What we probably knew all along has come to pass. The Big 12 men's basketball race has come down to a two-team affair. With seven games to go in the regular season, Kansas and Missouri are deadlocked with identical 9-2 records, with the tiebreaker likely set for two Saturdays from now when the Border Showdown Part II resumes in Lawrence, Kan.
We probably shouldn't count out Baylor and Iowa State just yet, although the chance of one or either to supplant the Jayhawks or Tigers from the top perch are fast slipping away. Baylor has a great shot to get right back in the thick of things if the Bears are able to upset Missouri on Saturday in Columbia. The problem is, 13 other teams have gone into Mizzou Arena this season with the same goal, only to come out on the losing end of the score, including co-leader Kansas last weekend.
After the Missouri game, Baylor will have completed its season against both KU and MU, and a loss by the Bears will mean that the two conference co-leaders will have completed the series sweep against Baylor, handing the Bears their four conference losses on the season. With no games left with Kansas or Missouri and a two-game deficit to make up against one or both, Baylor would have to count on other teams to get back in the race.
Iowa State is having a terrific year, compared with past seasons, but is two games back of the leaders going into Saturday's schedule. The Cyclones split the season series with the Jayhawks, but they still have a game remaining against the Tigers (MU won the first game at Iowa State). Unfortunately, that contest will be played at Missouri, where the Tigers are virtually unbeatable. Iowa State and Baylor tangle on Monday at Baylor. Thre loser of that game will be all but mathematically eliminated from contention.
Both Kansas and Missouri have a game left to play with Kansas State, and for the Jayhawks, that matchup comes up this coming Monday in Manhattan. This could be a giant trap game for Sunflower rival Kansas. The Wildcats will be looking for a measure of revenge and respect from the 18-point drubbing they suffered at Allen Fieldhouse in early January. The Jayhawks have only lost 2 of the 23 games they have played at The Octagon of Doom, Bramlage Coliseum, but those two losses have come in the last four seasons.
Missouri also has a game left with Kansas State, to whom the Tigers lost in their conference opener this year. Unlike Kansas, however, Missouri's rematch with K-State will be on the Tigers' home court. Advantage Tigers.
After meeting Kansas State on Monday, Missouri will be the only team with a winning record right now left on Kansas' regular-season schedule. The Tigers still have Baylor and Kansas State ahead before for they travel to Lawrence. The Tigers will close out the regular season at home against Iowa State and then on the road at last-place Texas Tech. Kansas' final two games are against Oklahoma State in Stillwater and Texas at Allen Fieldhouse in the season finale.
It's all funneling down to the Kansas-Missouri rematch on Feb. 25. If things continue as they are, it will be the game of the year in Big 12 men's basketball.
But first things first. What about the games this weekend? Here are my game predictions:
Baylor @ Missouri
Baylor is reeling after climbing all the way to No. 4 in the country several weeks ago. The Bears travel to No. 4-ranked Missouri on the heels of a thorough beating on their home court vs. Kansas, and they didn't look like the top-ten team that they are in their two outings before that. Missouri didn't play particular well in its last game either, barely getting by less-talented Oklahoma, but that might have been understandable given the Tigers' highly emotional, hard-fought victory over archrival Kansas last weekend. Missouri will bounce back on Saturday and look like the team we've seen all season. Baylor will be fortunate to be able to stay in the game. Missouri 84, Baylor 68
Kansas State @ Texas
Texas is 3-2 in its last five games, but that includes a win over Iowa State and a one-point loss to Missouri, both in Austin. The Longhorns are starting to come together a little better with a lineup full of freshman, and they always play well on their home court at the Frank Erwin Center. These two teams met less than a month ago in Manhattan, where the Wildcats pulled out a four-point win. Kansas State has not been playing well, and Tuesday's win at home over Texas Tech, although relatively easy, was perhaps the Wildcats' worst played game of the year. If they play that poorly at Texas, it will result in a runaway for UT. I think we will see a more spirited and better shooting performance from K-State on Saturday, but they will still fall short and suffer their sixth league loss. Texas 71, Kansas State 65
Oklahoma State @ Kansas
Oklahoma State is a very young team, but they have been playing well lately and climbed to within one game of the .500 level with a giant win over Iowa State this week. But none of that will matter, because the Cowboys will be about as outmanned and out-talented when they go to Allen Fieldhouse to face the No. 7-ranked Jayhawks (AP poll) on Saturday as any team has been this season. Kansas is averaging 75 points a game, nine more per game than the Cowboys' average, and that margin most likely will widen with the Jayhawks playing this one at home. KU's Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor both are in the top five in the league in scoring, and it's doubtful OSU's defense will have much success slowing down one of both of the Jayhawks' stars, especially in front of the home folks. Kansas 83, Oklahoma State 68
Texas A&M @ Iowa State
Texas A&M is not the team we thought it would be to start the season. On the other hand, coach Fred Hoiberg has his alma mater firing on all cylinders right now. His four highly-touted transfers who sat out last season have come through in spades this season, led by the talented junior transfer from Minnesota, Royce White. And like most teams in the Big 12, the Cyclones do an excellent job of protecting their home court, where they have won 12 of 14 games this season (Missouri is the only Big 12 school that has won their this year). The Cyclones will be happy to get back home after a two-game Oklahoma road swing, where they split two games. Texas A&M and Texas Tech are the only two Big 12 teams that have not won a league game on the road. Iowa State will add to A&M's 0-5 league mark away from home and post the Cyclones' eighth conference win. Iowa State 70, Texas A&M 61
Oklahoma @ Texas Tech
Texas Tech has Oklahoma and Texas A&M at home over the next two games. I've got a feeling the Red Raiders will win one of these games, but only one, and it won't be against Oklahoma. The Sooners' are actually playing pretty well, despite their record (13-10 for the season and 3-8 in the Big 12). OU beat Tech in the game played in Norman, but only by nine points and most of that margin came late. The Red Raiders have yet to win a league game, and part of the reason is they are dead last in the conference in rebounding and turnover margin, and next to last in assists, and they are not that good a shooting team, either. That doesn't leave much margin for error, especially against the better teams in the conference, of which there are nine to this point, including the Sooners. Oklahoma 69, Texas Tech 64
For more information: