COLUMBIA (AP) - Beat No. 2 Kansas on Senior Day, no small task, and No. 22 Missouri will finish unbeaten at home for the second time in three seasons.
On the road, the Tigers were very, very beatable.
It's a riddle coach Mike Anderson and players no longer have to worry about solving. After today's finale (11 a.m. Saturday, KRCG-TV), the rest of the season will be on neutral courts.
Missouri (22-8, 8-7 Big 12) is 17-0 at home, winning by an average of 22.5 points. Says junior forward Laurence Bowers: "You don't want to go undefeated all the way at home until the last game."
Coach Mike Anderson's team has an impressive RPI of 31, and might be safe and sound for the NCAA tournament whatever happens. But the Tigers will be seeded no higher than fourth and as low as seventh in the Big 12 Tournament, and a loss in the home finale to the Jayhawks (28-2, 13-2) would leave them a humdrum 8-8 overall in the conference and on a three-game losing streak.
The gaping hole in Missouri's resume is a 1-7 road record in conference play, the lone win over lowly Iowa State.
Kansas has won 13 of the last 16 in the hotly contested border series and is one of few schools enjoying any success at Mizzou Arena. Missouri is 52-2 at home the last four seasons, both losses coming to the Jayhawks, and got blown out in the second half of a 103-86 loss Feb. 7 in Lawrence, Kan.
A win Saturday, and Kansas won't risk sharing the Big 12 title with Texas.
"We could play shirts and skins with nobody in the stands, and I think our guys would be excited to play," coach Bill Self said. "That's probably the primary thing, but also the chance to win the league outright is a big factor."
Anderson and his players speak of the intangibles that serve to motivate at home, even if attendance is down a bit and fans sprint for the exit ramps to beat the traffic even if it's not clear the game is yet in hand.
"I don't know what it is, but I'm glad we have it," junior guard Marcus Denmon said. "The fans are great here, guys are accustomed to this arena and accustomed to the gym."
The home-road split against Kansas State was 26 points - a 16-point win at home and a 10-point loss at Manhattan, Kan. Missouri lost by 13 at Colorado in the conference opener, then whipped the Buffaloes by 16 at home.
After losing Tuesday at Nebraska, another school Missouri beat at home, Anderson said the team has "moved on and our guys understand." He's said that before, too many times.
"We know we didn't play our best, we turned the ball over 17 times to a team that packs it in," Anderson said. "Whether it be the focus or the mindset, we didn't get the job done."
Missouri lost by 17 at Kansas, fading badly in the second half, spoiling a first half that was the school's best on the road in the Big 12. Kansas led 46-42 at the half but emerged from the break with a 10-0 run.
"Going into that earlier game I thought we were ready to go in and pull one off, and I thought we played well for a period," Anderson said. "Then I thought they took the fight to us. This is Round 2 and obviously we want to defend the home turf."
The home finale doesn't figure to be overly sentimental, given forward Justin Safford is the lone senior.
That's one of the reasons Anderson frequently mentions inexperience as a cause for the ups and downs, although juniors Denmon, Laurence Bowers and Kim English are three of the key players.
Missouri's point total in the first meeting was the most against Kansas this season.
"I'll be shocked if there's that many points scored (Saturday), but it will be a fast game," Self said. "They want to play fast, and we want to play fast."