If you're a fan of one of the eight Big 12 men's basketball teams trailing Missouri and Kansas in the league standings and fighting and clawing for position, better postseason seeding and overall program respectability, you're not going to like what I am about to say.
Heading into this weekend's slate of Big 12 games, there are only 25 games remaining to be played in the regular season, but only one, possibly two, of those are of any real consequence. I'm speaking, of course, about the rematch a week from Saturday between Missouri and Kansas. Barring a fully unexpected total collapse, the only game the Jayhawks or Tigers are going to lose between now and the final weekend of the regular season is whoever comes out of 2012 Border Showdown II on the short end of the score.
There will still be two games remaining on the schedule for both teams following the 267th and perhaps final meeting between these two longtime bordering-state rivals, but the game on Feb. 25 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence will virtually set up as a winner-take-all affair, with the winner all but assured of claiming the 2012 conference crown. If Missouri is the winner, it will be the Tigers' first Big 12 regular-season title in their final season in the conference, a fitting farewell for the country's current third-ranked team. A KU victory, on the other hand, would give the Jayhawks eight consecutive Big 12 regular-season championships.
The only other contest that could have a major bearing on how things ultimately shake out in the conference standings is the game this coming Monday night in Columbia between Mizzou and Kansas State, the only team to defeat MU this season other than Oklahoma State. The Tigers totally throttled Oklahoma State when those two got together on Wednesday for the second time. With K-State facing a similar scenario when the Wildcats visit Mizzou Arena on Monday, I don't expect much of a letdown or much mercy to be extended by the MU offensive machine. The Tigers are the seventh best shooting team in the country, and with the home crowd behind them, they are even more lethal.
Missouri could still lose to Kansas State at home, something coach Frank Haith's bunch hasn't done all season, and still win the Big 12 by defeating Kansas and completing the season sweep over the Jayhawks, a feat Missouri hasn't achieved since 1994. But the Tigers would not be able to recover from a second upset loss to Kansas State.
The first six teams in the conference standings at the end of the regular season receive first-round byes in the Big 12 Basketball Championship. . Right now, the four, in addition to 11-2 KU and MU, who should finish in the upper half of the conference are Baylor (9-4), Iowa State (8-5), Texas (7-6) and K-State (6-7). Oklahoma State, at 5-8, could still slip in, but that scenario would more likely displace Kansas State, given the Cats' tough finishing schedule.
Now that I have pretty much discounted all of this Saturday's Big 12 games, here is whom I'm picking to prevail in each contest:
Missouri @ Texas A&M
Missouri beat Texas A&M like a drum a month ago in Columbia, winning by 19. The venue switches to College Station this time, but the outcome won't be much different. A&M tends to be very impatient on offense, and Mizzou will make the Aggies pay for any and all mistakes on offense. The Tigers have too many offensive weapons, making it difficult and dangerous to concentrate on any one player defensively. This is a road game, so Mizzou probably won't run A&M out of the arena, but it should add up to a relatively comfortable win when the final buzzer sounds. Missouri 72, Texas A&M 59
Texas Tech @ Kansas
This has to be the biggest mismatch of the weekend. Kansas won by 35 in Lubbock. This won't be a pretty game to witness. Everyone in Lawrence is thinking ahead to next weekend when Mighty Mizzou comes roaring into town, but that hardly will help Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are not a very good basketball team, and they have won only one of 11 games away from home. I realize that stranger things have happened, but trust me, there is no way Tech can win this game at Allen Fieldhouse. The crowd alone is worth a 10-point advantage to Kansas, and it will only get worse from there.
Kansas 85, Texas Tech 58
Kansas State @ Baylor
Earlier in the season, I would have given Kansas State the edge in this game. The Wildcats are suffering from schizophrenia right now. When they are playing well, they are a very good team, but when they aren't playing well, which has been the case lately, they can be very bad. I'm just not sure which K-State team is going to show up on Saturday in Waco. Baylor has been having its troubles the last several weeks, as well. The Bears still have only suffered four losses on the season (all at the hands of co-conference leaders Missouri and Kansas). I think K-State is a gritty, hard-nosed team, a reflection of their coach, but Baylor is able to put more talent and natural ability on the floor. In this one, I'm going with talent over true grit. Baylor 68, Kansas State 59
Oklahoma @ Iowa State
I didn't think the Sooners would beat a much-improved Iowa State team a couple of weeks ago when they met in Norman, and they didn't. I don't see any way OU, as inconsistent as this Sooner team has been on both ends of the floor, can go into Hilton Coliseum and pull off an upset. I'm not sure this would happen even if Oklahoma were to play its best game of the season. The Cyclones are a good shooting team, and the times I have seen them this year, they are even better shooting from the perimeter than they are inside. Royce White and Co. will hang conference loss No. 11 on the Sooners.
Iowa State 78, Oklahoma 66
Texas @ Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State is coming off a resounding defeat at Missouri. The Cowboys will have the help of the home crowd at Gallagher-Iba Arena on Saturday, but if they don't play better than they did at Missouri, I'm not sure the home court will help. Both teams are very young and tend to be very streaky on the offensive end. The last couple of games, Texas has been somewhat lethargic in the opening half, but they have exploded out of the gate at the start of the second half. Kansas State led the Longhorns by 13 at the half last weekend, and Oklahoma was up by five at the break earlier this week. If the Horns are behind at the half against OSU, third time may not be charm. I'm picking OSU in an upset. Oklahoma State 66, Texas 62