The Big 12 Tournament starts tomorrow, with the top 6 teams in the conference drawing opening round byes. Those 6 teams are still in NCAA Tournament contention, with a few bubble teams needing one or two victories to feel safe(r) about their Tournament chances. Below, a brief rundown.
#3 Oklahoma St. Cowboys (vs. Baylor - Th 3/14 8:30p)
Despite finishing third in the conference, the Cowboys have the look of a team trending upwards. A trio of NBA-caliber wing players--Freshman All-American Marcus Smart, leading scorer Markel Brown and former McDonald's All-American Le'Bryan Nash--has college basketball analysts believing that the Cowboys can make noise in the NCAA Tournament. I tend to agree. Beyond the trinity, the rest of OSU's roster rounds out nicely. There's a high-efficiency pair of starting bigs, a zone-breaking sharpshooter in Phil Forte, and a couple other glue guy defenders waiting on the bench. That said, teams with future pros in the frontcourt should give the Cowboys trouble. How OSU performs in its opening quarterfinal round against Baylor's bigs should be a good barometer for the NCAAs.
NCAA TOURNAMENT LOCKS
#1 Kansas Jayhawks (vs. 8/9 Winner - Th 3/14 2:00p)
The Jayhawks have won 5 of the last 7 Big 12 Tournaments, and enter 2013's as the favorite. Last year, a semifinal loss to Baylor dropped Kansas to the 2-line in the NCAAs. This year, a Big 12 postseason trophy could give KU an outside shot for a 1-seed. Right now, the Jayhawks appear to be a low 2-seed. Assuming Kansas wins its opening game, the Jayhawks will draw either Iowa St. or Oklahoma in the semis. The Cyclones took Kansas to overtime in both regular season games, while Oklahoma upset the Jayhawks in Norman. This isn't the loaded team of Jayhawks past, but it seems each year I keep saying that, and each year KU keeps winning. I'd expect nothing less from Bill Self, the best coach in the Big 12.
#2 Kansas St. Wildcats (vs. 7/10 Winner - Th 3/14 6:00p)
The Wildcats have flown mostly under the national radar thanks to a relatively starless team. Rodney McGruder is probably the only Wildcat that national fans could name without serious consideration. The lack of NBA talent makes the Wildcats a pretender in the NCAA Tournament, but a strong overall record will keep them in the 3 to 5-line range when seeded by the Tournament committee. Assuming KSU reaches the quarterfinals, a probable matchup against Oklahoma St. should determine which team gets seeded higher in the NCAAs.
ON THE BUBBLE
#4 Oklahoma Sooners (vs. Iowa St. - Th 3/14 11:30a)
The Sooners mindbogglingly dropped its final regular season game to godawful TCU, putting OU into double digit losses at 20-10. Opening the Big 12 tournament with a loss to Iowa St. would leave OU sweating it out on Selection Sunday. However, a strong surprisingly strong strength of schedule (SOS: 17th) should put the Sooners in as a double-digit seed. Should OU get by ISU, the Sooners' stout frontcourt of Romero Osby and Amath M'Baye could give Kansas fits. The return of freshman guard Buddy Hield, who returned from a foot injury to play 25 minutes against TCU, should help in both the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments.
#5 Iowa St. Cyclones (vs. Oklahoma - Th 3/14 11:30a)
I like the Cyclones better than the Sooners, but a lower RPI (47 to 35) and SOS (64 to 17) hurt ISU's cause when it comes to Tournament seeding. Luckily, Iowa St. will get a chance to make a statement to the Tournament committee about which team should be seeded higher. The Cyclones and Sooners split their 2 regular season games, and whichever club wins game 3 could get a higher seed. That could be a curse in disguise. Despite the Royce White show against Kentucky last year, the Cyclones would still prefer not to draw an 8/9-seed and have to play a 1-seed on the first weekend.
#6 Baylor Bears (vs. Oklahoma St. - Th 3/14 8:30p)
A surprise victory over Kansas to close out the regular season keeps the 18-13 Bears clinging to NCAA Tournament hopes. Prior to that win, Baylor looked done, losing 7 of its last 10 Big 12 games, mostly listlessly. That resulted in Pierre Jackson, leading the conference in PPG and APG, being snubbed from Big 12 First Team honors. Few teams in the nation can match Baylor's talent in the frontcourt with Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson starting and Rico Gathers coming off the bench. However, if Baylor can't get in the NCAAs, that won't matter. 2 wins to get to 20 on the year will probably get Baylor in. As it stands right now, the Bears are one of the first few out.
WIN & YOU'RE IN
The Longhorns take the mantle as most disappointing team in the Big 12. Texas needs to win twice to finish the year with a .500 record. PROGRESS. TCU, which won just 2 conference games all year, seems like an easy victory to get the ball rolling. Combined, Texas and TCU are 0-4 against second round opponent KSU, so the magic likely ends there. If either team can reel off four wins in a row (hey, 15-20 Liberty did it!), an automatic NCAA Tournament bid awaits. Ha ha ha ha!
Same story for the Mounties and Raiders of the conference. West Virginia's 6 conference wins came against Lone Star fodder Texas, TCU, and Texas Tech. So they've got that going for them, which is deplorable but nice. Of course, WVU is also on a 6-game losing streak, while Tech has dropped 11 of its last 12. May the less worse team win! A date with a firing squad--I mean, Kansas--awaits the hapless winner.
Semis (F 3/15 6:30p & 9:00p)
Finals (S 3/16 5:00p)