Kansas coach Bill Self has enhanced his reputation this season, as he has Kansas in the thick of the Big 12 hunt despite losing three starters from the defending national championship team. His Jayhawks are now seeking revenge vs. Missouri for a narrow 62-60 loss in Columbia earlier this year. This will be no cakewalk even in Lawrence though, as the Tigers are ranked ahead of Kansas in all the polls.
The Big 12 Conference isn’t getting a lot of ink this year. The elite basketball programs in Division I are mostly concentrated in the Big East and the ACC, two conferences which also happen to be located in the cradle of American sports media.
But there are three very strong teams out on the prairie – including the defending national champions – and we’ll see all three in action this weekend.
Oklahoma at Texas Tech
Saturday, Feb 28, 3:30 p.m. (ET) ABC
The big musical question for this matchup is what condition Blake Griffin’s condition is in. The Sooners (25-3 SU, 12-10-1 ATS, No. 19 Pomeroy) have had to play the past three halves without the leading Wooden Award candidate, and they have their first two Big 12 losses to show for it. Griffin suffered a concussion in last week’s 73-68 loss to the Texas Longhorns (-1½) and was held out of the next game, Monday’s critical 87-78 defeat that allowed the Kansas Jayhawks (+2) to take the conference lead.
The latest news at press time had Griffin held to the shootaround portion of Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practices and avoiding full-speed drills before the Sooners' team physician cleared the6-10 soph to play early Saturday morning.
When the Red Raiders (12-16 SU, 7-13-1 ATS, No. 108 Pomeroy) visited Norman two weeks ago, Griffin scored 40 points and added 23 rebounds, two assists and a pair of steals in a 95-74 romp. Oklahoma covered as a 16½-point chalk and seemed poised to take over the No. 1 spot in the AP poll until Griffin’s injury.
Sharps will also take note of the extreme difference in Oklahoma’s results home and away. The Sooners have just the one Kansas loss at the Lloyd Noble Center this year, driving the over to a perfect 10-0 record in front of the OU faithful. But on the road, the under is 6-3. Oklahoma also does much better against the betting odds in away games at 5-3-1 ATS, compared to 5-6 ATS at Norman. The Red Raiders are both swift and defensively challenged wherever they play; the over is 7-2-1 in Lubbock and 7-2 away. However, Tech is a brutal 2-8 ATS at the United Spirit Arena compared to 4-5 on the road.
Missouri at Kansas
Sunday, Mar 1, 2:00 p.m. (ET) CBS
The Jayhawks (23-5 SU, 16-5-1 ATS, No. 10 Pomeroy) took advantage of Griffin’s absence in the paint on Monday; center Cole Aldrich had 20 rebounds and four blocks to go with 15 points. But Kansas also thrived on the perimeter. Guards Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor each had 26 points and combined to hit eight of 13 trey attempts, propelling the Jayhawks to the top of the ATS money standings as well as the Big 12. Coach Bill Self’s reputation is growing even stronger now that Kansas is succeeding following the departure of Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur et al in the 2008 NBA Draft.
But the best team in the Big 12 might be the Missouri Tigers (24-4 SU, 13-8 ATS, No. 8 Pomeroy). This is one area where the advanced stats and coaches are in agreement; the Tigers are No. 8 in the ESPN/USA Today poll, although they slip to No. 11 in the AP poll. That’s still four spots ahead of Kansas. Missouri indeed came out ahead 62-60 when these two clubs met in Columbia earlier this month. But it took a major second-half comeback and a Zaire Taylor jumper with 1.3 seconds left on the clock. Kansas got paid as a 5-point road dog.
Memphis vs. Kansas is an intense college rivalry known as the Border War – or, for corporate purposes, the Border Showdown. The military theme is more appropriate. This goes back to the Civil War and the two states being on different sides. This season is the first since 2003 that both teams are in the rankings, as Mike Anderson has rebuilt the club from the ashes of the ousting of Quin Snyder. Kansas won in Lawrence that year and has defended home court ever since. Revenge will be front and center on the Jayhawks’ minds this Sunday.