The Big 12 regular season basketball title won't be handed out on Saturday, but a Kansas victory over the visiting Missouri Tigers will ensure that the Jayhawks will do no worse than tie for the conference crown, their eighth in a row.
Saturday afternoon's much-anticipated encounter between these two top-five-rated teams and bitter, longtime rivals could be the final game between Missouri and Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse in a hardwood series that dates back to 1907. Kansas holds a commanding lead in the series (171-95), but more relevant to the game on Saturday, the Tigers have not beaten the Jayhawks in Lawrence since 1999 and have only won twice at Allen Fieldhouse in the past two decades.
There is no question that all the focus this weekend in Big 12 hoops will be on the KU-MU game, but there are four other games on the docket, as well. The best of the rest will be in Manhattan, where Kansas State will try to take down another conference team with a winning record when Iowa State comes calling at Bramlage Coliseum. Texas A&M will be at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma at Baylor and Texas Tech will host archrival Texas.
Here is how I see this weekend's games going in the Big 12:
Missouri @ Kansas
The signature game of the day, if not the season, in the Big 12 will not disappoint. As all of the pre-game build-up and hype suggests, this game will be an all-out war. Missouri's surprise loss to Kansas State earlier in the week may have dulled some of the glitter on this match-up of top-five teams, but believe me, there is still a whole lot to play for on both sides that goes way beyond bragging rights.
Mizzou already has beaten the Jayhawks once this season, so the Tigers are sure to come into the game brimming with confidence and with a chip on their shoulder. KU always plays well at home, and behind 18,000 fiercely loyal fans, it's easy to understand why. The Jayhawks have had trouble closing out some games this year, however, they also have shown a fairly consistent tendency of exploding out close games at halftime into big margins in the opening minutes of the second stanza. This game will be close for a while, but Kansas will use its depth and strength to wear down the smaller Tigers and pull away for a fairly comfortable win. Kansas 78, Missouri 65
Iowa State @ Kansas State
Frank Martin has his team believing in themselves again. Over the past week, the Wildcats have removed any doubts that they belong among the field of 65 for the NCAA Tournament with huge road wins over two teams ranked in the top-ten nationally, Baylor and Missouri. This weekend K-State hosts another of the Big 12's better teams in Iowa State. This could be an interesting matchup.
Momentum is definitely on the Wildcats' side, playing at home and coming off of two impressive wins. But Iowa State has played well on the road this season, winning three of its four league games away from home, and K-State has had several bad outings in front of their home crowd this season. Both teams are on two-game winning streaks. Look for the Wildcats' streak to continue and the Cyclones' to end. Kansas State 66, Iowa State 62
Oklahoma @ Baylor
Baylor has lost three games at home out of 15 played in Waco this season, and all three were against conference opponents. Oklahoma won't be as lucky. Oklahoma is probably the worst team in the conference at allowing teams to go on double-digit scoring runs in the second half of games and, essentially, taking the life out of the Sooners. Baylor had a rough couple of weeks battling against the best in the Big 12, but OU, with only one conference road win, shouldn't pose that big a challenge. The Sooners play good defense and are a good rebounding team, but their offensive game is inconsistent, often firing blanks for extended periods of time. Baylor wins handily. Baylor 80, Oklahoma 67
Texas A&M @ Oklahoma State
Texas A&M has point guard Dash Harris and top-scorer Khris Middleton back in the lineup, but unfortunately for the Big 12 coaches' preseason co-favorite, it's too late in the season to make much difference. The Aggies have been playing much better of late with their two leaders back on the court, but road wins have been elusive all year for this team.
Conversely, OSU is a much different and far better team when it plays at Gallagher-Iba Arena, which is where the Cowboys will be this weekend. Although Oklahoma State may have to go without its super-talented freshman LeBryan Nash, who injured his wrist in the Cowboys Bedlam loss at Oklahoma on Wednesday, I see the Cowboys taking this one at home. Oklahoma State 72, Texas A&M 61
Texas @ Texas Tech
There are several positions in the conference standings that could change between now and the Big 12 Basketball Championship, but one position that is set, no matter what happens over the last week of the regular season, is the league cellar, which is occupied by Texas Tech with just one conference win (over Oklahoma).
And that is all the Red Raiders are likely to get (unless they are somehow able to survive the first round of the Big 12 Tournament). Tech closes out the season with the game Saturday against Texas, followed by Baylor in Waco and Missouri at home. Suffice it to say that the Red Raiders have no chance Saturday, nor in either of their final two games.Texas 78, Texas Tech 59