Now that conference regular season play is in the books, the Big 12 Conference turns its attention to Oklahoma City, where the women’s basketball tournament will take center stage. The No. 1 team in the country, Baylor, will be a heavy favorite to win the tournament, but there is a lot to play for, especially for TCU and the two other teams on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.
Friday, March 8:
First Round Game #1: (8) Oklahoma vs. (9) Texas Tech, 6pm, FCS
First Round Game #2: (7) Oklahoma State vs. (10) Kansas, approx. 8:30pm, FCS
Saturday, March 9:
Quarterfinal #1: (4) West Virginia vs. (5) Kansas State, 11:00am, FSN
Quarterfinal #2: (1) Baylor vs. First Round Game #1 Winner, approx. 1:30pm, FSN
Quarterfinal #3: (2) Iowa State vs. First Round Game #2 Winner, 6:00pm, FSN
Quarterfinal #4: (3) Texas vs. (6) TCU, approx. 8:30pm, FSN
Sunday, March 10
Semifinal #1: Quarterfinal #1 Winner vs. Quarterfinal #2 Winner, 2:00pm, FS1
Semifinal #2: Quarterfinal #3 Winner vs. Quarterfinal #4 Winner, approx. 4:30pm, FS1
Monday, March 11
Championship: Semifinal #1 Winner vs. Semifinal #2 Winner, 8:00pm, FS1
(1) Baylor Bears: 28-1 Overall, 18-0 Big 12, AP: #1, RPI: #2
The Bears enter the tournament this season as the clear favorite, having gone through conference play unblemished. Winners of 20 consecutive games, their only loss on the season came on the road against Stanford. Since that loss, they have beaten the likes of UConn and dominated most of the games they have played in. They are anchored by star center Kalani Brown and forward Lauren Cox, who combined are averaging 27.8 points per game. Where the Bears really stand out is on the defensive end, where they rank No. 1 in the nation in field-goal percentage defense and blocked shots per game.
(2) Iowa State Cyclones: 23-7, 13-5, AP: #19, RPI: #11
The Cyclones have been one of the bigger surprises in the conference this season and are entering the conference tournament having won 9 of their previous 11 games. They are led by senior guard Bridget Carleton, who was the Big 12 Player of the Year, leading the league with 21.9 points per game and shooting 46.6% from the field, which is elite for a guard. Whereas Baylor wins games for the most part on the defensive end, the Cyclones are all about scoring and putting up big numbers. They ranked No. 10 nationally, averaging north of 80 points per game and led the conference in three-pointers made per game and free-throw percentage.
(3) Texas Longhorns: 22-8, 12-6, AP: #21, RPI: #27
In recent seasons, Texas has been a national powerhouse, right up at the top of the conference with Baylor. While this year might not have featured the success that Longhorn fans are accustomed to, Texas still showed that they were very competitive as five of their losses came only by single digits. The Longhorns don’t stand out as doing any one thing extremely well, but they are led by some experienced players who will know what it takes to win in March. If any team has the post presence to battle with Baylor, it’s Texas, as they rank No. 4 nationally in rebounding margin.
(4) West Virginia Mountaineers: 20-9, 11-7, RPI: #71
The Mountaineers enter the game heading in the wrong direction, losing 3 of their final 4 games down the stretch; however, they showed promise in their last game, falling to Baylor in Morgantown 63-57. Everything with West Virginia centers around the three-point line, as the Mountaineers are No. 1 in the conference in three-point field goal defense and No. 2 in three-pointers made per game. Opposing teams will need to know where Tynice Martin is at all times - she finished 3rd in the conference in scoring and 2nd in three-point field goal percentage.
(5) Kansas State Wildcats: 20-10, 11-7, AP: RV, RPI: #35
K-State has brought themselves back to the bubble conversation by rattling off five consecutive victories heading into the conference tournament. The Wildcats have been impressive of late, picking up road victories in Austin and Fort Worth during that stretch. Of the three teams on the bubble, Kansas State is definitely in the most favorable position given their RPI, but that can change in the tournament. Games with the Wildcats are often close, and they do a really impressive job of staying out of foul trouble and limiting opponents’ opportunities at the free-throw line.
(6) TCU Horned Frogs: 20-9, 10-8, RPI: #51
The Frogs have had quite the roller coaster of a year, but it was a stretch of five-straight victories in the heart of Big 12 play that brought TCU into the NCAA Tournament conversation and a pair of late-season road victories over Kansas and Oklahoma that have them in a nice position. The Frogs will have a tough task in the opening game of taking down Texas, a team that just beat them this week in Fort Worth in the regular season finale. If TCU wants to get this win, they will need a strong performance from center Jordan Moore, who finished 6th in the conference in scoring. They will also need to create transition opportunities from their pressure defense that led the conference in steals.
(7) Oklahoma State Cowgirls: 14-15, 5-13, RPI: #129
The Cowgirls may not enter the conference tournament with a glamorous record, but they have shown that they can compete with most teams in the league. They kept things interesting with Baylor in Stillwater earlier this season and were in the game until the very end in both matches against the Longhorns. Not much stands out when you look at their team numbers, but Oklahoma State had two players finish in the top 10 in the conference in scoring - Vivian Gray (2nd) and Braxtin Miller (10th). They will need strong performances from both if they want to make a run this weekend.
