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Big 12 Tournament Preview

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The Big 12 Tournament tips off tomorrow night in Kansas City. Here's everything you need to know about the Big 12's biggest event.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Big 12 finished the regular season as the best conference in college basketball. With five ranked teams and as many as seven projected to go to the NCAA Tournament, the Big 12 Tournament should provide quite the show for college basketball fans.

Tournament Bracket

Big 12 Bracket

Tournament Schedule

Wednesday, March 11:

First Round #1: (8) Kansas State vs. (9) TCU, 6:00pm on ESPNU
First Round #2: (7) Texas vs. (10) Texas Tech, 8:00pm on ESPNU

Thursday, March 12:

Quarterfinal #1: (4) Baylor vs. (5) West Virginia, 11:30am on ESPN2
Quarterfinal #2: (1) Kansas vs. First Round #1 Winner, 1:30pm on ESPN2
Quarterfinal #3: (2) Iowa State vs. First Round #2 Winner, 6:00pm on ESPNU
Quarterfinal #4: (3) Oklahoma vs. (6) Oklahoma State, 8:00pm on ESPNU

Friday, March 12:

Semifinal #1: Quarterfinal #1 Winner vs. Quarterfinal #2 Winner, 6:00pm on ESPN/ESPN2
Semifinal #2: Quarterfinal #3 Winner vs. Quarterfinal #4 Winner, 8:00pm on ESPN/ESPN2

Saturday, March 13:

Championship: Semifinal #1 Winner vs. Semifinal #2 Winner, 5:00pm on ESPN

Team-by-Team Previews

(1) Kansas: 24-7 Overall, 13-5 Big 12, 9th in AP Poll

The Kansas Jayhawks captured their 11th consecutive Big 12 Championship this season. In an ultra-competitive Big 12, the Jayhawks became the first team in conference history to win the league with five conference losses. Each of Kansas' five Big 12 losses came on the road this season, as KU dropped contests at Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia. The Jayhawks were a perfect 16-0 at home this season, but 8-7 away from the friendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas was led offensively by Perry Ellis. The junior forward led the team with 14.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. When Frank Mason wasn't working on his rap career, he was getting buckets for the Jayhawks. Mason averaged 12.6 points and 4.1 assists per game, shooting 45.0% from the field this season. Wayne Selden and Kelly Oubre are two more players to watch for KU. The duo of guards each add about nine points per game.

The Jayhawks enter the Big 12 Tournament with a couple of player concerns. Most notably, Ellis has been nursing a knee injury suffered in the Jayhawks' overtime win over West Virginia on March 3. He missed Kansas' most recent game against Oklahoma, but head coach Bill Self expects him to be ready to go in the Quarterfinals on Thursday. Brannen Greene also missed the game against OU after being suspended by Self. Greene is expected to return to action this week. Finally, Cliff Alexander's status is up in the air this weekend. Alexander is under investigation by the NCAA for alleged family contact with an NBA agent. Self is hopeful that the NCAA will have made a ruling on the freshman center's eligibility by the beginning of the Tournament.

(2) Iowa State: 22-8 Overall, 12-6 Big 12, 13th in AP Poll

The defending Big 12 Tournament Champion Iowa State Cyclones enter this year's edition of the Tourney with the most explosive offense in the conference. The Cyclones averaged nearly 80 points per game in the regular season, six points higher than the next closest Big 12 team. Fred Hoiberg's squad shoots a league-best 48.5% from the field and has topped 80 points in half of their games this season.

Iowa State has six players that average in double-figures in points, with Georges Niang leading the way with 15.2 points per game. Monte Morris, Bryce Dejean-Jones, Jameel McKay, Naz Long, and Dustin Hogue all average between 10.0 and 11.5 points per game. The Cyclones have one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country, with a different player usually leading the way each night.

The Cyclones enter the tournament having won two in a row after a bit of a hiccup late last month. Iowa State dropped contests to Baylor and Kansas State before rebounding to beat Oklahoma and TCU. Iowa State looks to win back-to-back conference tournament titles for the first time in school history while capturing their fourth Big 12 Tournament Championship overall.

(3) Oklahoma: 21-9 Overall, 12-6 in Big 12, 15th in AP Poll

The red-hot Oklahoma Sooners enter the Big 12 Tournament having won 9 of their last 11 games. A late-season push toward winning a share of the Big 12 title fell short after a loss in Ames last weekend, but Sooners are getting hot at the right time. The Sooners have struggled somewhat away from home this season, as eight of their nine losses have come on the road.

