With conference play all wrapped up, the Big 12 is about to take the stage in Kansas City for one of college basketball’s premier conference tournaments. With five teams for sure heading to the NCAA Tournament and eight that can be either NCAA Tournament or NIT teams, the action over these next four days promises to be very exciting.
Wednesday, March 8:
First Round Game #1: (8) TCU vs. (9) Oklahoma, 6 pm, ESPNU
First Round Game #2: (7) Texas Tech vs. (10) Texas, approx. 8:30 pm, ESPNU
Thursday, March 9:
Quarterfinal #1: (4) Iowa State vs. (5) Oklahoma State, 11:30 am, ESPN2
Quarterfinal #2: (1) Kansas vs. First Round Game #1 Winner, approx. 2 pm, ESPN2
Quarterfinal #3: (2) West Virginia vs. First Round Game #2 Winner, 6 pm, ESPNU
Quarterfinal #4: (3) Baylor vs. (6) Kansas State, approx. 8:30 pm, ESPNU
Friday, March 10:
Semifinal #1: Quarterfinal #1 Winner vs. Quarterfinal #2 Winner, 6 pm, ESPN2
Semifinal #2: Quarterfinal #3 Winner vs. Quarterfinal #4 Winner, approx. 8:30 pm, ESPN2
Saturday, March 11:
Championship: Semifinal #1 Winner vs. Semifinal #2 Winner, 5 pm, ESPN
(1) Kansas Jayhawks: 28-3 Overall, 16-2 Big 12, AP: #1
The Jayhawks have put together quite the season and won their 13th-consecutive Big 12 title, tying John Wooden and UCLA’s record. This year’s Kansas squad may not have dominated their competition like in previous years, but they showed great resilience in their games and often found a way to win. After losing their opening game against Indiana, they seemed to figure out how all of their pieces fit and have been stellar since.
Kansas was led offensively this season by senior point guard Frank Mason, who averaged 20.5 points and 5.1 assists per game. He was a fantastic shooter, knocking down 48.8% of his shots and an even better 49.3% from deep. Superstar freshman Josh Jackson, a guard forced to play forward this season, has been dynamic for them, dropping in 16.4 points and pulling down 7.2 rebounds per game. Guard Devonte’ Graham has also been stellar for Kansas. Graham is a streaky player that plays with emotion and he can light up a scoreboard in a hurry.
They enter the Big 12 Tournament on a roll and have won 8 straight games since losing at home to Iowa State. Most recently, they survived a scare at home against Oklahoma, who is the #9 seed, before going on the road and winning at Oklahoma State. The Jayhawks will obviously be hoping to win the tournament for the second consecutive season, but more importantly they’ll want to keep their stars healthy for the NCAA Tournament.
(2) West Virginia Mountaineers: 24-7, 12-6, AP: #11
It has been another solid season for Bob Huggins and company. Press Virginia has lived up to its nickname yet again and has caused nightmares for opponents’ offenses. On average, they force 21.2 turnovers per game, which is tops in the nation. They also have done a better job this season in terms of taking care of the ball on their own offensive end and have an average turnover margin of +8.8. It’s easy to win as many games as the Mountaineers have when you create an extra 8 or 9 possessions per game.
West Virginia is led by a rotation of 5 key players, all of whom are averaging more than 9 points per game. Their leader is Jevon Carter, who is a very physical defender and does a great job denying the ball from opponent’s facilitators. Hometown hero Nathan Adrian has also played a key role for the Mountaineers this season and leads the team with 6.1 rebounds per game. Daxter Miles Jr. is another key contributor for West Virginia, and although he only averages 9.1 points per game, he can drop 20+ on any given night if he gets going.
The Mountaineers come into the Big 12 Tournament after winning 4 of their final 5 games which vaulted them into the #2 seed. They were awarded the #2 seed by virtue of going a combined 3-1 against Baylor and Iowa State. Speaking of the Cyclones, West Virginia beat them in their last game and held an incredible 48-29 advantage on the glass. The Mountianeers will be hoping they can get back to the Big 12 championship game again this year, and this time win it.
(3) Baylor Bears: 25-6, 12-6, AP: #9
The Bears, who were picked to finish 5th in the conference in the preseason coaches’ poll, have exceeded everyone’s expectations with their play this season. They put together an undefeated non-conference resume and rose to #1 in the AP poll for the 1st time in school history. Not only did they go undefeated, but they played against some very good teams, including Oregon, Louisville, and Xavier.
