Shock the Jayhawks? Not likely … but possible

Douglas Gulasy

Originally, sports editor Brock Harrington was going to write the column about tonight’s basketball game between the Kansas Jayhawks and your Kent State Golden Flashes.

Unfortunately, Brock – a Kansas fan since birth – passed out from exhilaration after writing his opening sentence, so here we are.

When the two teams tip off at 9 p.m. in legendary Allen Fieldhouse, the Flashes will have their latest chance to knock off a national powerhouse on national television – that is, if you count ESPNU as national television.

The past two years, Kent State has had a chance to play the spoiler in the regular season, going to Duke in 2006 and North Carolina last season. Both times, the Flashes came up short, losing 79-72 to the Blue Devils and 90-61 to the Tar Heels.

This game is not like the North Carolina game last season. The Tar Heels came into that game 13-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country, and they were good enough to make it to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.

Simply put, the Flashes had no chance to go down to Chapel Hill, N.C., and knock off the Tar Heels.

But that’s not the case this season – if there’s ever a time for Kent State to knock off Kansas, it’s now.

The Jayhawks look nothing like the team that won the national championship last season. Six of their top seven scorers from last year left for graduation or the NBA, leaving Kansas with two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior in the starting lineup.

Syracuse took advantage of Kansas’ inexperienced lineup last week, knocking off the Jayhawks 89-81 in overtime in Kansas City.

That Orangemen victory is unfortunate for the Flashes because there’s no way in hell Kansas is about to lose twice in a week, especially to a mid-major team from the (insert adjective for “bad” here) Mid-American Conference.

Sure, the Flashes are the class of the MAC and came close to knocking off big-time opponents Illinois and Texas A&M this weekend. But Kansas, inexperience aside, is the class of the Big 12, which is just a little bit better than the MAC.

The 2008 Jayhawks are no 2007 North Carolina, but they’re also no Akron, Buffalo or Central Michigan. And Allen Fieldhouse is certainly not the friendly confines of the M.A.C. Center, as the Flashes will find out right from the beginning of the game, when the KU fans do the “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” chant.

So while tonight will give the Flashes a chance to prove themselves on the national level, it’s unlikely that they will come out with a victory. Al Fisher is good, but he’s no Carmelo Anthony, and the only time Kansas loses to mid-major teams is in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

But just because the Flashes will be hard-pressed to avoid their third straight loss doesn’t mean it’s a bad decision to play this game. It’s never a bad idea to give your program national exposure and to give your team a chance to knock off a defending national champion.

So will Kent State win tonight? Probably not. But there’s always a chance – ask Oral Roberts, which won in Kansas back in 2006. And if the Golden Flashes follow in the footsteps of the Golden Eagles (that’s actually kind of creepy), I’ll be surprised but not shocked.

After all, Kent State’s pretty good, too, right?

Contact assistant sports editor Douglas Gulasy at [email protected].