This week serves as the appetizer to the main entree to our March feast. Next week , the NCAA Tournament starts but this week, we get to whet our appetite with a smorgasbord of conference tournaments. The Big 12 Conference Tournament kicks off on Wednesday in Kansas City.
This season, the Big 12 has reflected the landscape of college basketball on a national level. No one team has dominated. Two teams, Kansas and Kansas State tied for first place with 14-4 records, and the top six teams in the conference all had wins against each other in one fashion or another. On a national level, among the big six power conferences, only Miami (Fla) in the ACC won their conference with less than 4 losses (15-3). UCLA in the Pac-12 won that league with 5 losses. Bracketologists were kept busy this winter with the ever changing Top 10, as ranked team after ranked team fell daily. These trends should make for exciting, wide open tournaments. The local conference tournaments this week should be as unpredictable as the Big Dance next week.
Wednesday, March 13
It is no surprise that the Red Raiders will be playing on the first day of the tournament because of all of the off the court turmoil this program has gone through over the past 18 months with their coaching situation and the program turnover. It was going to be a tough row to hoe for them and everyone knew it. The Mountaineers, on the other hand, have to be disappointed in their initial showing in the Big 12. Coach Huggins often appeared at wit’s end with this team as they failed to compete at the level he wished. All in all, West Virginia is a more talented team with a much more experienced coach. Look for West Virginia to out last Tech.
One has to wonder where Texas would have finished in the conference if the NCAA hadn’t been so harsh in handing out its penalty (23 games) to Myck Kabongo. The Longhorns have played better since his return late in the season but they are still a young team overall. Texas should win this one easily since TCU only won 2 conference games all year, but the Horned Frogs did knock out #1 seeded Kansas and #4 seeded Oklahoma, so there is no guarantee. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Longhorns actually win a couple of games in the tournament. They will win this one.
Thursday, March 14
Iowa State is certainly the most fun team in the Big 12 Conference to watch as they really like to get up and down the court and jack up a plethora of 3-point shots. Player for player, the Cyclones may be a better team but Oklahoma has a couple of pretty darn good players themselves Big 12 first teamer Romero Osby and third teamer Steven Pledger. Teams like ISU that rely heavily on the 3 can go cold at any time and that could prove costly. This should be a close game if OU can slow it down and put pressure on the Cyclones 3-point attempts. Watch for Iowa State to outdistance the Sooners for the victory.
#1 Kansas (14-4, 26-5) vs. winner of WVU/TT, 2:00 p.m.
#2 Kansas State (14-4, 25-6) vs, winner of UT/TCU, 6 p.m.
Baylor proved Saturday against Kansas that they can play against anyone, when properly motivated. The Bears are probably the most under achieving team in the conference. They were picked 2nd in the league during pre-season, and had the Big 12’s leading scorer and assist man in Pierre Jackson, yet still finished 6th. The Cowboys though, have the Big 12 Player of the Year in Marcus Smart and are a very tough team to out play. The Cowboys will be too much for the Bears and should win this game in a close one.
It will be highly entertaining to see how these first two days play out. If the regular season is any indication, the favored teams will not win every game and there could easily be a couple of big upsets. Overall, there isn’t much total difference in the level of talent and athleticism among the top six team. Throw in an improved Texas team and a well coached West Virginia squad, and you have to be prepared for anything to happen in this tournament.