The Big 12 once again finished the regular season as the toughest college basketball conference in the country. With six ranked teams and as many as seven likely heading to the NCAA Tournament, this week's Big 12 Tournament looks to provide some early postseason fireworks for college basketball fans.
Wednesday, March 9
First Round #1: (8) Kansas State vs. (9) Oklahoma State, 6:00 PM, ESPNU
First Round #2: (7) Texas Tech vs. (10) TCU, 8:00 PM, ESPNU
Thursday, March 10
Quarterfinals #1: (4) Texas vs. (5) Baylor, 11:30 AM, ESPN2
Quarterfinals #2: (1) Kansas vs. First Round #1 Winner, 1:30 PM, ESPN2
Quarterfinals #3: (2) West Virginia vs. First Round #2 Winner, 6:00 PM, ESPNU
Quarterfinals #4: (3) Oklahoma vs. (6) Iowa State, 8:00 PM, ESPNU
Friday, March 11
Semifinals #1: Quarterfinal #1 Winner vs. Quarterfinal #2 Winner, 6:00 PM, ESPN2
Semifinals #2: Quarterfinal #3 Winner vs. Quarterfinal #4 Winner, 8:00 PM, ESPN2
Saturday, March 12
Championship: Semifinal #1 Winner vs. Semifinal #2 Winner, 5:00 PM, ESPN
(1) Kansas Jayhawks
27-4 overall, 15-3 Big 12, 1st in AP Poll
The Jayhawks enter the Big 12 Tournament on the heels of their unprecedented 12th consecutive league championship. Even in a year where the conference looked as strong as it has ever been, Bill Self and his team came out on top once again. Kansas fell just three times in league play, all on the road, with two of those losses coming against ranked foes. The Jayhawks cemented their championship streak thanks to a season sweep of Oklahoma, who battled KU for the top spot throughout much of the season.
Sporting the best scoring offense in the Big 12, and one of the best in the entire nation, Kansas is led offensively by super senior Perry Ellis. The Sunflower State native averages 16.5 points per game to go along with a team-high 6.3 boards. Frank Mason III and Wayne Selden Jr. provide Bill Self's group with some support inside, as both junior guards enter the Tournament averaging 13.4 points per game. Devonte Graham has been another scoring machine for the Jayhawks this season, knocking in 11.2 points per game while dishing out a team-high 3.5 assists each night. Collectively, the team is averaging 82.0 points per game on nearly 50.0% shooting from the field.
The Jayhawks look as good right now as they have the entire season. KU will take the short bus trip to Kansas City riding an 11 game winning streak that has seen six victories over top 25 opponents. With an offense firing on all cylinders and a defense that has made even the best of opponents look silly, the Jayhawks are gunning toward the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
24-7 overall, 13-5 Big 12, 9th in AP Poll
Bob Huggins and the West Virginia Mountaineers narrowly missed capturing their first-ever Big 12 title this season after a mid-February hiccup that saw the team give up its position at the top of the standings. Four of WVU's six losses this season came at the hands of ranked opponents, while another came on the road. Texas was the only unranked team to knock off the Mountaineers in Morgantown, capturing a seven-point victory there in late January.
Huggins' key to success this season has been a strong defense and a balanced scoring attack. Jaysean Paige leads the team with 14.3 points per game, while Devin Williams is just behind with 12.7 points each night. From there, four different Mountaineers average between nine and 10 points per game. This balanced core of Daxter Miles, Jr., Tarik Phillip, Jonathan Holton, and Jevon Carter help shoulder the load and have been a major key in West Virginia establishing a top 50 scoring offense with 79.6 points per game.
West Virginia enters the Big 12 Tournament riding a four-game winning streak that saw the team notch two road wins as well as two wins over ranked opponents. With a full-court defense that rivals the best in the nation, the Mountaineers could make a serious run at the championship game before turning their attention to the NCAAs.
