February 9, 2007

Big 12 Breakdown: A heavyweight rematch

Weekly Big 12 Update
Team Conf. Overall
Texas A&M 8-1 20-3
Kansas 7-2 20-4
Kansas State 6-3 17-7
Texas 6-3 16-7
Oklahoma 5-4 14-8
Oklahoma State 4-4 18-5
Texas Tech 4-5 15-9
Nebraska 3-5 14-8
Missouri 3-6 14-8
Iowa State 3-6 12-11
Baylor 2-7 12-10
Colorado 2-7 6-13
Standings as of 2/8

Best matchup: Texas (16-7, 6-3) and Oklahoma State (18-5, 4-4) are both in mini-slumps, having lost their last two games. However, the last time they hooked up it was a classic. The Cowboys prevailed 105-103 in triple overtime on Jan. 16. Texas freshman Kevin Durant and Oklahoma State's Mario Boggan each scored 37 points in that marathon. Boggan's 3-pointer gave the Cowboys the lead with 3.2 seconds remaining. Here's hoping the rematch on Monday night comes close to being just as exciting.

Worst matchup: Baylor (12-10, 2-7) has lost five of its last six. Oklahoma (14-8, 5-4) has won three in a row. Those respective streaks aren't the main reason the Sooners figure to be one-sided winners in the Ferrell Center. OU blasted Baylor 91-51 in Norman three weeks ago, and the defense-deficient Bears allowed at least 82 points in three of the next four games. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has posted back-to-back wins over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. A note to the Bears: Don't foul OU's Nate Carter, who has hit 48 of his last 51 free-throw attempts. Carter had 22 points in the first game against Baylor.

The pressure is on: No Big 12 team has received an NCAA Tournament invitation without a winning record in conference play. That historical note may cause angst in Lubbock, because Texas Tech (15-9) will be lucky to break even. A stunning, last-second 61-59 loss to Nebraska extended the Red Raiders' losing steak to four and dropped their conference record to 4-5. Tech faces back-to-back road games against No. 17 Oklahoma State and No. 6 Texas A&M, and still must play at Texas. Coach Bob Knight hasn't missed the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons since he was at Army, but the Raiders could be facing March sadness for the second year in a row.

Upset alert: Texas A&M (20-3, 8-1) is riding high after becoming the first South Division team to win at Kansas and then blasting rival Texas. The Aggies might just ride that momentum to the Big 12 championship. However, Saturday's trip to Nebraska looks like a trap. Sandwiched between emotional games against Texas and Texas Tech (on Feb. 13), it's not a stretch to think the Aggies might not be as focused for a frigid trip to Lincoln. A&M's three losses have been on the road, and Nebraska (14-8, 3-5) isn't bad - especially at home, where the Huskers are 9-2.

Who's hot: Texas A&M point guard Acie Law followed up a magnificent performance against Kansas with a 21-point, 15-assist performance in a 100-82 victory over Texas. Law has averaged 19 points, 9.0 assists and just two turnovers over the last four games. Not coincidentally, A&M has a four-game winning streak.

Who's not: After a 15-1 start, the Oklahoma State Cowboys are a pedestrian 3-4 and mired in a two-game losing skid. Just two games? That might not seem like cause for alarm except that one of those losses was 89-77 to Colorado (6-13, 2-7), the weakest team in the Big 12. The Cowboys then converted just five of 14 free throws in a 67-60 loss to Oklahoma. Oklahoma State ranks second in the Big 12 with a 73.1 free-throw percentage.

Must see TV: Forget the disparity in wins and losses. It doesn't matter that Kansas (20-4, 7-2) is second in the Big 12 and Missouri (14-8, 3-6) is tied for ninth. When these border rivals collide it's usually a tightly contested game. A prime example occurred on Jan. 15 when the Jayhawks outlasted the Tigers 80-77 at Allen Fieldhouse. This time Missouri has the home-court advantage. The Tigers have good scorers in Stefhon Hannah (15.4 points per game) and Marshall Brown (11.0). Kansas counters with Brandon Rush (15.9 ppg. in Big 12 play), a deep bench and the top three players in steals in conference action.

Key stat: With its' 97-70 triumph over Kansas State, Kansas posted its 20th victory and extended its streak of 20-win seasons to 18 consecutive years. KU has recorded at least 20 wins in 23 of the past 24 seasons. Also, Kansas has defeated Kansas State in 33 of their last 34 meetings.

Bench bonus: Texas A&M has won 26 Big 12 games and counting in three seasons with coach Billy Gillispie on its bench. Before Gillispie led the Aggies out of college basketball's wasteland, A&M had managed just 25 conference victories in eight seasons.

They said it: "They're better than we are. They have better players. They're bigger, they're faster, they're longer, they're better shooters. They're just better than we are."

-- Kansas State coach Bob Huggins after a 97-70 loss to Kansas

Injury update: Texas forward Matt Hill (foot) out indefinitely

Worth noting: Texas Tech senior guard Jarrius Jackson now has 2,021 career points, making him only the fourth player in school history to reach the 2,000-point mark. Texas A&M has won its last 21 home games. . Missouri's 77-55 victory at Iowa State marked the Tigers' first win in Ames since 1999. Nebraska guard Charles Richardson has notched 15 assists and just four turnovers in the last three games. Texas forward Kevin Durant has set a Big 12 season record for freshmen with 267 rebounds. Missouri's Arthur Johnson set the previous freshman record with 257 boards in the 2000-01 season. Resurgent Kansas State, which defeated Texas in Austin on Feb. 3, has five road victories and two neutral site victories this season. The Wildcats had managed just 15 victories away from Bramlage Coliseum in the previous seven seasons combined. With an upset over then-No. 12 Oklahoma State, Colorado has posted a home-court victory over a nationally ranked opponent in each of the last five seasons.

Freshman to watch: Maybe we should change this category to freshmen to watch other than Kevin Durant. The Texas star continues to build his case for player of the year honors. He has scored at least 26 points in nine conference games. Last week he had 32 points and nine rebounds in a loss to Kansas State and 28 points and 15 boards in a loss to Texas A&M. We'll also point out that Iowa State's Wesley Johnson is playing pretty well, too. He has averaged 16 points and 6.7 rebounds over the last three games.

Something you may have missed: Kansas State senior Jermaine Maybank scored a career-high 26 points in a 97-70 loss to Kansas. That output exceeded by one point his combined total in the Wildcats' previous 11 games.

RPI watch: Victories over Kansas and Texas vaulted Texas A&M to No. 12 in the RPI rankings. Kansas is now No. 20 and Oklahoma State has dropped to No. 26. Kansas State has gone 7-3 over its last 10 games to move up to No. 39. Texas Tech buoyed by the No. 12 strength of schedule ranking - is No. 43 and Texas is No. 56. Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, Baylor, Colorado and Iowa State are not in the top 70 spots.

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