This is it, folks. This is the game that has been circled by Tigers and Jayhawks alike, the game that everyone has been looking forward to when the schedules were released. The ESPN College Gameday crew has been looking forward to it too, and will be broadcasting for the first time in Missouri history from the floor of Mizzou Arena. This is rivalry at its finest, Kansas vs. Missouri, Tiger vs. Jayhawk, No. 4 vs. No. 8 with conference bragging rights on the line. This, my friends, is the Border War.
Mizzou fans know all about the University of Kansas and that the hatred between the two schools dates back to the Civil War. Let’s take a look at how Mizzou’s greatest rival came to be. The University of Kansas was chartered in 1864 and officially opened in 1866 as a preparatory school of 55 students. It began teaching on the college level in 1869. KU was established in the city of Lawrence, which had been trying to get a private school built for a decade before KU, but to no avail. The city of Lawrence was given a condition that if it could amass $15,000 of endowment and a plot no smaller than 40 acres, they could keep the school. If not, KU would be moved to the city of Emporia. Thanks to Amos Adams Lawrence, a philanthropist who donated $10,000 to the cause, Lawrence was able to keep the University and it remains there today.
The University grew into what is now the largest college in the state of Kansas. Several programs were established in its early years, including the school of medicine in 1905, the result of a merger of programs in Lawrence and Kansas City. The campus is located on Mount Oread, a hill that is over 1,000 feet above sea level. The campus was developed and expanded in the “campus beautification” acts that were first implemented in 1878. This led to the construction of the Memorial Campanile, a large bell tower that is a central landmark on the KU campus. It was dedicated in 1951 to the 276 KU men and women that died during World War II.
As of the 2010-11 academic year, KU had an enrollment of 29,462 students, who can study from more than 200 fields of study. The University offers 16 different schools and colleges from which to study, including a large liberal arts college and a good architecture program. There is also the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, which includes the schools of allied health, medicine, and nursing, and has about 3,000 students studying there. There is also a variety of student activities to choose from, as well as active Greek Life. The Greek division of Kansas includes 35 fraternities and 13 sororities, highlighted by another KU landmark, the Chi Omega Fountain.
Now, when you ask a Kansas fan about their university, the first thing they are sure to jump to is the Kansas debate team. It has appeared in the National Debate Tournament 70 times, more than any other school, and has won the national championship five times. Seriously, though, the mens basketball team at the University of Kansas headlines the 16 varsity Jayhawk teams that compete in the Big 12 Conference. The mens basketball team accounts for about one-third of KU’s 162 total conference championships, 24 of which have come since joining the Big 12. This includes the last eight years, in which the Jayhawks basketball team has won at least a share of the regular season Big 12 title.
On the Missouri side of the border, Kansas is rarely mentioned in a positive light, thanks to the intensity of the rivalry that is known as the Border War. The rivalry transcends on the field matchups and goes all the way back to the Civil War, when furious debates ran over whether Kansas and Missouri should be admitted into the Union as slave or free states. Kansas was admitted as a free state, while Missouri a slave state. The debates led to a period violence that is now known as Bleeding Kansas. When the Civil War began, Kansas soldiers conducted six raids on Missouri towns, most notably in Osceola. This led to retaliatory acts from the Missouri side two years later, specifically a raid on Lawrence, KS led by William Quantrill, known as the Lawrence Massacre. This bloodshed led to a hatred between the two states, which is now represented best on the athletic field. Though Kansas leads the all-time basketball series, Mizzou has the advantage on the football field 57-54-9. The Border War reached its peak in 2007, when No. 4 Mizzou beat No. 2 Kansas 36-28 at Arrowhead Stadium in a game that led to the Tigers winning the Big 12 North and playing for the Big 12 Championship.
However, the rivalry, which is the second oldest rivalry in the country, has been threatened by Missouri’s move to the SEC effective next year. Missouri has offered to Kansas to play them as a part of the non-conference schedule, but Kansas has refused, saying that the rivalry is strictly a Big 12 rivalry and should remain that way.
Kansas is one of the blue blood mens basketball programs, winning five total national championships, three in the NCAA era. They have won 2,057 games all-time, second only to Kentucky, and reached the NCAA Tournament 40 times. KU has a long list of legendary coaches, including James Naismith, the inventor of basketball and Kansas’ first head coach, Phog Allen, Adolph Rupp, and Dean Smith, to more recent greats such as Larry Brown and Roy Williams, and currently Bill Self. It also has a laundry list of All-American players, most notable being the great Wilt Chamberlain, as well as current Boston Celtic Paul Pierce. KU won NCAA championships in 1952, 1988 behind a Danny Manning-led team that became known as Danny and the Miracles, and 2008. The 2008 title game was one for the ages, with Kansas guard Mario Chalmers hitting a last second three-pointer to send the game into overtime. The Jayhawks eventually defeated the Derrick Rose-led Memphis Tigers 75-68.
