- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2012

Kansas coach Bill Self is sticking by the prediction he made back in October, before the season began and long before the Big 12 race started heating up.

Four losses will still mean a chance to win the league. Three may be good enough to do it outright.

The eighth-ranked Jayhawks had a two-game lead heading into last weekend, but a loss at Iowa State on Saturday bunched up the standings.

Fourth-ranked Missouri and No. 6 Baylor were a game back heading into Monday night’s slate of games, as the Big 12 reaches the midway mark of a newly expanded 18-game conference schedule.

“I think it’s a coin toss, I really do,” said Self, whose Jayhawks have won seven straight conference championships. “You can make a case that we’re in good shape, but we still have to go to hard places _ some real hard places.”

In Self’s estimation, Missouri may be the front-runner heading into the Tigers’ game Monday night against Texas. They’ve had arguably the toughest road so far.

“To me, even though teams with four losses, whether that be Kansas State or Iowa State or whatever, they can still win the league,” Self said during the coaches’ Monday teleconference. “I think 14-4 would be a really good record and 15-3 would be one that wins it outright.”

The math is certainly skewed in the revamped Big 12.

In the past, the dozen teams that comprised the league played each team from its own division twice, and alternated home and road games on a yearly basis with teams from the other division.

The result was 16 games with a bye week thrown in the mix somewhere.

That extra time off has been eliminated, and two more games against rugged conference foes put in its place. Now, teams play home and road games with every other opponent, resulting in the 18-game meat-grinder that should serve to separate pretenders from contenders soon enough.

“There is no easy game,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team lost at Kansas but awaits a return trip from the Jayhawks next week. “Really, it’s a matter of who can succeed and thrive on the road and defend the home court. That’s where the league will be decided.”

Everybody in the league has at least three conference wins except Texas Tech, which remains winless through eight games. That gives a pretty good indication of the Big 12’s depth.

Kansas (17-4, 7-1) remains in first place heading into a home game Wednesday against Oklahoma and a road game Saturday night at Missouri, the first of two matchups between bitter rivals down the stretch that could have as big an impact as anything on the eventual champion.

“I haven’t put a lot of thought into this weekend and Kansas,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said, “but I do know when I got the job, they made sure to tell me how important a game it is, and how passionate people are about that game.”

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