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February 23, 2007

Big 12 Breakdown: Oklahoma State free fall

Weekly Big 12 Update
Team Conf. Overall
Kansas 11-2 24-4
Texas A&M 11-2 23-4
Texas 10-3 20-7
Kansas State 8-5 19-9
Missouri 6-7 17-9
Texas Tech 6-7 17-11
Oklahoma 6-7 15-11
Oklahoma State 5-7 19-8
Iowa State 5-8 14-13
Nebraska 4-8 15-11
Baylor 3-10 13-13
Colorado 2-11 6-17
Standings as of 2/22

Best matchup: When Oklahoma State (19-8, 5-7) travels to face Texas Tech (17-11, 6-7) two of the Big 12's top scorers will be featured. Oklahoma State forward Mario Boggan ranks fourth among conference scorers with an 18.6 points-per-game average. However, he made just three of 13 shots and scored seven points in a loss to Texas A&M on Wednesday. Tech guard Jarrius Jackson was equally challenged in an 80-51 loss at Texas. He converted just two of 10 shots and scored just seven points. The need for redemption can be a powerful motivator. They showed what they're capable of in the teams' first meeting two weeks ago. Boggan scored 35 points and Jackson had 24 as Oklahoma State prevailed 93-91 in double overtime. They will be looking to lead their teams in what has become a crucial game.

Worst matchup: Statistics don't always tell the whole story, but they sure can give an indication of what's to come. Consider that Kansas (24-4, 11-2) allows Big 12 opponents to shoot just 37.6 percent, which is the best in the conference. Meanwhile, Iowa State (14-13, 5-8) is shooting a league-worst 39 percent from the field. Could this be a shutout? The Cyclones will score, but not often. Iowa State has scored fewer than 60 points in four of their last five games. Kansas has held two of its last three opponents under 50 points. The Jayhawks can score, too, having exceeded 90 points in three of their last five games.

The pressure is on: Once boasting a 15-1 record, Oklahoma State (19-8, 5-7) has now lost five of its last six after a 66-46 home court loss to Texas A&M. OSU, once ranked in the top 10, is in danger of being excluded from the NCAA Tournament field. The free-falling Cowboys still have a parachute in the form of four conference games remaining. But three of those are on the road.

Upset alert: Even though Oklahoma (15-11, 6-7) is languishing in a three-game losing streak and Texas (20-7, 10-3) is coming off a dominating victory over Texas Tech, the Longhorns better beware when they go to Norman. Texas eked out a win over Baylor on its most recent road trip, while Oklahoma is 12-2 on its home court and desperately needs a victory to improve its NCAA Tournament résumé. Also, the Longhorns must resist the temptation to look ahead to a showdown with rival Texas A&M on Wednesday. Finally, Texas star freshman Kevin Durant, who averages 28.3 points in Big 12 play, has "only" averaged 18.8 points in the last four games.

Who's hot: Three weeks ago the Missouri Tigers (17-9, 6-7) had just endured consecutive losses to Kansas State and Nebraska. Then, freshman guard Keon Lawrence was inserted into the starting lineup and – viola – the Tigers have won four of their last five (the only loss coming at Kansas). The Tigers have climbed into a tie for fifth place in the standings. Although Stefhon Hannah remains Missouri's primary offensive threat, Lawrence has shot 50 percent from the field and has averaged 14.4 points since becoming a starter.

Who's not: February temperatures in Nebraska are higher than the Cornhuskers' shooting percentage. That's not good, but that was the case on Wednesday. Lincoln's low temperature of 41 degrees was far hotter than the Huskers' 34 percent shooting in a 63-59 loss to Baylor. That shooting performance actually represented a warming trend. The Huskers shot just 31.4 percent in an abysmal 92-39 loss to Kansas on Saturday. Center Aleks Maric, who leads the Big 12 in field goal percentage at 58.3 percent, hit only six of 16 shots against Kansas (37.5 percent) and went 3-for-10 against Baylor.

Must see TV: The Oklahoma State-Texas Tech game offers the best viewing, and not just because of the reasons listed in the "Best Matchup" category. Neither can feel secure about receiving an NCAA Tournament bid, but the winning team should get a significant boost. At best, watching this game is like watching the Big 12's version of "Survivor." At worst, it's like seeing a cockfight.

Key stat: Oklahoma State is 0-5 in Big 12 road games.

Bench bonus: Thrust into action when starting guard Dominique Kirk was felled by back spasms, freshman Donald Sloan came to the rescue for Texas A&M. Sloan went 6-for-10 from the field, scored 15 points and grabbed four rebounds as the Aggies (23-4, 11-2) routed Oklahoma State.

They said it: "You can have a kid come to school for a year and play basketball and he doesn't even have to go to class. He certainly doesn't have to go to class the second semester. I'm not exactly positive about the first."

- Texas Tech coach Bob Knight on why he doesn't recruit players who will likely go to the NBA after their freshman year.

Injury update: Texas A&M's Dominique Kirk (back) … Missouri's Keon Lawrence (dislocated left little finger) isn't expected to miss any action. … Colorado guard Xavier Silas (left Achilles) missed Wednesday's game against Iowa State and his playing status is uncertain. … Texas center Matt Hill (foot) remains out indefinitely.

Worth noting: Oklahoma State has suffered consecutive home losses for the first time since the 1985-86 season. … Oklahoma freshman Bobby Maze made his first career start in the Sooners' loss to Missouri. He was the third player to start at point guard in OU's last three games. …. Kansas has posted 24 consecutive victories over Kansas State in Manhattan, including Monday's 71-62 victory. … Texas A&M's Acie Law is averaging 21 points over the last three games. … Texas freshman Kevin Durant, who has exceeded 30 points in six Big 12 games, has been held to 21 or fewer points in the last four outings. … Iowa State's Mike Taylor has scored in double figures in 17 consecutive games. …. Kansas State has eight conference victories, which is its highest total in Big 12 history. … Missouri sophomore Matt Lawrence has hit eight of 13 3-pointers (61.5 percent) in the last two games. … Nebraska's Maric posted his 19th career double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds in a loss to Baylor. … Texas has set a school record with its eight consecutive 20-win season. … Texas Tech's Martin Zeno has converted 63 of 68 free throws (92.6 percent) in the last eight games.

Freshman to watch: Coming off the bench for Kansas, Darrell Arthur is easily overlooked. However, his recent contributions shouldn't be. He posted his first career double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds in a 71-62 victory over Kansas State on Monday night. He has shot 64.9 percent and averaged 11 points and six rebounds during the Jayhawks' five-game winning streak.

Something you may have missed: Texas A&M's 66-46 victory over Oklahoma State on Wednesday finished off a triple crown of sorts for the Aggies. That victory was their first in Stillwater since 1923. In their previous game, the Aggies defeated Oklahoma in Norman for the first time. Earlier this season, the Aggies posted the first victory ever for a Big 12 South Division team against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.

RPI watch: Texas A&M and Kansas, Nos. 13 and 15 in the most recent RPI rankings, can begin contemplating potential seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Texas, at No. 38, is in a good position, too. Oklahoma State is only three spots behind the Longhorns but is falling fast. The Cowboys have a game against No. 44 Texas Tech coming up soon. Kansas State is now No. 56 and Oklahoma has fallen to No. 94.

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