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February 2, 2007
Big 12 Breakdown: Big 12 elite face off
Best matchup: If 10th-ranked Texas A&M (18-3, 6-1) plays as well as it did in its most recent trip to Lawrence, the Aggies' game against Kansas (19-3, 6-1) could be a classic. Two years ago in their first season under coach Billy Gillispie - a former assistant to Kansas coach Bill Self at Tulsa and Illinois - the Aggies lost 65-60 in a hard-fought contest which was tied in the final minute. With at least a share of the lead in the Big 12 standings at stake, there is every reason to believe this game will be equally intense. The Aggies lead the Big 12 in scoring defense (59.1 ppg in conference play) while Kansas (79.1) trails only Texas in scoring offense. The Jayhawks lead the Big 12 in field goal percentage at 49.1, while A&M allows opponents to shoot just 37.1 percent - also the best in the conference. Kansas is the only team in the Big 12 that Texas A&M has never beaten. However, Texas A&M has never been this good.
Worst matchup: Disciplinary action and injuries have depleted Oklahoma State's roster, and its lack of depth could pose a problem in the high altitude of Colorado. But that should be the only problem the No. 12 Cowboys (18-3, 4-2) have against Colorado (5-13, 1-7). The Buffaloes have lost seven of their last eight - their last four by an average margin of 17.5 points. Colorado is the Big 12's worst defensive team, allowing 80.8 points per game for the season. That should whet the appetites of Oklahoma State's Mario Boggan (20.8 points per game) and JamesOn Curry (18.5 points per game), who both rank among the Big 12's top four scorers.
The pressure is on: Oklahoma has been included in the NCAA Tournament field in 11 of the past 12 seasons, but the Sooners desperately need to enhance their résumé to get in this year. Oklahoma (12-8, 3-4) has played well in consecutive losses at Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, but the fact remains the Sooners have to notch a victory over a ranked team. Texas Tech (15-7, 4-3) isn't ranked, but a win over the Red Raiders would be OU's most impressive. Although a No. 87 RPI ranking won't impress many, the Sooners have plenty of chances to improve their status with upcoming games against Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Texas and Kansas. However, they'd better start posting some big victories or they may have to settle for the NIT.
Upset alert: Considering Baylor (12-9, 2-6) has a better overall record than Iowa State (11-10, 2-5) it might seem questionable to suggest a Bears' victory would qualify as an upset. But the Bears have lost 21 consecutive road games since winning 73-72 at Purdue on Dec. 30, 2004. This might be their best chance to end that streak. The Bears are 0-5 on the road this season, and they still travel to Missouri (13-7, 2-5), Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Iowa State is 9-3 at Hilton Coliseum, typically one of the toughest venues for visitors in the Big 12. One of the Cyclones' home losses was in overtime to Kansas, 68-64.
Who's hot: The Kansas State Wildcats (16-6, 5-2) have notched six consecutive victories since falling at Texas Tech on Jan. 8. The streak, which has allowed the Wildcats to climb into fourth place in the Big 12 standings, includes road wins at Missouri and Iowa State and a 16-point victory against Nebraska. Junior David Hoskins and senior Cartier Martin have both averaged 17.3 points during that stretch.
Who's not: While mired in a five-game losing streak, Iowa State has shot less than 40 percent from the field four times. The Cyclones were held to a season-low 30.9 percent from the field and committed 21 turnovers in a 73-49 loss to Texas A&M. The Big 12's worst shooting team with a 37.5 field goal percentage in conference play, Iowa State has converted just 35.5 percent (104 of 293) in its last five games.
