#1 Kansas Jayhawks vs. #5 Iowa St. Cyclones
Iowa St. fans are salivating over a perceived revenge game against Kansas. The Cyclones lost both regular season games in overtime. The first, played in Lawrence, saw a Ben McLemore freak 3 bank off the glass to send the game in extra minutes. In the second tilt, Elijah Johnson scored 8 points in the final 0:32 of regulation to tie it up, then scored 12 more in OT (including an emphatic "nail in the coffin" dunk) en route to a career-high 39 points.
Needless to say, the Cyclone faithful believe they can and will win this game. The Cyclones' top 6 players in their rotation all scored in double figures in both games against Kansas, save for Melvin Ejim's four point output in game 2. ISU's perimeter-heavy attack somewhat neutralizes Jeff Withey's defensive effectiveness. The Cyclones attempted an astounding 79 3-point attempts total in both games, but managed to hit 31 (39.2%) of those. If that output stays the same, Iowa St. should have a good chance to win.
In game 1, Kansas rode Ben McLemore's uber-efficient 33 point performance (10-12 FG, 6-6 3-FG, 7-7 FT). Game 2 bore witness to the Elijah Johnson show. He also dished 7 assists and grabbed 5 rebounds along with his 39 points. A +8 rebound margin in game 1 and +10 in game 2 went a long way to propelling KU to both victories. Iowa St. may have a volume edge on the perimeter, but the Jayhawks have a distinct interior advantage.
Prediction Sure to Go Wrong: Iowa St. 79, Kansas 77
#2 Kansas St. Wildcats vs. #3 Oklahoma St. Cowboys
Kansas St.'s last win against a ranked opponent came way back in early January when the Wildcats dispatched the Cowboys in Manhattan. Rodney McGruder scored 28 and reserve forward Nino Williams had his best game of the year, chipping in 17 off the bench. Oklahoma St.'s Le'Bryan Nash was curiously quiet in that game with just 6 points. He came back in game 2 to pour in 24 in a Cowboys victory.
Oklahoma St. closed out its best Big 12 season in years by knocking off the Wildcats in Stillwater. Despite the loss, KSU still won a co-share of the Big 12 regular season title when Kansas lost to Baylor that same day. The Cowboys finished one game back, with 5 conference losses to KSU and KU's 4.
Both teams are star-driven. McGruder leads the way for Kansas St., though a strong second-half of play from sophomore point guard Angel Rodriguez helped push him to 2nd team All-Big 12 honors. Rodriguez has posted double-digit points in his last 11 games and has helped take some of the scoring load off McGruder's shoulders. Still, the Wildcats' M.O. is a slow-paced, physical game without a ton of scoring.
Marcus Smart is the man for the Cowboys and the conference: he Won Big 12 Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year accolades. In 2 games against Kansas St., Smart scored 46 points. Slowing down Smart is sure to be a key for the Wildcats. Beyond Smart and Nash, junior guard Markel Brown has put together a very good year and may be one of the more underrated players in the conference.
Prediction Sure to Go Wrong: Oklahoma St. 68, Kansas St. 61