LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 16: Thomas Robinson #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks and Perry Jones III #1 of the Baylor Bears box out during the game on January 16, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
With a number of upset losses in the Big 12 in recent weeks, the conference title is up for grabs. Who will claim the title and how will they do it?
If you thought things in the Big 12 were starting to follow a certain order and the conference was becoming predictable again, the last two weeks of games have probably killed that notion.
Missouri, Baylor and Kansas have traded places as the dominant team in the conference for the all of the first couple months of the season, but especially in the last few week. With all this juggling at the top of the conference, who will come out on top?
How they got here
Baylor roared out to an impressive 17-0 start and was ranked as high as third in the nation as recently as two weeks ago. They were looking athletic and deep in sprinting out to an early lead in conference play. Then, they lost two straight games to Kansas and Missouri and started looking like a team that was just a tier below the two bitter rivals.
Missouri seized control of the conference because they were able to steal a road win against Baylor a week and a half ago. They were ranked second in last week's national polls and everything seemed to be going the Tigers' way.
Then they went to play Oklahoma State in Stillwater and proved that it is tough to win on the road, no matter the opponent. That loss put the Tigers securely behind the Jayhawks of Kansas and right back in a tie with the Bears of Baylor.
With two games of cushion between them and their nearest competitors, it looked like the Kansas Jayhawks were in good position to coast to another Big 12 crown with little pressure from the other nine teams in the conference.
Then Kansas was beaten by Iowa State on the road two days ago and we are back where we were just a week and a half ago with Kansas holding a one-game lead on both Baylor and Missouri.
Where do things go from here?
Besides Texas Tech, who is on an 8-game losing streak (0-8 in the conference), no team has a winning or losing streak that is longer than two games. In fact, Baylor is the only team currently with a two-game streak. The remaining eight Big 12 teams are 1-1 in their last two games.
That means that no one team is currently on a hot streak and no one other than Texas Tech will be an easy win in the conference. With 10 games left in everyone's conference schedule, it would be foolish to say that one team has a noted edge against any of the other at the top of the conference.
Still, we can be fairly certain that either Kansas, Baylor or Missouri will be the champions of the Big 12 when the regular season ends because their full bodies of work are far and above anyone else in the conference.
Let's plot out the games between these three that will decide the race.
Kansas at Missouri (Feb 4)
Columbia will be rocking for the last scheduled matchup between these two bitter rivals. College Gameday will be in town for its weekly show and Missouri fans have had this game circled on their schedule since that announcement was made. Some say that the Tigers have a big disadvantage because they will have to guard Thomas Robinson down low and they clearly have a height deficiency, but that didn't stop them against Baylor.
Also, Kansas has proven that they are not invincible on the road and you have to figure that the crowd at Mizzou Arena will force the turnover-prone Tyshawn Taylor (3.7 turnovers per game) to be careless with the ball.
Kansas at Baylor (Feb 8)
Baylor has proved to be a good team at home, but with its bad loss to Kansas already this season and their performance against Missouri at home earlier this year, I'm guessing that the Jayhawks will actually be favored in this game. Baylor got a nice home win against a tough Texas team this weekend, but Kansas will probably be able to match up with them much better than the 13-8 Longhorns.
Baylor at Missouri (Feb 11)
Missouri gets a lucky draw with this game because Baylor will be coming off a game against a physical Kansas team only three days earlier and the Tigers have owned Mizzou Arena in the last four years (only three losses in that time, two of which were to Kansas). The Tigers had their offense rolling against Baylor's zone defense in the last game and were able to feed Ricardo Ratliffe with relative ease with good cuts through the defense.
What used to be thought of as a bad matchup for the Tigers looks like one of the best matchups in these four key games. If Baylor decides to take away Ratliffe, the zone defense will allow for a lot of threes, which Missouri is pretty good at knocking down.
Missouri at Kansas (Feb 25)
As you can see, three of these four games are within the next two weekends, so things should be more sorted out by that point (or they could all beat each other up and we would be right where we are now). This one, toward the end of the conference slate, could have huge implications, especially if Missouri wins the two games listed above.
Allen Fieldhouse has been a house of horrors for the Tigers in recent years, no matter how highly they were ranked going into the game. I can't expect that they will buck that trend this year, even with their top 5 ranking. Can't bet against a streak, and the Jayhawks have a long one.
So these results put the race back to just Kansas and Missouri, with the Tigers needing to make up a game in the standings on the Jayhawks in the other seven games left in the conference slate. It should be one of the best conference races in the nation and one of the best in recent Big 12 memory.
Missouri starts the home stretch of the season with a tough road test against the Texas Longhorns tonight at 8 p.m. on ESPN. Kansas gets an improving Oklahoma team at home on Wednesday at 8 p.m., scheduled to be aired on ESPNU.