Missouri fans have to be salivating. Saturday, the Tigers have a chance to knock its archrival from the undefeated ranks and maybe cast a shadow of doubt over those who think Kansas is the best basketball team in the country. Mizzou has the chance to be a giant-killer for the second Saturday in a row after taking out a solid Texas Longhorn team. Tiger fans are fond of that win but make no mistake about it - Mizzou fans want this one – badly! Wouldn't Mike Anderson's squad just love to rain on the parade going on across the border? Judging from its first 17 games this season, KU just might have something to say about that.
This may be the border war but it appears quite a bit separates Kansas and Missouri right now.
Mizzou is coming off a disappointing loss at Iowa State while the 17-0 Jayhawks are cruising right now and have yet to be challenged in Big 12 play. KU seems to be on the tip of everyone's tongues since a large contingent of fans, media, and coaches are singing the praises of Bill Self's undefeated Jayhawks. At water coolers around the country, the hottest topic in college basketball is which of the remaining undefeated team is the best in the land?
"I think Kansas is better. They are the best team that we have played and we have played some really good teams," said Capel whose Sooners have faced the likes of Memphis, USC, West Virginia, and Gonzaga. "They are so balanced. They shoot better than Memphis. They are bigger. They are probably equally as good in transition. They pass the ball better. I don't think it is close that they are the best team in the country."
That's high praise coming from an astute college coach who just got beat by 30 (85-55). But Capel is not the only one with KU on the mind. ESPN.com writer Andy Katz went on record after watching the Jayhawks dismantle Boston College at Conte Forum that this was in fact the best team in the country. Much like Capel, Doug Gottlieb proclaimed on a podcast that it's not even close right now. ESPN's college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla has seen the Jayhawks play on multiple occasions and he appears to be more impressed each time he's in attendance.
Other analysts have even mentioned that KU going undefeated leading into March is a real possibility. But would talk of running the table and having an unblemished record deep into the season be too much of a pressure-cooker?
"We're just going to try to get better everyday and wins and losses take care of themselves. That's not a goal. Our goal is to win every game but it's not a realistic goal to think you can run the table," Self answered during his weekly news conference.
But how do you keep 18-21 year old kids in the present? Even a team as experienced as KU could get wrapped up and consumed by constant attention and pressure.
"We're just getting to the point where our season is actually beginning and if we're undefeated 2-3 weeks from now, then of course there's going to be talk about that but right now I promise you our players aren't thinking that way," said Self. "And if they are I haven't heard one mention of it. I don't even think that's remotely the case and we just want to go play well against Missouri."
The sports world is enamored with the notion of perfection. NFL fans are experiencing it this season with the New England Patriots. Perfection seems to bring interest from even the most casual sports fan.
"The Patriots have done a good job though, in my opinion at least, through media outlets of not getting ahead of themselves," Self said. "It's probably easier for grown men that have been through it not to get ahead of themselves than it is for college kids that have never been through this situation."
It was certainly an honest assessment and admission from Self at his weekly news conference. If Self would've stayed at Illinois there's a chance that back in the 2004-2005 season he might've been dealing with this exact type of pressure. His former players at Illinois came out of the gate smoking with 19 straight wins and were clearly one of the best teams in the nation. But since Self left Champaign for Lawrence, this is the first time he's dealt with such "talk". It didn't take him long to figure out how going deep into February without a loss would be a plus for KU.
"It would be great if we're in that mention because it does put extra pressure on us then," said Self referring to being one of the undefeated teams late in February. "That type of extra pressure probably does more to equate to NCAA tournament pressures which would make you tougher, and harder, and hopefully play better when it counts the most."
Better? Could this team play better? That's just it. As good as the Jayhawks are playing they could play better and they will have to in order to get through a rigorous Big 12 road schedule with many potential potholes.
I heard the words a couple of days ago on an ESPNU college basketball insider podcast hosted by Andy Glockner. He said the Jayhawks were operating with "ruthless efficiency". I thought for a moment and then concluded, that was probably the most accurate phrase I've heard used to describe this vaunted Jayhawk squad. He's absolutely right and it's happening on both ends of the floor.
But for now the only thing this Kansas team will worry about it winning at Missouri Saturday night.