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March 2, 2007

Big 12 Breakdown: Texas faces stingy Jayhawks

Weekly Big 12 Update
Team Conf. Overall
Kansas 13-2 26-4
Texas A&M 12-3 24-5
Texas 12-3 22-7
Kansas State 9-6 20-10
Texas Tech 8-7 19-11
Missouri 7-8 18-10
Oklahoma State 6-8 20-9
Oklahoma 6-9 15-13
Iowa State 6-9 15-13
Nebraska 5-9 16-12
Baylor 3-12 13-15
Colorado 2-13 6-19
Standings as of 3/1

Best matchup: Kansas (26-4, 13-2) boasts the Big 12's best scoring defense, allowing just 62 points in conference play. The Jayhawks are riding a seven-game winning streak in which they've held opponents to an average of 58.3 points per game. That sets up a compelling matchup with Texas (22-7, 12-3), which is on a six-game winning streak and is averaging 81.5 points per game, tops in the league. Texas freshman Kevin Durant has not scored fewer than 17 points in his 15 previous conference games, and it will be interesting to see how he fares on the road against the Big 12's best defensive team.

Worst matchup: The good news is that Nebraska (16-12, 5-9) and Colorado (6-19, 2-13) tip off before noon, so anyone watching that game won't have to waste the entire day. Only Baylor separates the Cornhuskers and Buffaloes from each other in the Big 12 cellar, and both teams lost to the Bears this season. Nebraska, which has shot under 40 percent from the field its last four games, is just 2-7 on the road this season and has lost three of its last four. Colorado, mired in a six-game losing streak, ranks 11th in Big 12 shooting percentage at 41.5 percent.

The pressure is on: An 84-70 Senior Night victory over Kansas State gave Oklahoma State 20 victories and boosted the Cowboys' falling hopes of getting a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma State (20-9, 6-8) hopes to become the first Big 12 team to reach the NCAAs with a break-even conference record. Maybe the Cowboys could pull that off. But it's unlikely they would get in with a losing record in the Big 12 and they face road games against Baylor and Nebraska.

Upset alert: Oklahoma State hasn't won on the road this season and its already-thin depth became emaciated when leading scorer Mario Boggan was suspended for head-butting Kansas State's Cartier Martin. He will miss Saturday's game against Baylor (13-15, 3-12). The Bears are respectable on their home court, losing by one point to Texas and by four to Oklahoma in their last two games in the Ferrell Center. On Jan. 6 Oklahoma State edged Baylor 81-77 in Stillwater. Boggan scored 26 points.

Who's hot: Texas A&M point guard Acie Law exceeded 30 points in consecutive games against Baylor (31) and Texas (33). He hit clutch 3-pointers to force two overtimes in the loss to the Longhorns. Law shot 52.6 percent from the field and 95 percent (19 of 20) at the foul line in those games. He has averaged 25.4 points over the last five games and in that span he also has dished out 24 assists while committing just 12 turnovers.

Who's not: The Oklahoma Sooners (15-13, 6-9) have gone cold, and guard Michael Neal in particular is shivering. Although the Sooners scared Kansas 67-65 in Norman on Monday that loss was their fifth in a row. The skid includes defeats at Iowa State and Missouri. OU has not scored more than 68 points in that stretch and has been held under 60 three times. Meanwhile, Neal, OU's third-leading scorer, failed to reach double figures in four of those five games and is shooting 29.8 percent (14 of 47) in that span.

Must see TV: Not only does Kansas and Texas match the Big 12's best offense against the best defense, but the conference championship is at stake. A victory gives Kansas the outright conference championship and the top seed in the Big 12 postseason tournament. Texas would get a share of the conference crown and the top seed with a win. However, the Longhorns have never won at Allen Fieldhouse, and the rowdy Jayhawks fans will be enthusiastic about reminding them of that fact.

Key stat: Texas freshman Kevin Durant has scored 30 points or more eight times this season. Prior to this season there were only nine 30-point games by freshmen in the history of the Big 12 Conference.

Bench bonus: Missouri outscored Colorado 39-26 from the bench in a 91-82 victory over the Buffaloes on Wednesday. Keon Lawrence led the Tigers' reserves with 13 points.

They said it: "He's maybe not the best shooter. And maybe he's not the quickest. But at the end of games, damn, he has a way." – An NBA scout on Texas A&M point guard Acie Law

Injury update: Oklahoma State guard Obi Muonelo, who fractured his fibula in mid-December, returned to practice on Monday and could play on Saturday against Baylor. … Texas center Matt Hill (foot) remains out indefinitely.

Worth noting: Missouri's Michael Anderson Jr., son of coach Mike Anderson, was back in the lineup Wednesday night after being suspended for a DUI incident. He did not play. … Nebraska's Aleks Maric has averaged 36 points in the Cornhuskers' last three home games. …Baylor guard Curtis Jerrells has scored in double figures for 10 consecutive games. … Iowa State freshman Wesley Johnson had a career high with 22 points against Nebraska, and he has scored in double figures 21 times. … Kansas has won at least 12 games in conference play in each of the past seven seasons. … Kansas State's Cartier Martin has reached double-digits in 14 consecutive games and 23 overall. He is the sixth player in school history to score at least 1,400 career points. … Texas has posted six consecutive victories over top 10 opponents on its home court. … Texas A&M's 12 conference victories are their most ever in Big 12 play. … Texas Tech senior guard Jarrius Jackson is second on the Red Raiders' all-time scoring list with 2,148 points. He needs 109 points to pass Andre Emmett. … Iowa State (15-14, 6-9) is ninth in the Big 12 standings, but could climb as high as fifth.

Freshman to watch: Naming Durant is just too easy, but that's how he makes playing in the Big 12 appear. Durant scored 30 and 32 points in consecutive victories over Oklahoma and Texas A&M to increase his total of 30-point games this season to eight. He also pulled down 26 rebounds in those two games and shot 54.8 percent from the field (17 of 31), 82.6 percent from the free throw line (19 of 23) and 75 percent from three-point range (9 of 12).

Something you may have missed: One more victory would give Texas Tech (19-11, 8-7) 20 victories for the fifth time in six seasons under coach Bob Knight. Before Knight's arrival, Tech had managed 20 victories just three times in 24 seasons.

RPI watch: An upset of Texas A&M boosted Texas to No. 31. A&M still has the Big 12's highest RPI at No. 15 with Kansas right behind at No. 16. Oklahoma State is in a precarious position at No. 41 and has road games against Baylor and Nebraska remaining. Texas Tech is No. 46 and Kansas State is No. 60. No other Big 12 team is higher than 79th.

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