(8) Oklahoma Sooners: 8-21, 4-14, RPI: #145
While the Sooners are typically a very tough team to face in this conference, they struggled this season to take care of the ball, finishing dead-last in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio, turnovers per game, and turnover margin. Although their lineup featured a significant amount of freshmen, Oklahoma did prove to be a scrappy team and they should not be taken lightly this weekend. Freshman Madi Williams is a tough presence on the team and freshman Taylor Robertson was the top three-point shooter in the conference.
(9) Texas Tech Red Raiders: 13-16, 4-14, RPI: #146
The Red Raiders have recently been near the bottom of the conference, and although they finished 9th this season, they have been much, much more competitive this season. Of their 14 losses in Big 12 play, 10 have come by single digits, showing how far they have come this season under a new head coach. It is not hard to imagine that they will soon be playing for NCAA Tournament bids and they will be a dangerous team to face this weekend. Guard-forward duo Chrislyn Carr and Brittany Brewer both finished in the top-6 in the conference scoring and will likely be asked to carry a significant amount of the scoring load this weekend.
(10) Kansas Jayhawks: 12-17, 2-16, RPI: #159
This season was another struggle for the Kansas women’s basketball team, who have won five conference games in the past four regular seasons. The Jayhawks were keeping a lot of games close early in Big 12 play after a strong 10-1 non-conference performance; however, as the season wore on, many of their games began to be double-digit losses and they enter the tournament on a ten-game losing streak. Kansas has had issues scoring this season, finishing last in the conference in points per game and last in most rebounding categories.
Players to Watch
Bridget Carleton, Iowa State
The first player to watch in the tournament is the conference’s leading scorer and Big 12 Player of the Year. The senior guard averaged nearly 22 points per game on the season and did a great job of attacking and looking to get to the free-throw line. She is also a menace on defense, leading the conference in steals, which leads to easy fast-break opportunities. Any team that has to face the Cyclones will have their hands full trying slow her down.
Kalani Brown, Baylor
The 6’7” center for the Bears is the top post in the tournament, if not the country, and she was a unanimous selection for the All-Big 12 First Team. This year was the third consecutive year that Brown has earned First Team honors and she is absolutely deserving. She was 7th in the nation in field-goal percentage, shooting 62.1% from the floor. She also averaged 8.1 rebounds per game.
Lauren Cox, Baylor
Cox is another forward for the Bears and with Brown, they form one of the most difficult frontcourts in the country to matchup with. Cox was an All-Big 12 First Team unanimous selection as well and was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. She averaged nearly 2.5 blocked shots per game, which was No. 1 in the Big 12, and was also around 8 rebounds per game. With her and Brown, it’s no wonder Baylor was able to defend so well, especially near the hoop.
Sug Sutton, Texas
Not necessarily one of the top scorers in the conference, Sutton is one of the best facilitators and does n impressive job of getting the ball into the hands of her post players near the hoop. She averaged over 5 assists per game for the season and also did a nice job of taking care of the ball. It will be interesting to see how the Frogs choose to guard her in the opening game in order to limit her opportunities to create for others.
Tynice Martin, West Virginia
Another unanimous selection to the All-Big 12 First Team, there is no doubt she will be on the floor for most of the game for the Mountaineers as she averaged nearly 37 minutes per game. Teams will need to know where Martin is at all times as she is one of the top three-point shooters in the conference and finished 3rd in the Big 12 in scoring.
Vivian Gray, Oklahoma State
Although the Cowgirls may have finished 7th in the conference, they are in good hands with sophomore Vivian Gray. She too was a unanimous All-Big 12 First Team selection and she was voted as the Newcomer of the Year for the conference. Gray was 2nd in the conference in scoring and will be an integral part of their gameplan for this weekend and in the years to come.
Locks: Baylor, Iowa State, Texas
Regardless of what happens this weekend, all of these teams are locks for the NCAA Tournament at this point. Baylor will be playing this weekend to ensure that they receive a No. 1 seed in the tournament and a favorable region destination, while the Cyclones have an opportunity to earn the right to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Ames.
On the Bubble: Kansas State, TCU, West Virginia
We will all be in for a treat on the opening day of the Big 12 Tournament as Kansas State and West Virginia might be playing essentially a play-in game for the NCAA Tournament. Currently, Kansas State has the best chance of making the field and might even survive a loss to the Mountaineers. TCU is projected as either one of the last four in or first four out right now, but a loss might move them down into the latter, which is a shame for a team that wins 10 games in the Big 12. Even weirder though is West Virginia, who won 11 games in the Big 12, but sits at No. 71 in the RPI and is currently viewed as one of the first four out or next four out. As much as I disagree with the fact that they might not make it despite their 11-7 conference record, it is hard to see them getting in with a loss to Kansas State on Saturday.
Better Luck Next Year: Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kansas
While the year may have been disappointing for these teams, they are all certainly headed in the right direction, except for maybe Kansas. The schools in Oklahoma are both full of talented underclassmen that will get better in the coming years and Texas Tech made huge strides this season under a new head coach. One thing to note here is that Oklahoma State might have a shot at an automatic bid to the WNIT, but that is if all six of the teams mentioned before make the NCAA Tournament.
While the Big 12 Tournament features a heavy favorite this year in Baylor, there is still a lot on the line for a handful of teams, especially our TCU Horned Frogs. Be sure to tune in this weekend as they make one last push towards Selection Monday!