Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament Preview

There will be no shortage of intrigue when the Big 12 tips off the most wide-open conference tournament in America on Wednesday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

The league that boasts the nation’s top cumulative RPI and five teams ranked in the top 20 of the latest AP poll is as strong from top-to-bottom as it’s ever been, and the competition this week should benefit from it greatly.

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To further give you an idea of just how strong this conference has been, take a look at these statistics courtesy of Big12sports.com:

- Three teams are in the top 11, four in the top 13, five in the top 21 and seven in the top 45 of the RPI – ALL the highest totals of any conference.

- Seven Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 16 for strength of schedule - the most of any conference.

- Among the 15 teams in the nation that have the most wins over top 25 opponents this year, SEVEN are from the Big 12.

- A total of 82 of 90 (91.1 percent) conference games this year involved at least one nationally-ranked team.

- For the first time in Big 12 history, every team in the conference has at least one win over a top 25 opponent.

- The Big 12 non-conference winning percentage (.827) is the best by any league since the 2004-05 season and only the second time that any conference has been over .800.

- Big 12 men’s basketball has the nation’s best non-conference record (105-22, .827). The Big 12 is the only conference in the nation that is at .800 or better this season.

Here’s a preview of what to expect from the Big 12 Tournament:

WATCH
6 P.M. CST Wednesday on ESPNU
Sprint Center, Kansas City

The 4-1-1 on Kansas State

In order to put on their dancing shoes, the Wildcats are going to have to run the table in the Big 12 Tournament. It sounds like a daunting task for a team that finished 8th in the conference. But you’ve got to remember that this is a Wildcats squad that has beaten OU twice, and split the season series with KU, Baylor and Iowa State. There aren’t many teams that can say that. If KSU can get by a much-improved TCU team, it will try to win the season series from in-state rival KU. The Wildcats haven’t beaten the Jayhawks outside of Manhattan since 2006, and haven’t topped their rival at a neutral site since (gulp) 1993.

KSU will get two huge boosts in the return of Jevon Thomas, a sophomore guard who didn’t travel with KSU for its last game against Texas for undisclosed reasons, and senior forward Nino Williams, who missed the UT game for personal reasons. – William Wilkerson, Scout.com

The 4-1-1 on TCU

The Horned Frogs are in the same boat as the Wildcats in that they’ve got to come away victorious in the Big 12 Tournament to gain entrance into the Big Dance. First things first: TCU, who is currently on a three-game losing streak, must beat KSU. Fortunately for Kyan Anderson and crew, they’ve played the Wildcats as well as anyone all season. TCU played KSU extremely tough in a 58-53 loss in Manhattan earlier this season and then held the Wildcats to just 16-percent shooting in the first half during a 14-point victory in Fort Worth.

Remember, this was a TCU team that went 13-0 before it hit the buzz saw that is the Big 12. If they can tap into that early season success and ride the hot hand of Anderson, their senior guard, a win against KSU isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. – William Wilkerson, Scout.com

WATCH
8 P.M. CST Wednesday on ESPNU
Sprint Center, Kansas City
Scout Coverage

The 4-1-1 on Texas

The Longhorns have kept their Big Dance hopes alive with consecutive home wins over Baylor and Kansas State to close out the regular season. But there is still work to be done as UT, a team very much still on the bubble, can’t afford to drop a game against a Texas Tech squad that finished last in the conference with only three wins.

Despite it’s down-and-up struggles, Texas is a team that few teams would want to see in any tournament given their size (the leading shot-blocking team in the country) and experience (every player back from last season’s team that made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament). The three keys to UT’s success are as follows: 1). Getting Jonathan Holmes’ outside shot to drop early. He showed glimpses of finding an offensive rhythm late against KSU. He’s got to get going as Texas’ lone senior. 2). Involve Myles Turner early and often. The Big 12 Freshman of the Year is as good a low-post defender as there is, but he struggles to get shots up at times. 3). Isaiah Taylor plays with a controlled chaos that sometimes gets him in trouble. He’s got to play with that attacking mentality, but must be smart while doing so. – William Wilkerson, HornsDigest.com

The 4-1-1 on Texas Tech

Texas Tech enters the Big 12 tournament at the bottom of the standings with a 3-15 league mark.

Despite the ugly record the Red Raiders (13-18 overall) are not exactly limping in to Kansas City as one could argue Tech is playing its best ball of the season. The Red Raiders upset Oklahoma State 63-62 on senior night Feb. 28 before dropping a heart breaker to No. 16 Baylor 77-74 in the regular season Friday despite leading for most of the contest.

