It all comes down to this.
One team is playing for it all. The other is playing for survival.
The Missouri men’s basketball team hosts rival Kansas at 1 p.m. today in Mizzou Arena.
The teams could not have taken more divergent paths to this game, but a win today is important for both of them.
“It’s huge for us,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “And I would think it would be big for (Missouri), especially with the young talent (coach) Quin (Snyder) has on that team. Playing in the postseason with those young guys would be a great thing for them.”
The Jayhawks have spent most of the season atop the Big 12 Conference, despite a three-game skid in late February, Kansas’ longest losing streak in 11 years.
Missouri has spent most of its season in the Big 12 cellar, except for a four-game winning streak during that same part of the season. Missouri has had three losing streaks longer than three games this season. The Tigers enter today’s game having lost two straight.
With a win today, Kansas (22-4, 12-3 Big 12) would earn sole possession of the Big 12 regular-season title. A loss would probably mean a tie with either Oklahoma State or Oklahoma.
“We’re not worried what they’re playing for,” Self said. “We’re playing for a chance to win the conference outright. Our motivation needs to be every bit as great, or greater than anyone we’re playing.”
Missouri is playing to extend its season beyond the end of Big 12 play. An NCAA tournament bid is fantasy at this point for the Tigers, but if Missouri (14-15, 6-9 Big 12) can finish with a record of .500 or better the Tigers will likely be selected to the National Invitational Tournament.
That means any Tiger postseason depends on either beating Kansas or making up the wins in the Big 12 tournament.
“We’ve got to win the Kansas game,” Missouri guard Jimmy McKinney said. “We’ve got to win and we’ve got to go to the Big 12 tournament and pull off some victories. We’re not going to pack it in. We’re going to keep fighting.”
The Tigers at least started out fighting when the teams last met on Jan. 31, in Lawrence.
Missouri had an eight-point lead at halftime, but collapsed in the face of a Kansas zone in the second half.
Once Missouri was in the hole, Kansas’ Wayne Simien supplied the dirt to bury the Tigers. He finished with 22 points and Kansas won 73-61.
Self said there will be no room for Kansas error this time around, and he bluntly assessed the Jayhawks’ readiness.
“I haven’t done a very good job, to be candid with you,” Self said. “We still have too many lapses. We have some guys that do a good job when they are touching the ball, but when they aren’t that other 80 percent of the time, they aren’t playing with zest.”
Zest or no, Kansas is still one of the strongest teams in the country, especially with Simien in the middle.
The Tigers know they have their work cut out for them, but are hoping to capitalize on Kansas’ lapses.
“We’ve learned a lot,” Missouri senior Jason Conley said. “Going in, we’re going to try to take advantage. There’s really no secret, when it comes to Kansas, we just have to take care of the ball and rebound.”