RTC’s Big 12 Tournament PrimerPosted by dnspewak on March 7th, 2012
Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Big 12 Tournament from the Sprint Center in Kansas City this weekend. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.
After fighting through rush hour traffic and perhaps one of the windiest days in Missouri state history to reach Kansas City, we’re all set to kick off the Big 12 Tournament Wednesday night with a, well, rather bland matchup between Oklahoma and Texas A&M at 6:05 PM. As the weekend wears on, though, the drama will heat up about Missouri and A&M’s betrayal to the SEC, about a potential Border War showdown in the final, and about Texas’ last-gasp desperation to reach the NCAA Tournament. Here’s a team-by-team look at what’s important this weekend, as well as a few predictions (sure to be wrong, knowing our track record) and other analysis.
QUICK HITTERS: The Basics
1. Kansas (26-5, 15-2): For the eighth-straight season, the Jayhawks earned one of the top two seeds in the Big 12 Tournament. Big surprise. Now, it must survive the next three games — and that potential showdown with second-seeded Missouri — to solidify themselves as a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
2. Missouri (27-4, 14-4): As painful as that overtime loss in Lawrence was on February 25, the Tigers could erase that memory entirely with a Big 12 Tournament championship this weekend. To even reach the title game, though, the Tigers would need to defeat either Texas or Iowa State for the third time this season. And that’s never any easy thing to do. At least nemesis Kansas State is on the other side of the bracket.
3. Iowa State (22-9, 12-6): Look at that– the Cyclones have cracked the Top 25, another sign of Fred Hoiberg’s masterful coaching job this season. They said The Mayor couldn’t do it — his transfers would blow up in his face and it would doom Iowa State to another finish in the cellar. Hardly.
4. Baylor (25-6, 12-6): Besides a chance to earn more quality wins to improve seeding before Selection Sunday. it’s probably more important for the Bears to simply gain a little positive momentum before the Big Dance. After a blistering start, this team finished 1-5 agains the top three teams in this league and ended the season on a modest 4-4 note. At least one guy doesn’t need any more momentum, however. That’s Pierre Jackson, who torched Iowa State for 35 in a loss.
5. Kansas State (21-9, 10-8): The Wildcats will need to beware of Jackson in the quarterfinals, as they’ll face Baylor on Thursday. These two teams played two terrific ballgames this year, each winning on each other’s home floor in down-to-the-wire finishes. Expect Thursday to be no different.
6. Texas (19-12, 9-9): You know the deal already for the Longhorns. It’s desperation time, and they cannot afford an early exit in the quarterfinals. Beat Iowa State and they’re in decent shape. Beat Iowa State and Missouri and they’re in more than decent shape. Of any team in the Big 12, Texas has the most to gain and the most to lose this weekend. Rick Barnes needs Myck Kabongo to play better in order to avoid missing his first NCAA Tournament ever at Texas. The freshman Kabongo, who markedly improved as the season wore on, shook off a few rough shooting nights (he scored one combined point against Oklahoma and Kansas) to still contribute on the offensive end as a distributing point guard. Barnes can live with one point in two games if Kabongo is still dishing out 15 assists against six turnovers in that period.
7. Oklahoma State (14-17, 7-11): The Cowboys have seen it all this year. Travis Ford had two points guard transfer in the span of two weeks before league play even began. He lost J.P. Olukemi for the season with a knee injury. He’s moved Keiton Page to the point, he’s played with very little size and he’s working with a very thing roster in Stillwater. Somehow, the team has knocked off Missouri, Texas and Iowa State and has stayed fairly competitive for the most part. That’s the sign of a sleeper.
8. Oklahoma (15-15, 5-13): There are no signs of the Sooners being sleepers, but I’ve been touting them since October as potential surprises. Nothing during this rather disastrous 5-13 Big 12 season would suggest that OU is capable of anything more than an opening round win, but keep in mind that Lon Kruger can coach with the best of them. Sam Grooms is quietly enjoying a very productive season at the point, and this team has some size and rebounding ability. And if Steven Pledger finds a way to go off, the Sooners could keep up in the scoring department.
9. Texas A&M (13-17, 4-14): Yours truly chose the Aggies to win the Big 12. So did the coaches — they chose them to share with Kansas. That clearly did not happen. Still, that’s the beauty of conference tournaments. Win three games and it doesn’t matter where Texas A&M finished in league play. The chances of that happening, of course, are, well… you get the idea. This team’s claim to fame this season is hanging with Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse for a decent portion of the game. And that is not a claim to fame you want to have if you’re Billy Kennedy.
10. Texas Tech (8-22, 1-17): At least this long first season for Billy Gillispie is about to end. His team will only lose one senior from this squad next year, so at the very least the Wednesday (and Thursday, perhaps?) games could help these guys mature a little bit. The problem for Tech is its inability to hold on to the ball and it’s overall youth, so it’s hard to envision it making much noise this weekend.
Goodbye, Missouri: There’s rumblings that the Big 12 coaches shunned Frank Haith in Coach of the Year voting because of politics. It’s nothing substantiated, but it might make sense. People around the league are not happy with Missouri or Texas A&M for bolting to the SEC, and it can’t help that they’re now forced to play a tournament in MU’s home state. If the Tigers manage to win their final tournament as members of the Big 12, it’s probably going to be a little awkward for Haith and his crew to accept the championship trophy from the commissioner.
Rematch: It’s the only thing on everybody’s minds this weekend. Will Kansas and Missouri play one more time? If so, it would mean the Border War would end in front of a neutral site in Kansas City, the epicenter of the rivalry for more than 100 years. It’s hard to quantify, but that might be the most important conference tournament championship game… ever? MU and KU would be fighting for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament and eternal bragging rights in front of a split crowd.
Last Chance to Dance: Yes, that’s a Gus Johnson line, by the way, but it applies to Texas this weekend. Rick Barnes is downplaying the at-large talk, but it has to be a major concern. He’s never missed the Dance at Texas, and if his team bows out against the Cyclones, it’s going to be an excruciating few days leading up to Selection Sunday.
I’m a man. I can admit that I chose Texas A&M to win this league in the pre-season and considered Oklahoma my main sleeper pick in the Big 12. Those were not smart decisions, and based on that, there’s no reason to think any of my predictions below will even remotely come true. I had to go out on a limb, though — it’s not fun to pick by logic — and I’ve got that feeling Iowa State may pull a shocker. Or it may lose in the quarterfinals to Texas by 15. I wouldn’t believe me either if I were you. Clark has a better track record with predictions than I, so take a look at what he says and disregard mine if you’d like.
- Danny: Iowa State over Kansas
- Clark: Missouri over Kansas
- Danny: Royce White, Iowa State
- Clark: Marcus Denmon, Missouri
Dark Horse to Watch
- Danny: Kansas State
- Clark: Iowa State