Oklahoma has been led this season by phenomenal guard Buddy Hield. The junior led the Big 12 in points, averaging 17.4 per game. Hield also accounts for nearly six rebounds and two assists per contest. The trio of Isaiah Cousins, TaShawn Thomas, and Ryan Spangler provide the support for Hield. These three account for more than 30 points and 18 rebounds per game on average. Jordan Woodard rounds out the starting five, dropping 9.0 points and dishing out 4.1 assists per game.

The Sooners will face off against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. Oklahoma swept the season series with their in-state rivals, winning the two games by a combined 25 points. Oklahoma is looking to capture their fourth Big 12 Tournament Championship and their first since 2003.

(4) Baylor: 23-8 Overall, 11-7 Big 12, 16th in AP Poll

The Baylor Bears exceeded expectations this season, earning the #4 seed in the Big 12 Tournament. After losing a significant amount of talent last season, the Bears reloaded and finished with a 23-8 record. Baylor was dominant at home this season, finishing with a 16-2 record. Away from the Ferrell Center, the Bears were just 7-6.

Rico Gathers was a beast for Baylor this season, averaging a double-double with 11.6 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. The Big 12's leading rebounder pulled down double-digit boards in 23 games this season, highlighted by a 28-rebound evening against the NAIA's Huston-Tillotson. Taurean Prince led the Bears on offense in the regular season, averaging 14.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. The junior forward shot over 47% from the field this year. Kenny Chery and Royce O'Neale are two other offensive weapons for the Bears. The senior duo combined for over 22 points per game.

The Bears will meet West Virginia in the Quarterfinals on Thursday. Baylor swept the season series with the Mountaineers, winning by 19 in Morgantown and 12 in Waco. After a run to the Championship Game as the #7 seed last year, the Bears are looking to capture their first Big 12 Tournament Championship in program history this weekend.

(5) West Virginia: 23-8 Overall, 11-7 Big 12, 18th in AP Poll

The West Virginia Mountaineers finished the regular season in the middle of the pack in the loaded Big 12. The Mountaineers have improved in the standings in each of their first three seasons in the Big 12, finishing 6th last season and 8th in 2013. This year's squad has found success with a stingy defense and an explosive offense. The Mountaineers utilize an air-tight full-court press, which has resulted in 11.1 steals per game, a mark that leads the NCAA.

Senior guard Juwan Staten has been the undisputed leader for West Virginia this season. Staten leads the Mountaineers in points with 14.5 per game. He has a natural ability to both score and create scoring opportunities for others. Staten also leads the team with 4.6 assists per game. Unfortunately for WVU, Staten has missed the last three games with a lingering knee injury. His status for the Big 12 Tournament is questionable. The Mountaineers, who are 1-2 in those three contests, could be in big trouble if he is unable to go this week. Devin Williams is the only other Mountaineer that averages in double-figures in points, with 11.1 per game.

As was mentioned above, the Mountaineers will open with the Baylor Bears, a team that swept them in the regular season. Most recently, Baylor beat West Virginia 78-66 in Waco. Staten was unavailable in that contest. The Mountaineers are in the Big 12 Quarterfinals for the first time since joining the conference. West Virginia will be gunning for their first ever win in the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday.

(6) Oklahoma State: 18-12 Overall, 8-10 Big 12

The Oklahoma State Cowboys enter the Big 12 Tournament in the midst of a rough stretch. The Cowboys have dropped five of their last six contests. The lone win during that span was an 82-70 home victory over TCU on March 4. The Pokes went on a three-game winning streak against ranked teams in early February, jumping to 21st in the AP poll before their recent skid.

Le'Bryan Nash has been a consistent force for Oklahoma State this season. The senior guard is second in the Big 12 in points per game, scoring 16.8 on average. Junior Phil Forte isn't far behind, knocking in another 15.5 points per game. Forte is deadly behind the arc, shooting over 40% from deep. As a team, the Cowboys are one of the most efficient teams in the conference. Despite scoring just 67.9 points per game, the Pokes shoot over 44% from the field and 35% from behind the arc. The Cowboys excel at taking advantage of mismatches, especially from three-point range.

