Indiana transfer Tamar Bates and 7-foot-5 Oral Roberts transfer Connor Vanover.

As often adds a level of intrigue to this game, the teams share plenty of connections. Of course Harris is back for a third go-round against his hometown team, which didn’t make much of an effort to recruit him out of high school until after he was already talking to KU.

“He’s going to have to be good again,” KU coach Bill Self said, “because you know he’s going to have to play the vast majority of the minutes against a team that’ll change defenses and pressure and do different things to make you work every possession.”

This time around, KU’s backup center Parker Braun comes to the forefront as the unlikely athlete to have played for both KU and MU. He and his brother Christian, already a beloved Jayhawk, grew up in a family split between the two schools, and Braun spent three seasons at Missouri but left for two more at Santa Clara before the Border Showdown was rekindled.

“I spent three years there, I had a great experience, met a lot of great people there, got a good education,” Braun said. “I learned a lot about the game. So I got no bad blood with Missouri, honestly, just from my time there.”

Conversely, the Tigers’ roster also contains several Kansas natives, including Bates (Kansas City), Grill (Wichita) and Aidan Shaw (Overland Park). Bates and Shaw considered KU out of high school.

KU legend Thomas Robinson will get his number retired during halftime, as Self announced earlier in the week.

“He was a warrior that got as much as he possibly could out of what he had,” Self said Thursday, “and I also think the added personal things that he had to go through while he was here adds to the respect and the toughness that you equate with him as a player.”

No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (8-1) vs. Missouri Tigers (7-2)

• Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, 4:15 p.m.

Broadcast: ESPN

Radio: Jayhawk Radio Network (in Lawrence, KLWN AM 1320 / K269GB FM 101.7 / KKSW FM 105.9)

Keep an eye out

Atmosphere: It wasn’t a surprise that the KU-friendly crowd failed to bring the same energy to a weeknight matchup against Kansas City as it had to last weekend’s showdown with UConn, but it was somewhat more striking given its juxtaposition with the Jayhawks’ inconsistent performance on the court. As Self said postgame, “Was our energy level the same as it was against Connecticut? No. Was the fans’ energy level the same as it was against Connecticut? No.” But the halls of Allen Fieldhouse have been swarmed with camping groups — Self said Thursday they had started out with 105 Wednesday morning, a number that impressed him — and he believes “the students will be ready, and they have a tendency to kind of drag everybody else along with them.”

Stock up: Kevin McCullar Jr. made the decision to return to Kansas after testing the NBA Draft market and, at least in the early going, it seems to be paying off. The likes of Bleacher Report and ESPN are now projecting him as a potential first-round selection just outside the lottery. McCullar has become one of the principal focal points of the KU offense beyond his already impressive defensive skill set. He’s said he’s “trying to be as versatile as I can.” From Self’s perspective, as he put it in a press conference back on Monday, “I think his scoring has made people look at everything he does more intently and give him more credit with everything else because now he’s become more of a scorer.” Since then, he managed a career-high 25 points against Kansas City and has a chance to continue his momentum on Saturday.

Four minutes of fame: Freshman Johnny Furphy was on the court at the conclusion of Tuesday’s game with KU’s four veteran starters, which bodes well for his future prospects because Self has repeatedly said he values who is on the court at the end of a game more than who starts. Not only that, Furphy made the most of his four minutes after replacing a mistake-prone Elmarko Jackson — defending well, getting out quickly on the break and draining a 3 for the final basket of the night. He seems well on his way to, at the very least, a sixth-man role.

Off-kilter observation

East played together with KU walk-on Justin Cross at John A. Logan College, a JUCO in Carterville, Illinois, during the 2021-22 season. East averaged 20.9 points per game; Cross averaged 1.1.


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