Baylor is led by Johnathan Motley, who is the only player in the Big 12 that is averaging a double-double. He leads the Bears in scoring with 17.5 points per game and is also pulling down 10 boards per game. One thing that stands out with this Baylor team as opposed to teams in recent years is the addition of a highly capable true point guard. Manu Lecomte, a transfer from Miami, has been very effective for the Bears this season and is averaging 12.4 points and 4 assists per game. Lecomte is also the person you do not want to foul late, since he shoots 81.5% at the free throw line.
Despite their hot start to the season, Baylor went 3-5 in the games right after they became #1 in the AP poll. However, they have started to once again find their stride and finished the season by winning their final 2 games against West Virginia and Texas. They’ll face Kansas State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament, who beat them in Waco last time these teams met.
(4) Iowa State Cyclones: 20-10, 12-6, AP: #23
The Cyclones got off to an up-and-down start in conference play and appeared to be heading for the bubble this season. However, they managed to turn it around late and won 6 of their final 7 games of the regular season. Iowa State was also the only team to beat Kansas in Lawrence, which ended a 50+ home game winning streak for the Jayhawks.
The leader of Iowa State is point guard Monte Morris. He leads the team in scoring with 16.2 points per game and in passing with 6.2 assists per game. Nazareth Mitrou-Long is 2nd on the team in scoring, right behind Morris, with 16 points per game. He likes to do his damage from deep and averages 3 made three pointers per game. The Cyclones also have Deonte Burton and Matt Thomas, both of whom can get it going from deep. Solomon Young will be the x-factor for Iowa State though. He started to come on late in the season and has helped provide the Cyclones with a post and rebounding presence.
They’ll open the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday against Oklahoma State in a rematch of a game last week. The Cyclones won that game 86-83 and also won their matchup earlier this season in Stillwater. It’ll be a matchup between arguably the two best offenses in the Big 12, so expect a fast-paced and high-scoring affair.
(5) Oklahoma State Cowboys: 20-11, 9-9, AP: RV
Oklahoma State’s season can be broken down into three distinct parts. The Cowboys opened Brad Underwood’s first season in Stillwater by going 10-2 in the first 12 non-conference games and finishing 3rd in the Maui Invitational. When Big 12 play opened though, they struggled and started off 0-6 in conference play. However, after that, they caught fire and became one of the hottest teams in the country, working their way up to a #5 seed in the conference tournament.
The Cowboys are led by point guard Jawun Evans, who is tops on the team in scoring with 18.7 points per game. He also leads the conference in assists per game with 6.3. Jeffrey Carroll, who many consider to be the most improved player in the Big 12, has been very efficient for Oklahoma State. He averages 17.3 points per game and is shooting 53.8% from the field while also pulling down 6.6 boards per game. Lastly, the Cowboys also have Phil Forte III, who brings incredible leadership as a 5th year senior and is also a clutch free throw shooter.
Although they had been surging recently, the Cowboys enter the Big 12 Tournament on a 2 game losing streak after falling to Iowa State and Kansas in the final week of the season. They’ll get their shot at revenge against the Cyclones though when they face them in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
(6) Kansas State Wildcats: 19-12, 8-10
K-State enters the Big 12 Tournament as the only true bubble team remaining in the conference. Their non-conference resume is not doing them any favors, but they do boast a win at home against West Virginia and a win over Baylor in Waco. They’ll likely need to beat the Bears again in the quarterfinals in order to get into the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats are led in scoring by Wes Iwundu, who is averaging 12.6 points per game. As a team, Kansas State has 4 players that are averaging more than 11 points per game: Iwundu, Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, and D.J. Johnson. Johnson is the most physical player on their roster, pulling down 5.7 rebounds per game as well as blocking 1.5 shots per game. The Wildcats will need a strong performance from all 4 of these guys in order to get a win over Baylor. A wild card for K-State is Dean Wade. He is only averaging 9.7 points per game, but has scored in double-figures 17 times this season. He dropped in a crucial 20 points or the Wildcats in their win over TCU last week.
Kansas State enters the Big 12 Tournament with a little bit of momentum after knocking off both TCU and Texas in the final week of the regular season. Both of those teams had been on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament with the Wildcats, but were ultimately knocked off.