(3) Oklahoma Sooners
24-6 overall, 12-6 Big 12, 6th in AP Poll
Despite spending the longest period of time ranked #1 in the nation of any Big 12 school, the Sooners travel to Kansas City as the #3 seed in this week's tournament. Oklahoma got off to a red-hot start to the year, building a 19-2 record and capturing the aforementioned top spot in the rankings. However, a 5-4 finish to the year that included losses to Kansas State, Texas Tech, and Texas on the road, dropped OU out of the running for the league championship.
Any conversation about the Sooners' roster has to begin with future consensus All-American Buddy Hield. After capturing the league's scoring title a year ago, Hield turned things up a notch this season, finishing with an average of 25.1 points per game on nearly 50% shooting from the field. Much like the Mountaineers, Oklahoma is able to defeat their opponents through a balanced core of scorers. Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard, and Ryan Spangler all average in double-figures in scoring, helping propel Oklahoma to the 21st-best scoring offense in the nation with 80.9 points per game.
Despite the 5-4 run in which the Sooners' offense sputtered down the stretch, OU has proven that their offense can put up big numbers on any given night. With a sure-fire All-American anchoring a balanced attack, don't count out Oklahoma to hoist the trophy on Saturday afternoon.
(4) Texas Longhorns
20-11 overall, 11-7 Big 12, 23rd in AP Poll
Perhaps the biggest surprise in this year's Big 12 Tournament is the Texas Longhorns. After starting the season 12-7 and losing star center Cameron Ridley to a foot injury, the Longhorns finished the year on an 8-4 run that was sparked by a four-game winning streak at the end of January. After hitting the 20-win mark in their first season under Shaka Smart, UT enters the Big 12 Tournament looking to improve their seeding for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Isaiah Taylor has been the sparkplug that makes the Longhorns go this season. Averaging 15.0 points per game, Taylor usually dictates just how successful Texas is going to be on any given night. When he's on, the team usually has a big night, but when Taylor is off, the Longhorns often find themselves vulnerable. Just behind Taylor on the scoring chart is Javan Felix, who is contributing another 11.0 points per game. Eric Davis Jr. and Kerwin Roach Jr. provide significant support in the starting lineup, adding around seven points per game each.
With the aforementioned Cam Ridley possibly returning this week, Smart's group would benefit tremendously from their 12.7 point, 10.0 rebound machine returning to action. The Longhorns could make some noise in Kansas City this week, but they'll need to get past their in-state rivals to the north if they are to advance to the semifinals.
(5) Baylor Bears
21-10 overall, 10-8 Big 12, 22nd in AP Poll
Despite struggling with a bit of an identity crisis over the last two months, the Bears enter the Big 12 Tournament as the league's 5th seed. Much like Oklahoma, Baylor jumped out of the starting gate, beginning the season 15-3. However, BU finished year just 6-7, falling from the top of the Big 12 standings to the middle of the pack.
Double-double machine Rico Gathers usually sets the tone for Scott Drew's team on both ends of the floor. With averages of 11.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, opposing teams often struggle to keep Gathers under wraps. Similarly, Taurean Prince has emerged as one of the league's best scorers, averaging 15.5 points per game to go along with 6.0 boards. Al Freeman and Johnathan Motley each contribute over 11 points per game, fueling an offense that finished the regular season scoring nearly 80 points each time out.
Baylor begins their postseason having lost three of their last four games, with the lone win coming over last-place TCU. In all likelihood, the Bears will have to recapture some of their early season magic to make a deep run in this tournament. With that being said, Baylor has proven to be a very good road team, as the team compiled a league-best 5-3 record away from home in conference play.
21-10 overall, 10-8 Big 12, 21st in AP Poll
Continuing a theme that emerged during the gauntlet that was regular season Big 12 play, Iowa State dropped six of their final 11 games after starting the season 16-4. First-year head coach Steve Prohm and his talented roster will have to earn a Big 12 title the hard way, by potentially defeating three higher-seeded opponents this week in Kansas City.
With All-American caliber forward Georges Niang and his 19.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game leading the charge, Iowa State is likely one of the most lethal 6-seeds in Big 12 Tournament history. Five other Cyclones join Niang in double-figures, highlighted by Monte Morris' 14.2 points per game. Abdel Nader, Jameel McKay, Matt Thomas, and Deonte Burton all add to a Cyclone offense that averages 81.1 points per game on the season, a mark that ranks 16th in the nation.
