|History will be made when Kansas State, Loyola-Chicago square off|
History will be made when Kansas State and Loyola-Chicago tip off their Elite 8 game on Saturday. For the first time in NCAA Tournament history, a No. 9 seed will face a No. 11 seed for a spot in the Final Four.
While the fan bases are caught up in the moment, nobody from either team is allowing outside distractions into the picture.
"I emphasized to these guys they've really got to kind of block out everything that's going on around them and really focus on preparing for Loyola," Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. "We can't worry about what happened yesterday, can't worry about next week. We've got to take care of business right now."
Coach Porter Moser of Loyola-Chicago (31-5) concurred.
"When we got into the tournament, we didn't want to just be here," he said. "It's just kind of the way they are. Trust me, they're bouncing around like little kids. They're so excited. But they just have this edge to them that they believe and they want more, they want more. They enjoy the moment."
These two programs have some connection. Two of Loyola's stars are from the heart of the recruiting territory for Kansas State. Clayton Custer and Ben Richardson both attended Blue Valley Northwest High School in the Kansas City suburbs. They have a lot of friends who attend Kansas State.
"Me and Ben both know a lot of people from our high school that go to K-State," Custer said. "We have a lot of friends that go there, people who we were really close with in high school. Yeah, we've definitely gotten some texts and calls from people who go to K-State for sure.
"I think they're kind of pulling for us, just because of our relationship. At least I hope they are. They might be saying that to my face. I don't know if they actually believe it or not. But yeah, it's all good natured."
Richardson said he's received a lot of texts as well.
"You know, I got a couple that were like, cheering for you to win this game, but if K-State wins, then I don't know if I can pull for you, joking around," Richardson said. "But it's all in good nature. We get a lot of good support from back home, and it's been really good to see all the people reaching out to us."
Weber knows that there are some connections, but he's more worried about the skills of the Loyola players than he is where they're from.
"I told the guys, you can't look at the name (Loyola), and you can't look at the league," he said. "You've got to look at the team. They're a good team. They beat Florida at Florida earlier in the year. They beat Tennessee, who won the SEC. They beat Miami out of the ACC. So they've got to be pretty good, and they're hot. They play together. They've got some young guys that have really stepped up."
The same is true for Kansas State (25-11). With no scholarship seniors on the roster, K-State depends on youth. With junior forward Dean Wade hobbled with a foot injury, the Wildcats play small, often with four guards in the lineup.
Barry Brown, Cartier Diarra and Kamau Stokes all start and all have the ability to play the point. It makes defending the Wildcats more difficult.
Late in Thursday's victory over Kentucky, Kansas State had five players on the floor under 6-foot-4, while the shortest player for Kentucky was 6-6. But, as the old saying goes, you can't measure heart.
"They like to get up-and-down, use their length and athleticism just to get easy run-outs and dunks and kind of make a lot of flashy plays," Wildcats guard Barry Brown said of taking advantage of Kentucky's size. "But we knew with our principles and the things we learned since I've been here my freshman year, defensive-wise, that we could guard anyone, no matter the height differential or the weight and size.
"We knew that just being in the gap, helping each other, helping a helper and rebounding would be a big task, and we were able to go out there and do it."