Despite their storied history, the Jayhawks have become notorious for losing to mid-major teams come tournament time. There have been four notable losses in which a highly ranked Jayhawk team was upset by a considerably lower seeded team from a minor conference. The first occurred in 2005, when the No. 14 Bucknell Bison upset a No. 3 Jayhawk squad that was coming off of an Elite Eight performance the year before. The very next year, another double-digit seed caused an early tournament exit for the Jayhawks. This time the No. 13 Bradley Braves upset the No. 4 seed in the first round. In 2010, the heavily favored No. 1 overall seed in the tournament were bounced in the second round by the No. 9 Northern Iowa Panthers. In one of the most stunning upsets in recent tournament history, the Panthers rode the hot hand of Ali Farokhmanesh, including a dagger three-pointer in transition with 30 seconds remaining, to advance to the Sweet 16. In 2011, the Jayhawks were again given a No. 1 seed and, despite making a run to the Elite Eight, were upset yet again, this time by an upstart VCU Rams team that went from a participant in the First Four to making the Final Four. The Rams buried 12 three pointers to deny the Jayhawks what looked to be a sure Final Four appearance.
There has been a lot of turnover for this year’s Jayhawk team, which lost six of their top eight scorers from last year, including losing twins Marcus and Markieff Morris to the NBA. The Jayhawks have performed better than expected, however, thanks to the play of junior forward Thomas Robinson. He has averaged phenomenal numbers (17.6 PPG, 12.0 RPG) as the center of the Jayhawks’ offense, and is a leading candidate for National Player of the Year. They are led at the guard spot by senior guard Tyshawn Taylor (16.7 PPG, 5.3 APG), while seven-foot junior forward Jeff Withey (8.5 PPG, 3.1 BPG) guards the paint.
This year’s first edition of the basketball Border War has seen an unprecedented amount of hype, thanks in large part to both schools’ surprising success. This will be the 14th time that the two teams will be ranked in the top 10 when facing each other. The game has gained national attention as well, as the ESPN show College Gameday will be broadcasting live from Mizzou Arena the morning of the game, which will be played in primetime. It is also notable as it will be the last time Kansas travels to face Missouri as Big 12 opponents, with Missouri’s move to the SEC next year. All this will combine to whip the sold-out Mizzou Arena crowd into a frenzy and should create an unbelievable atmosphere for both Gameday and the game itself.
As for the players on the court, there are several intriguing individual matchups that will play a large factor in deciding the outcome. The most obvious one is how will the Tigers stop the Jayhawks’ undoubted best player Thomas Robinson. Robinson has been sensational all year, and will be a handful for Mizzou’s frontcourt, which lacks depth and has not seen a player as strong or physical as Robinson. He will be the biggest threat for the Tigers, and Mizzou must find a way to neutralize him. On the other side of the issue, however, Kansas may be too big for Mizzou, but also too big for their own sake. Mizzou’s four guard lineup is among the fastest and most efficient in the nation, and can create matchup nightmares for Kansas’ big men Robinson and Withey. This specifically centers around senior Kim English (14.4 PPG, 49.5 3P%), who has been playing the power forward position despite spending a lot of time offensively on the perimeter, where he has been deadly shooting the ball. English is a unique player, and Robinson or Withey, whoever has the duty of guarding him, likely won’t be able to keep up with him on the perimeter.
Another key matchup will be at the point guard spot, where Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor can light up the scoreboard, but is also turnover prone. This bodes well for the Tigers, who can pressure the ball with very good on-ball defenders and create opportunities in transition off of turnovers. Mizzou’s point guards, sophomore Phil Pressey (10.0 PPG, 6.0 APG) and junior Michael Dixon (12.1 PPG, 2.7 APG) will have to dictate the pace of the game offensively, involving all seven contributing Mizzou players, as well as hound Taylor into turning the ball over and creating fast break opportunities. Mizzou’s senior guard and leading scorer Marcus Denmon (17.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG) has struggled shooting the ball recently in conference play, and will need to be productive in order for the Tigers to effectively utilize their most dangerous weapon.
This is one of the biggest Border War showdowns in recent years, and is sure to generate an incredible atmosphere for both fans and players alike. Mizzou has not played its best basketball the past three games, squeaking by Texas in Austin last Monday, but have traditionally played very well at home, which will be a great advantage to the Tigers. Mizzou may not have enough to stop Robinson from getting into the points, grabbing rebounds and scoring points, but the Tigers will have to control the rest of the Jayhawks and limiting damage from them. Senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe (14.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG) will have his hands full, but must remain in the game and play effectively to keep Robinson in check. Mizzou has the advantage on the outside in the speed of their guards and will need to exploit that to take control of the game. Both teams have some issues with depth, but Mizzou is the more balanced team, with five players averaging in double figure scoring as opposed to the Jayhawks’ two. This is a winnable game for the Tigers at home, but they must play efficiently and limit the damage from Jayhawks not named Robinson in order to do so. With the hype surrounding the game, it is sure to be one of the most memorable games in Border War history. Mizzou will hope to end a five game losing streak to Kansas and send the Jayhawks back across the border with a loss in what could be the final meeting between the two rivals in Columbia.