The 5th-ranked Missouri Tigers will travel to Waco this weekend to take on the 3rd-ranked Baylor Bears in a top five matchup that not too many people foresaw at the beginning of the year.
Both teams come in with identical 17-1 (4-1) records and sit tied for second place in the Big 12, one game behind Kansas and its 5-0 conference record.
Even though Missouri fans shouldn't be OK with a loss on Saturday, this is no doubt one of Missouri's toughest two games of the year (the other being at Kansas), for two main reasons.
Firstly, it is very, very hard to win on the road in college basketball, a fact that has become more and more clear as the season has rolled on. So far on the road this year, the Tigers have stayed close with Old Dominion, lost big to Kansas State and went down to the wire against Iowa State. Even though Waco isn't known for a raucous atmosphere, none of those previous teams have the same kind of talent Baylor does, so this figures to be Missouri's toughest road game yet.
For whatever reason, Phil Pressey goes a little crazy with the ball on the road and Michael Dixon can't seem to score when away from Mizzou Arena. Things like that happen all the time to college basketball teams on the road, so don't be surprised by a weird game tomorrow.
The other reason this game will be tough for the Tigers is the fact that they will be severely mismatched in the post and on the boards. Baylor has 4 forwards in their rotation that are 6-9 or taller, including one of the more exciting players in the nation, Perry Jones III, and one of the best freshman in the nation, Quincy Miller.
Sure, Missouri has faced tough rebounding teams this year and performed admirably in some of those games, but Baylor's length will give Missouri's guards a tough time because of the zone defense that they run. Their players can cover the whole court with not too much effort, making it hard for Phil Pressey to drive the lane and finish at the rim.
Whenever Missouri has faced a team that runs a zone for a part of the game, they go into a bit of a shell on offense and just waste time passing it around the perimeter. They have shown improvement in this regard in the past couple of weeks, but they are still certainly weaker against zone defenses. The fact that Baylor primarily runs a zone defense will be tough for Missouri to attack, but the good news is that Kansas created a blueprint in their 92-74 win over the Bears on Monday.
While this matchup looks tough for Mizzou (maybe the toughest game of the year), there is still a possibility of a win. That would mean that Missouri would have sole possession of second place in the Big 12 and have control of their own destiny in upcoming matchups against Kansas. That is the dream scenario.
The thing with this weekend's game, though, is that a win isn't necessary for Missouri to still have a chance at the conference crown.
A loss would mean that the Tigers would have two conference losses in a league where a 14-4 record might win the conference outright. There is still room to slip up in an 18-game conference schedule, and Kansas and Baylor both figure to do that at some point in the next couple of months.
Obviously, a win would go a long ways in distancing themselves from Baylor and keeping pace with Kansas, but the Jayhawks still have a ton of tough road games left, so they aren't running away from the pack any time soon.
All Missouri needs to do is hold serve on its home court, something they have done very well in the past couple of seasons, and avoid an upset loss on the road to a team like Texas or Oklahoma.