Even though Kansas and Kentucky have both struggled at various points this year, there was little surprise when it was announced ESPN College GameDay was coming to Lawrence for the showdown between the two winningest programs in college basketball history.
But truth be told, even without GameDay, the atmosphere at Allen Fieldhouse for the game is likely to be one of the most raucous in recent memory. There were more students at the lottery for camping than any since Missouri. 610 Sports Radio host Carrington Harrison called it the biggest game Kansas has played at Allen Fieldhouse since then, adding it tops the revenge game against Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State, when Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid were still in college.
However, while the game highlights the abnormality of two of the greatest college basketball programs squaring off, it also showcases the antithesis: the consistency in their greatness.
And to College GameDay host Rece Davis, that's something that shouldn't be overlooked. He said that consistency isn’t just the thing that makes the programs great; it’s also tremendously undervalued as a whole.
“The most underrated thing in sports today, to me, is consistency. Nobody wins things every year — obviously Kansas wins the Big 12 every year — but nobody wins National Championships every year,” Davis said. And when you get to a level where if you don’t win the National Championship it’s somewhat disappointing, I think there’s a great success in that.”
Davis highlighted Kansas basketball, Kentucky basketball and Alabama football as three programs that have that “success,” which he affirmed is the most underrated thing in sports.
That consistency makes it almost comical how some fans have reacted to each team this year. Both teams have four losses, yet with some of the reaction on social media, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who could guess that a 16-4 record would be leading to meltdowns by portions of each fan base.
As Davis said, it seems like there’s a point of success where anything other than first isn’t good enough, and it’s clear these programs are right around that point.
“I know you guys are spoiled, and you’re panicking, and the sky is falling,” GameDay analyst and former Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg said. “Believe me, I’ve been at places [where] the sky falls a lot worse.”
One reason it may seem like the sky is falling to many — at least in Lawrence — is because it’s a rarity for the team to drop a home game. Kansas coach Bill Self is 200-9 in his Kansas career at Allen Fieldhouse, a mark Greenberg said was hard to contemplate by itself.
To go into each home game assuming a win will follow puts a greater emphasis on road and neutral site games, where Kansas and Kentucky have been vulnerable — a total of eight times to be exact.
But for any team, winning at home certainly isn’t a given. GameDay analyst and former Duke Blue Devils big man Jay Bilas said no crowd — no matter how great — leads a team to 200-9, although he did say when it comes to Allen Fieldhouse, there isn't a better atmosphere in college basketball.
“I think Allen Fieldhouse has a soul,” Bilas said. “It’s one of those places like Fenway or St. Andrews […] There is nowhere better than this.”
Meanwhile, Self has a little bit of a different take on his home record. He recognizes the obvious impressiveness and unlikeliness of its nature and is pleased with the success he’s had in the building. However, he understands there’s always a different perspective to look at things from.
When asked what he would’ve said if someone told him he’d start his Kansas career 200-9 at home, Self quipped back with a smile on his face.
“I know what fans would’ve said. Why the hell did you lose nine?”
For Kansas, 200-9 and 11-straight represent two of the most impressive marks in the history of college basketball. However, what might be even more impressive is the history of the sport itself, and how it always seems to trace back to one place.
“The game’s history comes through Lawrence. Every road in the game leads here — every single road,” Jay Bilas said. “Rupp played here. Dean Smith played here. Phog Allen coached here. Naismith was the first coach; he invented the game.”
“There’s no place like home” often seems like the most obvious cliché to throw out, especially when it comes to anything that takes place in the state of Kansas. But with basketball, it’s somewhat valid.
The roots of several powerhouse programs, along with the roots of the sport itself, trace back to Lawrence. And that’s one of the reasons why Saturday’s showdown between the two winningest teams in college basketball history in the “Mecca of college basketball” will certainly have the attention of the sports world.