Even though they started out 14-0 and got as high as fifth in the rankings before this Monday, the Missouri Tigers didn't really make a huge national statement until their 89-88 road win over No. 3 Baylor on Saturday.
Missouri caught the attention of a ton of national pundits after their performance in Waco last weekend because they proved they could win on the road against a team with a lot of size. After that showing on Saturday, they are making people stop and think if they could really win the Big 12 this season.
With the win, the No. 2 Tigers put themselves solidly in front of Baylor for second place in the conference, only one game behind Kansas for the conference lead. So, with 12 games left in the regular season, can Missouri edge out its competition* for its first conference regular title since the 14-0 season of 1993-1994?
*For the purposes of this article, we'll just compare Kansas and Missouri the rest of the way to see which team is most likely to come out on top.
In order to project what both teams might do the rest of the regular season, you must first look at who is left on the schedule for both teams.
The Tigers have already played three of their toughest five road games (Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State) whereas Kansas has only played one of the top five opponents (Texas) in the Big 12 on the road.
Even though they are one game behind the Jayhawks, Missouri is in pretty nice control of their own destiny, especially if they can beat Kansas at home on Feb. 4. Kansas is due to slip up on the road against a tougher team such as Iowa State, Kansas State or Baylor, as they usually do in Big 12 play.
Missouri only really has two challenging road games left, one against Texas and one against Kansas. The Jayhawks were able to come away with a road win against the Longhorns, and the Tigers have already beaten Texas at home. It won't be easy, but Missouri should be favored in that game. The game at Allen Fieldhouse will be a different issue, but as the Tigers proved on Saturday, they can win against any team in any environment.
Yes, Missouri has some tougher home games left on the schedule (Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State), but Mizzou Arena has been very, very kind to the Tigers in the past few years and they should also be favored in all of those games.
If Missouri can take advantage of the easier schedule the rest of the way, they should be able to at least claim a share of the Big 12 regular season title.
Even though they are undefeated so far in Big 12 play, Kansas continues to show some chinks in their armor. Tyshawn Taylor still turns the ball over too much (almost four per game) and the Jayhawks probably rely on him too much to get points when the offense is running dry. Kansas has a lot of depth, but they don't have many players other than Taylor and Robinson that can take over a game. Their defense is strong, but the offense has been inconsistent as has their guard play.
Missouri is not perfect, but they do have an unbelievable amount of confidence and quickness at this point in the season. They aren't blowing everyone out of the water in the Big 12, but no one (besides Kansas State) has even come close to being able to figure out how to stop them on offense.
Missouri has a style and they have embraced it and got the most out of it. Kansas is strong in the post, but they don't get consistent play from everyone else on the team, leading to an offense that is more likely to score in the 60's than Missouri's offense. The Tigers are far more consistent, which should lead you to believe that they are more likely to win more games than Kansas from here on out.
All of these points show that the No. 2 Tigers should be favored to win the conference. A lot of things will be hashed out in the first meeting between the two teams in Columbia on Feb. 4, but this is sure to be a great race the rest of the way.
Get excited for what will be the last, and maybe the most exciting, conference race between these two storied rivals.
Missouri gets back on the court tonight, staying on the road to face Oklahoma State (9-10, 2-4 Big 12). Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2.