One of the main reasons for the Red Raiders' improved play is Devaugntah Williams. The 6-foot-4 junior guard drained the game-winning trey in the final 10 seconds against the Cowboys then tied a school-record with eight 3-pointers against the Bears en route to a career-high 28 points.

If Williams can stay hot Tech could make some noise.

Tech will likely need more than just Williams; hot hand to upset Texas, it's first round opponent as the Longhorns boast one of the bigger frontcourts in the nation.

The Red Raiders will need freshmen forwards Norense Odiase (6-9, 270) and Isaiah Manderson (6-10, 235) to turn in big performances. Most importantly for Odiase, he must stay out of foul trouble.

Tech needs Manderson to replicate his Jan. 3 performance where he scored a team-high 12 against Texas. He missed the Feb. 14 rematch with an ankle injury and the Red Raiders were overwhelmed by the Longhorns down low. – Jarret Johnson, RaiderPower.com

The 4-1-1 on Baylor

A week ago, you could say that the Bears were the hottest team in the Big 12, but after an overtime loss at Texas and a late comeback win over last place Texas Tech, Baylor needs to regroup heading into the tournament. The Bears were one of the surprise teams in the nation this year, picked to be a middle of the pack Big 12 team and a bubble NCAA team, the Bears are more than likely a 4 or 5 seed right now. They are led by Rico Gathers, the best rebounder in the nation and elite 6-man Taurean Prince. With a balanced offense and an aggressive zone defense, the Bears are one of the more complete teams in the Big 12. Baylor gets West Virginia in the first round, a team that they blew out both times. With a possible second round matchup with the top-seeded Jayhawks looming, the Bears will be in position to upset Kansas for the 2nd time in 4 years, and advance to back to back Big 12 title games and third in four years. After losing to Missouri and Iowa State the first two times, Baylor finally gets a Big 12 title. – Tim Watkins, BearsIllustrated.com

The 4-1-1 on West Virginia

West Virginia exceeded all expectation by piling up 23 wins and an 11-7 Big 12 conference record under conference coach of the year Bob Huggins. Now, though the Mountaineers face the postseason prospect of continuing without the services of senior guards Juwan Staten and Gary Browne, both of who missed the final two games of the regular season. While the Mountaineers rallied with a team effort to down Oklahoma State in the regular season finale, playing without that duo is a huge challenge. Couple that with the fact that WVU will face Baylor in the opening round, a team that gives it match-up problems to begin with, and the Mountaineers have the most difficult Big 12 Championship opener of any team in the league.

The prognosis for both State (knee, groin) and Browne (ankle) is officially listed as day-to-day, but there likely won't be official word on their status until gameday. – Kevin Kinder, BlueGoldNews.com

WATCH
1:30 P.M. CST Thursday on ESPN2
Sprint Center, Kansas City
Scout Coverage

The 4-1-1 on Kansas

They say nothing changes but the dates on the calendar and in Big 12 basketball, that’s seems to be true. Death, taxes and Bill Self, as Kansas has won an astonishing 11th consecutive Big 12 regular season championship.

While it may be statistically Bill Self’s worst team at KU, the Jayhawks had to replace a lot of their firepower from a year ago with the departures of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. After being blown out twice in the non-conference portion of their season in losses to Kentucky and Temple, they managed to go 13-5 in the rugged Big 12 thanks to arguably the best homecourt advantage in college basketball in Allen Fieldhouse.

Teams tried, but failed to win at Kansas and thanks to gutty performances by different players each night, here’s Kansas once again as the league champion and the number one seed at this week’s Big 12 Championship.

Key Player:

Perry Ellis, junior forward

In a season where Kansas has been consistently inconsistent, Perry Ellis has been the rock for Kansas. He’s had some stellar performances, including a monsterous 28-point, 13-rebound gem against Texas. Kansas will go as far as he can take them and when all is set and done next year, he’ll go down as one of the all time greats at KU.

