For the second consecutive Saturday the fourth-ranked Missouri Tigers host an Associated Press Top 10 team with first place in the Big 12 on the line.
The No. 6 Baylor Bears come to Columbia after getting hammered 68-54 Wednesday in Waco by Kansas, last-minute losers to Missouri a week ago. MU and KU, both 9-2 in conference play, are tied for the Big 12 lead. Baylor (8-3) trails by a game, having lost twice to KU and at home to MU, 89-88, on Jan. 21, another marquee national telecast when the Bears were ranked third and the Tigers fifth in the polls.
Scott Drew’s squad does have road wins over Kansas State (75-73) and Oklahoma State (64-60), the only teams to beat Frank Haith’s Tigers, 22-2 overall, who are undefeated at Mizzou Arena this season. The tall and athletic Bears were ranked 12th in the preseason AP poll and climbed to third before MU handed them their second loss, the first coming a few days earlier in Lawrence. Mizzou jumped to No. 2 in the national polls after the win Waco but fell later the same week to OSU.
To say Saturday’s game is “must” for both teams would be superfluous. If the Bears lose, they’ll drop two games behind Missouri and will need a ton of help to get back in the conference chase. If the Tigers lose, their quest to unseat Kansas from the conference throne will suffer a serious setback. Of course Missouri is moving to the Southeastern Conference next year, and this is its last (and perhaps best) chance to capture a Big 12 basketball crown.
On the other hand, a win for either team merely keeps its title aspirations within the realm of possibility.