(7) Texas Tech Red Raiders: 18-13, 6-12
In Chris Beard’s first year as the head coach in Lubbock, the Red Raiders finished 7th in the conference and managed to pull off some impressive home wins over the likes of West Virginia and Baylor. However, they struggled mightily on the road in Big 12 play, going 0-9. Now, the Red Raiders will be hoping to find at least one win outside the confines of United Supermarkets Arena in order to solidify an NIT bid.
The two key players that will be leading the charge for Texas Tech are Keenan Evans and Zach Smith. Evans runs the show on offense for the Red Raiders and leads the team in scoring with 15.5 points per game. He also leads the team in assists with 3.1 per game. Smith plays more of an interior role for Tech and is 2nd on the team in scoring with 12.3 points per game. Another player to keep an eye on is Aaron Ross, who was a key contributor on last season’s Tech squad that made the NCAA Tournament. Ross is averaging 9.2 points per game and is shooting 85.1% from the free throw line.
Texas Tech has struggled to close out the season, losing 4 of their last 5 and 6 of their last 8. Their only win in the past couple weeks came against the Longhorns, who they play in the First Round, in Lubbock last week. Evans was fantastic for them in that game, but the question remains if they can get it together outside of Lubbock.
(8) TCU Horned Frogs: 17-14, 6-12
After a strong start to the season had TCU fans thinking NCAA Tournament, the Frogs have cooled off and enter the Big 12 Tournament on a 7 game losing streak. TCU at one point was 17-7 and 6-5 in Big 12 play and was projected as high as a #7 seed in ESPN’s Bracketology. Now, they’ll be hoping to find a way into the NIT.
There are three key players that have carried the team throughout most of the season. Vladimir Brodziansky, who was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team, leads the team in scoring with 13.8 points per game and is shooting an incredible 57.8% from the field. Vlad was also named to the All-Big 12 Defensive Team and is averaging 2.3 blocks per game. Alex Robinson is the main facilitator on offense for the Frogs and is 2nd on the team in scoring with 11.2 points per game and leads the team in assists with 5.5 per game. Kenrich Williams is the last key player to watch. Kenny Hustle is 2nd in the conference in rebounds with 9.4 per game and is 3rd on the team in scoring with 10.2 points per game.
TCU lost their last game of the season in Norman against Oklahoma, who they will now have to turn around and face in the First Round of the Big 12 Tournament. The Frogs had chances to beat the Sooners, but could not find any baskets when they needed them the most. It’ll be a key game that the Frogs will likely need to win to keep their NIT hopes alive. Hopefully history is on the Frogs’ side, as in the past two years, TCU has won their opening game of the Big 12 Tournament.
(9) Oklahoma Sooners: 11-19, 5-13
The Sooners had pretty much been written off for the season when four-year starter Jordan Woodard suffered a season-ending knee injury. However, Oklahoma didn’t get the memo and has been very competitive in the final weeks of the season. Their last five results of the season were a 4-point loss at Oklahoma State, a 6-point loss at Baylor, a 30-point rout of Kansas State, a 10-point loss at Kansas, and a 5-point victory over TCU. As you can see, they have been playing very well heading into the tournament.
Oklahoma is being led offensively by a pair of young guards: Kameron McGusty and Rashard Odomes. McGusty is a streaky scorer and leads the team with 10.9 points per game. However, that number is lowered due to the fact that he started the season coming off of the bench. He has worked his way into the starting lineup and has scored in double-figures in 17 of their final 18 games. Odomes scores more from taking smart shots and is averaging 10.3 points per game while shooting 49.1% from the field. However, he did not play in the regular season finale against TCU. In the frontcourt, freshman Kristian Doolittle will be the main player to keep an eye on. He is averaging 9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
The Sooners will open the Big 12 Tournament against TCU tonight. They’ll be looking to get another victory over the Frogs, but Oklahoma won’t be playing for anything beyond Kansas City unless they win the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
(10) Texas Longhorns: 10-21, 4-14
On paper, Texas was due for greatness this year. They were picked to finish 3rd in the coaches’ preseason poll and were ranked in the preseason Top 25 to begin the year. They were set to be led by a top-ranked recruiting class that was headlined by a pair of McDonald’s All-Americans, in addition to a solid core of returning talent, but things went a bit differently. Their worst loss of the season was probably the 63-58 defeat they were handed in Austin by Kent State. They have especially struggled of late, losing their last 7 games of the season.