Despite the late-season skid, Iowa State possesses one of the most balanced scoring attacks in the entire nation. With six players who could go off on any given night, all it would take for the Cyclones to lift the trophy is a handful of big nights from just one or two players. Often overlooked because of the strength of the teams at the top of the league, Iowa State will present a tough matchup for any opponent during the postseason.
19-11 overall, 9-9 Big 12, RV in AP Poll
The Texas Tech Red Raiders enter the Big 12 Tournament on the heels of a "Little Engine That Could"-esque storyline that looks like it will continue into the NCAA Tournament. After finishing dead last in the Big 12 a year ago, Texas Tech finished 19-11 overall and 9-9 in league play. After a 3-7 start to conference play, the Red Raiders won six of their final eight games, including three over ranked opponents that put TTU squarely in the conversation for an at-large bid to the Big Dance.
Devoid of any big superstars, the Red Raiders rely on consistent performers from a solid core of scorers. Toddrick Gotcher has been the biggest name on this year's team as the senior guard finished the regular season averaging 11.2 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Just behind Gotcher, Devaughtah Williams, Aaron Ross, and Zach Smith all average between 10 and 11 points per game. Smith has been a pleasant surprise for Tubby Smith, averaging a team-high 7.2 rebounds while also shooting over 50% from the field.
Riding a confidence high the likes of which Texas Tech hasn't seen in years, the Red Raiders look to become the first team in Big 12 history to win four games in four days to capture the league title. In all likelihood, TTU's name will be called on Selection Sunday, so this week's conference tournament provides the team with an excellent opportunity to enhance their seed.
16-15 overall, 5-13 Big 12
As Big 12 play continued, it became clear that there was a rather significant gap between the 7th and 8th place teams in the league. The Kansas State Wildcats finished atop the bottom-dwellers, compiling just a 5-13 record in league play. After an impressive non-conference slate that saw the team finish 11-2 against non-Big 12 foes, KSU leveled out in league play, finishing the year just one game above .500.
Justin Edwards and Wesley Iwundu are the lone double-digit scorers for Bruce Weber's team. Edwards leads his team with 12.2 each night while Iwundu adds another 11.9 per game. Edwards is also the team's leading rebounder with 5.7 boards each time out. Dean Wade, Kamau Stokes, D.J. Johnson, and Barry Brown all add between nine and 10 points per game, making up the bulk of KSU's 70.8 point per game average.
Having lost six of their last eight games, it is entirely possible that the Wildcats will need a decently strong showing this week in Kansas City to earn an at-large spot to the NIT. With a first round matchup against Oklahoma State, K-State has a decent chance to get another shot at revenge on their Sunflower State rivals in the Quarterfinals on Thursday.
12-19 overall, 3-15 Big 12
Oklahoma State struggled all season long to put together coherent stretches of play. After losing Phil Forte, their leading scorer from a year ago, in the third game of the season, the Pokes were inconsistent and inefficient for much of the season. The Cowboys finished the regular season with just three conference wins, highlighted by a huge upset of then-#3 Kansas at home.
Jeff Newberry and Leyton Hammonds lead the healthy contingent of Travis Ford's team. Newberry enters the postseason averaging 11.0 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Fellow guard Hammonds is just behind with averages of 10.6 points and 5.0 boards each night. In addition to missing Forte, the Pokes are without second-leading scorer Jawun Evans, who suffered a shoulder injury against Texas Tech on February 3.
Without Evans, the Cowboys have lost nine of their last 10 games, as well as 11 of their last 12 conference games. Oklahoma State's season will come to an end with their first loss in Kansas City this week, and it will take a major effort from the Pokes to prevent that from happening on the opening night of the tournament.
(10) TCU Horned Frogs
11-20 overall, 2-16 Big 12
The Horned Frogs enter the Big 12 Tournament as the 10-seed for the third time in the team's first four seasons as a member of the league. TCU wrapped up their spot at the bottom of the standings following a disappointing 2-16 finish in conference play. Under Trent Johnson, the Frogs are 8-64 all-time against league foes and just 1-3 in the Big 12 Tournament.