Oklahoma State will get their in-state rivals, the Oklahoma Sooners, in the Quarterfinals. The Cowboys will look to cause some Bedlam on Thursday, as the Sooners swept the season series between the teams. The Cowboys are going to need to get hot at exactly the right time if they are to capture their first title since winning back-to-back Big 12 Tournament Championships in 2004 and 2005.

(7) Texas: 19-12 Overall, 8-10 Big 12

The Texas Longhorns have been fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives over the last couple of weeks. A team that some picked to end Kansas' reign of terror in the Big 12 has been one of the biggest disappointments in the country. With one of the most talented rosters in the conference, Texas finished just 8-10 in league play, losers of four of their last six. The Longhorns avoided a First Round date with TCU by knocking off Baylor and Kansas State in their final two home games of the season.

A couple of young guys lead the ‘Horns on offense. Sophomore guard Isaiah Taylor and freshman forward Myles Turner are two of the most productive players on this Texas roster, scoring 13.1 and 10.8 points per game respectively. Turner leads Texas with 6.6 boards per game. Jonathan Holmes has been another bright spot for Rick Barnes' squad. Holmes is dropping in 10.0 points and grabbing 6.0 rebounds per game. Texas has excelled with size inside. Turner and Holmes join Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh as major forces inside the paint. When the Longhorns win, it is usually because this group is having success down low.

Texas will get Texas Tech in the First Round of the Big 12 Tournament. The Longhorns swept the Red Raiders this season, but only by 12.0 points per game. All-time, Texas is 4-1 in the First Round and 13-4 in the Quarterfinals, but the Longhorns have never won the Big 12 Tournament. UT will need a solid run this week to solidify their spot in the NCAA Tournament.

(8) Kansas State: 15-16 Overall, 8-10 Big 12

The Kansas State Wildcats have been one of the most perplexing teams in the country this season. After getting blown out by TCU and Baylor in late February, the Wildcats turned around and beat #8 Kansas and #12 Iowa State in consecutive games. Most recently, the ‘Cats dropped a 62-49 contest to the Texas Longhorns in Austin. Bruce Weber's team could be fighting for their postseason life this week in Kansas City.

One big reason for Kansas State's inconsistency is Marcus Foster. The sophomore guard has a ton of talent, but struggles to stay out of Weber's doghouse. Foster has been removed from the KSU starting lineup twice and served a three-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules. Despite the issues, Foster leads the team with 12.9 points per game. Nino Williams and Thomas Gipson are the only other two Wildcats in double-figures, with 11.3 and 11.1 points per game respectively. The duo also averages 10.4 rebounds per contest.

The Wildcats enter the Big 12 Tournament with some team cohesiveness issues. Sophomore point guard Jevon Thomas was dismissed from the team on Saturday for undisclosed reasons, however, he has since rejoined the team and is expected to be with the Wildcats in Kansas City on Wednesday. The situation with Thomas has left many puzzled and has some in Wildcat-land questioning the leadership of Bruce Weber. Despite the issues, the ‘Cats are set to take on TCU in the first game of the Tournament. TCU and Kansas State split their season series, with the home team winning each contest.

(9) TCU: 17-14 Overall, 4-14 Big 12

Fresh off their best finish since joining the Big 12 three seasons ago, the TCU Horned Frogs enter the Big 12 Tournament looking to add to their potential postseason resume. The Frogs struggled mightily in their first two seasons in the Big 12, finishing just 2-36 against the league. This year, things were better in Fort Worth as the Frogs doubled their total number of Big 12 wins in just one season. After winning three of five, the Frogs have hit a bit of a speed bump, dropping their last three contests by about 10 points per game.

The Frogs are a senior-heavy team, with Kyan Anderson, Trey Zeigler, and Amric Fields leading the way. The trio of seniors account for three of the TCU's top four scorers and have combined for more than 51% of the total points scored by the Frogs this season. Anderson and Zeigler lead the starters while Fields comes off the bench. Sophomore forward Kenrich Williams has been another bright spot for TCU, averaging 8.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in his first season as a Frog.

The Frogs are 0-2 in the Big 12 Tournament since joining the league, playing as the #10 seed in each of the last two seasons. The good news for this TCU squad is that it has proven that it can beat Kansas State, splitting the season series with the Wildcats. In the most recent contest, the Frogs beat K-State 69-55 in Fort Worth. TCU will travel to Kansas City looking to win their first conference tournament in program history.