On the court, the Longhorns did end up being led by the two McDonald’s All-Americans, but also lost a major piece halfway through the season. Tevin Mack, the team’s leading scorer with 14.8 points per game, was suspended after the team’s loss to TCU in Austin and has since been dismissed from the program. Jarrett Allen has been the star for the team, averaging 13.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He has 12 double-doubles so far this season and he put on quite the performance at Kansas, finishing with 22 points and 19 rebounds. Andrew Jones, their other McDonald’s freshman, finished the season averaging 11.3 points per game and has knocked down some key shots for the Longhorns.
The Longhorns will open with Texas Tech in the First Round of the Big 12 Tournament. Texas split the season series with the Red Raiders during the season, with each team winning on their own home floor. They’ll be hoping that they can take advantage of Texas Tech’s struggles away from home in order to maybe start a run in the Big 12 Tournament.
Players to Watch
Frank Mason, Kansas
Mason, the Big 12 Player of the Year and a unanimous selection to the All-Big 12 First Team, is a definite candidate for national player of the year awards after leading the Big 12 in scoring with 20.5 points per game this season. His experience and leadership could be what propels the Jayhawks to a national title.
Jevon Carter, West Virginia
Carter is the leader of Press Virginia and was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year this past season. He averaged an impressive 2.7 steals per game while leading the Mountaineers’ stifling defense. He is also West Virginia’s leading scorer, averaging 12.9 points per game.
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Motley is one of the most dynamic players in the Big 12 and is a tough matchup for many teams. He is the Big 12’s leading rebounder, averaging 10 per game, and he is also 3rd in scoring with 17.5 points per game. Teams need to keep an eye on him or else he can throw down some monstrous dunks.
Monte Morris, Iowa State
The point guard for one of the deeper backcourts in the Big 12, Morris was expected to be a contender for Big 12 Player of the Year. Although he did not have quite the same season as Mason, he did manage to average 16.2 points and 6.2 assists per game. His most impressive statistic though is his 6.2 assist-to-turnover ratio over the course of the season.
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
Evans is yet another star point guard in the Big 12. He led the conference in assists with 6.3 per game and was 2nd in the conference in scoring with 18.7 points per game. In their regular season finale, Evans put on an absolute passing clinic, finishing with 15 assists against Kansas. Make sure to tune into this team’s matchup with Iowa State in order to see one heck of a matchup between Evans and Morris.
Keenan Evans, Texas Tech
Keenan Evans is one of the more under-appreciated star guards that the Big 12 has to offer. He has played a key role in the Red Raiders’ season and is a fantastic shooter. He is 2nd in the conference from behind the arc, where he is shooting 43.9%, and is a deadeye at the line, where he makes 84.9% of his free throws.
Locks: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma State, West Virginia
No matter what happens in Kansas City, all five of these teams will be heading to the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks will likely be a #1 seed, if not the overall #1 seed, and the rest of them should all be seeded nicely as well.
On the Bubble: Kansas State
No team has more to gain from a good showing in the Big 12 Tournament than Kansas State. Although I believe that a team that goes 8-10 in the Big 12 should be in the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats find themselves squarely on the bubble. If they can beat Baylor in the quarterfinals, that should be enough to get them in. If not, it’ll be a long few days in Manhattan until Selection Sunday.
Potential NIT Bids: TCU, Texas Tech
Both the Frogs and the Red Raiders had a chance to get into the NCAA Tournament, but neither could pick up key wins in order to bolster their resume enough. Both teams play lower seeds in the first round and will be hoping to get an extra win, but that may not be enough. Both TCU and Tech will definitely be watching top seeds around the nation to see how many at-large spots are available in the NIT.
Better Luck Next Year: Oklahoma, Texas
It was a disappointing year for both the Sooners and the Longhorns. Oklahoma, a Final Four team last season, couldn’t find their stride in time to build a solid resume and Texas, a preseason Top 25 team this season, just could not figure out how to win with their abundance of young talent. Neither of these teams will be playing beyond the Big 12 Tournament unless they win it all.
If we’ve learned anything in the Big 12 this season, it’s that any team in this conference can beat any other team. These next four days are going to make for some exciting games and fantastic basketball.