Must-see TV: A clash of conference leaders (Kansas vs. Texas A&M) is the obvious choice here. That said, Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma might be the one to watch for pure drama. The Red Raiders aim to bounce back after a 76-64 loss to Texas. Oklahoma hopes to halt a two-game conference losing skid. Yet, that storyline - as well as the young coach (OU's Jeff Capel) vs. grizzled veteran (Tech's Bob Knight) angle - isn't as compelling as the Longar Longar factor. Longar, OU's 6-foot-11 center who averages 11.3 points, drew criticism from Knight and a two-game suspension from the Big 12 for an elbow incident in which Tech's Esmir Rizvic suffered a fractured eye socket last month. Longar managed only two points in the first game against Texas Tech, but may have additional motivation this time. Of course, the Red Raiders likely will be additionally motivated to shut him down again, too.
Key stat: Kansas is 31-0 against teams from the Big 12 South Division in Allen Fieldhouse.
Bench bonus: Kansas State's Martin has been in the starting lineup in 13 of the Wildcats' 22 games, but has been exceptional coming off the bench in the last five. He has averaged 17.8 points and 7.0 rebounds in that stretch. Martin had 22 points and 11 rebounds in an 80-73 victory over Missouri on Wednesday. He's 22 of 22 from the free-throw line since coming off the bench.
They said it: "There's a lot of hype (for) this game, but we're going to keep our eye on the prize, and that's getting a win. This game could pretty much seal the deal as far as who wins the conference." -- Kansas guard Brandon Rush on Saturday's game against Texas A&M
Injury update: Texas forward Kevin Durant (twisted ankle) isn't expecting to miss any action. Oklahoma State freshman Obi Muonelo had a cast removed from his ankle, and the Cowboys are hopeful he may be able to play in late February or early March. Kansas State's Cartier (sore knee) won't miss any playing time.
Worth noting: Texas A&M's Joseph Jones scored more points (19) in the first half of Wednesday's victory over Iowa State than he had in any game this season. Jones finished with 21 points. Baylor is 10-1 when leading at halftime. Iowa State, which is at home against Baylor on Saturday, has never lost to the Bears in six games at Ames. Baylor's Aaron Bruce has scored 44 points in his last two games and has reached double figures in scoring in five of the last six games. Colorado has been led in scoring by a freshman or sophomore in four of its last five games. Sixteen of Kansas' 19 wins have been by 10 points or more. Ten of those wins have been by 20 points or more. Missouri junior Stefhon Hannah equaled his career high with 27 points against Kansas State on Wednesday. He is averaging 18.7 points and shooting 54.8 percent from the field in his last three games. Nebraska junior center Aleks Maric has reached double figures in 16 of the Cornhuskers' 20 games and has hit at least 50 percent of his shots in 15 games. Texas freshman guard D.J. Augustin has 62 assists and only 18 turnovers in Big 12 play. Texas A&M's 18-3 start is the best in school history. The Aggies have won 20 consecutive home games, the second-longest streak in school history. Texas Tech junior Martin Zeno has scored at least 11 points in 16 consecutive games.
Freshman to watch: As amazing as it may seem, Texas' Kevin Durant is getting better. The 6-foot-9 forward has scored at least 30 points in the last eight games and is averaging 33.3 points in Big 12 play. He scored 18 points in the final 11 minutes of Wednesday night's 76-64 victory over Texas Tech and outscored the Red Raiders by himself in the second half, 24-22. By grabbing a career-high 23 rebounds against Tech, he became the first player in Texas or Big 12 history to top 30 points and 20 boards in the same game.
Something you may have missed: Kansas State staged an "'80s Night" promotion for Wednesday night's game against Missouri. Songs from the '80s blared from the Bramlage Coliseum speakers, students dressed like Tom Cruise in "Risky Business" and the Wildcats prevailed 80-73. It was their fifth consecutive conference victory, the first such streak since 1990. If they upset Texas in Austin on Saturday it will mark the first time Kansas State has notched six consecutive conference victories since the 1987-88 season.
RPI watch: Oklahoma State has the highest RPI among Big 12 teams, sitting at No. 11. Kansas is 14th, Texas A&M is 23rd, and Texas Tech is 28th. Texas is in good shape at 43rd, and Kansas State has climbed to 47th with its recent hot streak.