(10) Texas Tech: 13-18 Overall, 3-15 Big 12

The Texas Tech Red Raiders have struggled with some growing pains this season. One of the youngest teams in the country, Tubby Smith relies on four freshmen for a significant amount of production. As a result, Texas Tech finished just 3-15 in Big 12 play, including a big home upset win over #9 Iowa State in late January. The Red Raiders have dropped seven of their last eight games before heading to the Big 12 Tournament.

Texas Tech has really struggled to score the basketball this season. The Red Raiders are in the bottom 50 teams in the NCAA in points per game and field goal percentage, averaging 61.2 and 40.3% respectively. TTU has scored less than 60 points in a game 13 different times this season. Freshman guard Devaugntah Williams has been one of the lone bright spots on offense, scoring 10.1 points per game on nearly 41% shooting from the field. Eight other Raiders average between four and eight points per game.

Texas Tech will face the Texas Longhorns it the First Round on Wednesday night. The Longhorns swept the season series with the Raiders, but Texas Tech kept the two games relatively close, losing the series by only 12.0 points per game. The Red Raiders haven't advanced past the Quarterfinals since 2005, and to do so this year, they'll have to do something that they haven't done all season - win games away from Lubbock. Texas Tech finished the regular season 0-12 away from the United Supermarkets Arena.

Players to Watch

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

The junior guard from the Bahamas leads all scorers in the Big 12 with 17.4 points per game. Hield has a prolific scoring ability and also excels at pulling down rebounds. He is the undisputed leader of the Sooners and could be the catalyst for a deep Oklahoma run this week.

Juwan Staten, West Virginia

Staten, a senior guard from Dayton, Ohio, has been a leading force for the Mountaineers this season. He can not only score the ball, but create opportunities for others as he averages 14.5 points and 4.6 assists per game. If he is healthy this week, look for him to have a big impact.

Perry Ellis, Kansas

Ellis has been the scoring leader for the Jayhawks this season. He averages over 14 points per game and has two games with at least 30 points. The junior forward from Wichita has been battling a knee injury but is expected to return and make significant contributions for Kansas this week.

Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State

Nash is the league's second best scorer behind Hield. With 29 games with at least 20 points under his belt, this senior forward from Dallas has proven the ability to carry the Cowboys offensively. Nash leads the Pokes with 16.8 points per game. If Oklahoma State is to make a run in the Big 12 Tournament, he will likely be a big reason why.

Georges Niang, Iowa State

The junior forward is the leader of a lethal Iowa State offense. Averaging 15.2 points himself, Niang directs an offense that scores nearly 80 points per game. The Massachusetts native does it all for the Cyclones, also averaging 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.

Rico Gathers, Baylor

Finally, Rico Gathers is perhaps the best defensive player in the Big 12. The junior forward from Louisiana leads all active Big 12 players with 23 career double-doubles. He is averaging a Big 12-best 11.7 boards per game, a mark good for third in the country. Gathers also pulls his weight on offense, dropping in 11.6 points per game.

Postseason Implications

NCAA Tournament Locks: Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia

These five teams have been in the top half of the Big 12 for much of the regular season. Regardless of how these teams perform in Kansas City, each one will be heading to the NCAA Tournament.

Work To Do: Oklahoma State, Texas

Oklahoma State and Texas each looked like locks for the Big Dance about a month ago. However, the Cowboys have lost five of six and suddenly find themselves on the bubble. Similarly, the Longhorns have lost four of six and are one of Joe Lunardi's first four teams out of the NCAA Tournament. An early round loss for either of these teams could bump them into the NIT field. Bad news for the Cowboys and the Longhorns: only once in the 18-year history of the Big 12 has a team advanced to the NCAA Tournament with a losing conference record. Both OSU and UT are 8-10 in league play this season.

Potential NIT Bids: TCU, Kansas State

Both TCU and Kansas State have an outside shot of advancing to the NIT. As of today, both teams are likely on the outside looking in. The loser of the first round meeting these two teams will likely be headed to the CBI, while the winner would likely need to knock off the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks to solidify an NIT bid.

Better Luck Next Year: Texas Tech

The Red Raiders have really struggled this season, finishing with a 13-18 record overall. With a veteran coach in Tubby Smith and a ton of young potential, the Red Raiders have a good shot at being a competitive force in the Big 12 in 2016.

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The Big 12 was one of the most exciting and competitive conferences in the country this season. The depth of the league should provide for a great four days in Kansas City. Each team has proven that it can win on any given night and if the regular season taught us anything, it's to expect the unexpected.