Prediction

Kansas may be the regular season champion and number one seed in this field, but Iowa State and perhaps Oklahoma could be the stronger overall teams. Look for the Cyclones to take down Kansas in the championship game on Saturday night. This would make the second straight year that Iowa State edges Kansas in Kansas City. The Jayhawks will likely still be poised to be a two seed in the NCAA Tournament. – Jimmy Chavez, Phog.net

WATCH
6 P.M. CST Thursday on ESPNU
Sprint Center, Kansas City
Scout Coverage

The 4-1-1 on Iowa State

Facing high expectations coming off last season’s Big 12 postseason title and a run to the Sweet 16 in New York City, Iowa State’s 2014-15 campaign at times appeared somewhere up and down with a road loss to Texas Tech and a late-season home loss to Baylor halting any hopes at claiming a Big 12 regular-season crown. Nonetheless, the Cyclones finished 12-6 in conference play to tie for second and earn a 2-seed in Kansas City, it’s best seeding in the Fred Hoiberg era. So maybe the up-and-down feeling at times rests more with newfound expectations.

Iowa State will arrive in Kansas City with solid footing in the NCAA tournament picture, sitting as a 3-seed in most projections and having won 10 of 15 games against teams in the RPI top-50 in the regular season. The Cyclones are led by All-Big 12 First Team selection Georges Niang, who averages 15.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Point guard Monte Morris has been the team’s closer in the homestretch, averaging 14.4 points, 5 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game in Iowa State’s final seven games of the regular season.

To win a second consecutive Big 12 postseason title, the Cyclones must avoid slow starts that attempted to rattle them in the regular season’s final two games. It would appear there is a good chance for a rubber match with Oklahoma on the horizon, and winning that game could put Iowa State in the championship with Kansas. First, Iowa State can’t overlook a Texas team (if the Longhorns beat Texas Tech) that has length and potential to create mismatches. Alex Halsted, AllCyclones.com

The 4-1-1 on Oklahoma

No. 3 Oklahoma

Oklahoma was searching for its identity and some consistency midway through the Big 12 season. The Sooners, expected to contend for the championship, were 3-4 in league play and in danger of leaving the top 25.

Lon Kruger’s club responded by winning nine of its final 11 games to earn the No. 3 seed in this week’s tournament, culminating in a 75-73 win against ninth-ranked Kansas on Saturday afternoon.

Leading the way has been potential Big 12 Player of the Year, junior guard Buddy Hield, who supported his candidacy with the game-winning tip-in against the Jayhawks with .2 seconds left in the game. Hield is averaging 17.4 points per game and 5.5 rebounds.

Despite the recent success with Kruger, OU has not won a single postseason game. The Sooners are 0-3 in Big 12 play and 0-2 in the NCAA tournament. The Sooners get a chance to earn that elusive first victory with round three of Bedlam on Thursday night. OU swept Oklahoma State in the regular season.

Prediction? OU is victorious in the quarterfinals before losing another highly entertaining game against Iowa State in the semifinals. – Bob Przybylo, SoonersIllustrated.com

The 4-1-1 on Oklahoma State

Matchup: Oklahoma State (18-12/8-10) vs. Oklahoma (21-9/12-6)

The Cowboys don’t exactly enter the Big 12 tourney riding a wave of momentum after losing five of their final six games, including Saturday’s loss at West Virginia. But the Cowboys are capable of putting it all together at any time, just ask Texas, Kansas and Baylor. Over a six-day period in early February, coach Travis Ford’s team became the first in school history to defeat three nationally ranked teams in consecutive games during the regular season. OSU has two of the Big 12’s top three scorers in Le’Bryan Nash (16.8 points) and Phil Forte (15.5), and Jeff Newberry (career-high 23 points in Saturday’s loss to West Virginia) and Anthony Hickey (he's made 12 of his last 21 three-pointers) are capable of filling it up. The Cowboys are a top-30 team nationally in steals and blocked shots. But OSU last won the Big 12 tourney title in 2005, and has only advanced to the semifinals once since 2010.

Key Player: Le’Bryan Nash, 6-7, Senior

Nash is the Big 12’s second leading scorer (16.8 points per game). The 6-7 senior from Dallas has scored in double figures in 29 consecutive games this season, and ranks in the top 20 nationally in both free throws made (155) and free throws attempted (197).

Prediction: Oklahoma 67, Oklahoma State 64

Terry Tush, GoPokes.com

SEMIFINAL No. 1

Baylor/West Virginia vs. Kansas/Kansas State or TCU

6 P.M. CST Friday on ESPN or ESPN2

SEMIFINAL No. 2

Iowa State/Texas or Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma/Oklahoma State

8 P.M. CST Friday on ESPN or ESPN2

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: 5 P.M. CST SATURDAY ON ESPN

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