It was just one step, but it was a big step. Last night's win at Baylor represented a victory in one of the two more challenging road trips left on the Jayhawk schedule. The other would of course be the upcoming Big Monday matchup against Kansas State in Manhattan.
On the heels of a loss to Missouri which seemed to put the Jayhawks in a precarious position, Kansas responded by completing the sweep of one of the two teams currently in competition with the Jayhawks for the Big 12 crown. Now Kansas plays host to Oklahoma State on Saturday before heading into a stretch run that includes that road trip to Kansas State, a return trip by the Tigers to Lawrence and a pair of interesting road matchups against Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.
The fact of the matter is that the Jayhawks had the good fortune early on in conference play of having an easier draw. The schedule was front loaded so Kansas jumped out to an early lead in the league race while Baylor and Missouri did a very solid job of managing what was probably a more difficult path in the early going. That meant that Missouri's win over Kansas, who had just recently lost to Iowa State, was a big one.
With the Tigers and Jayhawks even after last Saturday's matchup it was pretty easy to point to the Jayhawks next game against Baylor as a big one. Lose that one and Kansas faced an almost must win in Manhattan and they couldn't afford another slip up if they wanted to keep pace with Missouri.
With a dominating win in Waco it makes this one look like a two team race. Baylor heads to Columbia on Saturday and the Tigers are very difficult to beat at home. Assuming a win for Missouri and the Bears fall to four losses while Kansas and Missouri both sit with just two. At that point we're talking about these two teams just needing to handle business and the pieces are in place for a huge finale to the Border War in Lawrence.
The crazy thing in all of this is that there are still seven games to go in league play for both teams. With a full round robin the league race is extended by two games and perhaps we've yet to see what that grind will do to the contenders down the stretch.
For Kansas it's a schedule consisting of four home games including Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas and the big one against Missouri. The Jayhawks will still go on the road to Manhattan, Stillwater and College Station. All manageable games but the Wildcats will be ready for Kansas and Stillwater has been a stumbling block on more than once occasion for Bill Self.
For Missouri's part they host Baylor on Saturday as mentioned. The Tigers also have home games against Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Iowa State. On the road the Tigers will face Kansas Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Barring an upset at home, which doesn't seem likely with this Missouri team, it could come down to the game in Lawrence if Missouri wants to win the league outright.
For Kansas it's far from an easy path, but last night was the first big hurdle and one that Bill Self and his Jayhawks managed to clear with relative ease.