Though the college basketball world isn't getting the Kansas/Missouri rubber match it had been hoping for, a battle between two of the top 12 teams in the country isn't exactly a parting gift.
Baylor ruined the dream of a postseason Border War by upsetting top-seeded and regular season champion Kansas 81-72 in the semifinals Friday night. Perry Jones III was the main culprit, pouring in 18 points and burying a pair of late three-pointers to put the game on ice. That performance came just a day after Jones, a potential lottery pick in this spring's NBA draft, set a career-high with 31 points in the BU's 82-74 win over Kansas State in the quarterfinals.
The upset, which could ultimately cost Kansas a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, has Baylor in the Big 12 championship game for just the second time in program history. The Bears also played Missouri for the league's crown in 2009, and lost 73-60. In order to avoid a similar fate on Saturday night, they'll have to slow down one of the nation's most explosive offenses, and one which enters the game playing at a particularly high level.
Leading the postseason charge for Missouri has been Kim English, who followed up a 27-point performance against Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals by dropping 23 on Texas Friday night. Despite being hampered after taking a knee to the thigh, English finished 9-of-10 from the field against the Longhorns, making him 20-of-23 for the tournament.
If English's performance in the semifinals wasn't enough, Phil Pressey poured in a career-high five 3-pointers and Ricardo Ratliffe had 18 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots. These efforts rendered the meaningless the fact that star guard Marcus Denmon went 0-for-10 from the field.
The mismatches in this game are fairly obvious to spot. Missouri loves to get up-and-down and let it fly from the outside, while Baylor goes through stretches where it doesn't appear especially concerned with defending, especially on the perimeter. On the flip side, with Jones playing like this, the Bears have even more of an advantage in terms of possessing a next-level combination of size and skill. If they can catch Mizzou on a below average shooting night, then they're more than capable of pulling the upset and forcing the selection committee into taking a long, hard look at their potential as a two seed.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER WATCH
Kim English, Missouri
As mentioned earlier, English has connected on 20 of his 23 field goal attempts in the tournament, and enters Saturday night's title game with a postseason average of 25 points per game. It stands to reason that if the Tigers come out on top and English plays at least moderately well, he'll be heading home with some extra hardware.
Ricardo Ratliffe, Missouri
The lone inside presence for the Tigers has scored 29 points and snagged 20 rebounds in Mizzou's first two postseason games. He could get bonus points if he manages to slow down Perry Jones III on Saturday.
Phil Pressey, Missouri
Pressey followed up a disappointing four-point effort against Oklahoma State by hitting a career-high five three-pointers and dropping 23 on Texas.
Perry Jones III, Baylor
It's difficult to envision any scenario in which Baylor upsets Missouri and PJIII isn't named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. In averaging 24.5 points per game, Jones has finally looked like the All-American Bears fans have been hoping to see for almost two years.
Pierre Jackson, Baylor
The feast-or-famine floor general has been terrific through two rounds, averaging 13 points and dishing out a total of 15 assists against just four turnovers.
Missouri 84, Baylor 80
Both teams have obvious advantages over one another, but it's been the Tigers who have proven themselves far more capable of utilizing said advantages so far this season. Still, I'd expect a more solid, all-around effort from the Bears than they gave in either of the regular season meetings, and a game that remains competitive throughout.
Game Time: 6:00 p.m. ET
Location: Sprint Center: Kansas City, MO
Favorite: Missouri by 3.5
Previous Meetings: Missouri won at Baylor 89-88 on Jan. 21 and 72-57 at home on Feb. 11.
How They Got Here:
Quarterfinals: Beat 7) Oklahoma State (88-70)
Semifinals: Beat 6) Texas (81-67)
Quarterfinals: Beat 5) Kansas State (82-74)
Semifinals: Beat 1) Kansas (81-72)