There weren't many bright spots for a TCU team that finished 305th in the nation in scoring this season with just 67.0 points per game. Chauncey Collins led the charge for the Frogs, averaging 11.8 points per game despite shooting less than 40% from the field. Fellow sophomore guard Malique Trent added another 11.5 points and 2.6 assists each game. Transfer Vladimir Brodziansky was one of the few consistent performers, finishing the year with averages of 9.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
The Frogs limp into Kansas City having lost nine of their last 10 games, including seven in a row. With injuries to Devonta Abron and Michael Williams, a thin Horned Frogs rotation will have to step up to break the streak. A first round loss to Texas Tech on Wednesday night will end TCU's season and perhaps begin an offseason full of changes in Cowtown.
Players to Watch
Buddy Hield - Oklahoma
This almost goes without saying, but the frontrunner for National Player of the Year honors will receive a tremendous amount of attention this week in Kansas City. Hield is set to wrap up his second straight Big 12 scoring title after averaging a ridiculous 25.1 points per game this season. The senior guard is a terrific shooter, connecting on nearly 50% of his shot attempts, including over 47% from behind the arc.
Georges Niang - Iowa State
If it weren't for Buddy Hield, Georges Niang would be the star to watch at this week's tournament. The senior forward is averaging just under 20 points per game on an efficient 54.0% shooting mark from the field. Niang will no doubt leave it all on the floor this week in what will be the senior's final Big 12 Tournament.
Perry Ellis - Kansas
Speaking of seniors, Kansas' Perry Ellis has turned into a household name after four impressive years in Lawrence. The forward from Wichita is averaging a team-high 16.1 points per game and is the conductor of a KU offense that rivals the very best in the nation. When Ellis is on, he is lethal. He averages 52.1% shooting from the floor, nearly matching Hield's mark at 45.6% from behind the arc.
Taurean Prince - Baylor
Baylor's Taurean Prince has put together a very impressive senior season despite not receiving much praise throughout the year. One of four double-digit scorers for the Bears, Prince consistently put up impressive numbers on the offensive end while displaying some major talent on defense. After averaging 15.5 points per game in the regular season, Prince has the chance to steal the show this week.
Isaiah Taylor - Texas
Another catalyst that makes his team go is Texas guard Isaiah Taylor. It can be argued that Taylor means the most to his team of any player in the league. Leading the Longhorns with 15.0 points per game, Taylor often dictates just how well his team is going to perform on offense on any given night. If his shots are falling at the Sprint Center, Texas could make a serious run at the title.
NCAA Tournament Locks: Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor, Iowa State, Texas Tech
This year's Big 12 Tournament is somewhat unique because it doesn't hold significant NCAA Tournament implications. The top seven teams in the league standings are all locks for the Big Dance. In fact, there is a chance that each of the seven aforementioned teams will be the higher seed in their first-round matchup, an unprecedented mark of success for this 20-year-old conference. Led by potential #1 overall seed Kansas, the Big 12 has several teams that could make a legitimate run at this year's Final Four in Houston.
Potential NIT Bid: Kansas State
The Kansas State Wildcats enter the Big 12 Tournament squarely on the NIT bubble. A decent showing in Kansas City this week likely gets K-State into the field of 32, but a lot will depend on what happens around the nation. An early exit could mark the end of the road for the Wildcats.
Better Luck Next Year: Oklahoma State, TCU
Finally, Oklahoma State and TCU will leave Kansas City to face uncertain futures. After disappointing finishes, Travis Ford and Trent Johnson will begin the difficult task of rebuilding their respective programs so as to avoid finishing at the bottom of the league standings again in 2017.
The Big 12 was perhaps the most exciting and competitive conference in the nation this season. With seven teams capable of making a run to the championship, there's no doubt that the next four days in Kansas City will be eventful. Each team has proven that it can win on any given night, so sit back, relax, and enjoy what should be one of the most exciting conference tournaments that we've seen in quite awhile.