The Big 12 Tournament, Broken DownPosted by dnspewak on March 13th, 2013
The Big 12 Tournament begins this evening with a highly-anticipated, once-in-a-lifetime showdown between 13-18 West Virginia and 10-19 Texas Tech. That’s followed by Texas vs. TCU, another elite matchup that might force the people of Texas to actually tune away from spring football practice and watch basketball. Doubtful. Even though conference tournament play-in rounds are often painful, the rest of the Big 12 Tournament may be as entertaining as ever in 2013.
Kansas won the league again, but it has company this year in the form of Kansas State, which technically shared the championship despite getting swept by the Jayhawks. Oklahoma State could win it. Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor are fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. There are several important storylines — like the potential of Kansas vs. Kansas State, Part III — and a lot of candidates to cut down the nets. Here’s a few of the reasons you need to tune in this weekend:
The Favorites Are All Vulnerable
The Big 12 is a simple conference this season. There are four bad teams. There are three decent teams on the bubble. Then, there are three ranked teams that make up the top of this league: Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The first two were “co-champs,” and the latter has the league Player of the Year in Marcus Smart. Bill Self told the Topeka Capitol-Journal that six teams in this league could win the tournament title, but realistically, these are the three teams you would want to put your money on. They’re all flawed in their own ways. Kansas, for example, sometimes forget how to score and looked bewildered in a 23-point loss at Baylor in the season finale. That was a surprising performance, simply because it followed an eight-game winning streak and the Jayhawks had appeared to figure out their mid-season swoon. The Wildcats had a six-game winning streak snapped when they lost in Stillwater on Saturday, dropping them to 1-3 against the Jayhawks and Cowboys. They’ve got something to prove in this week’s tournament. As for Oklahoma State, the makeup of this team sometimes dooms Travis Ford. You won’t find many more athletic or exciting groups in college basketball. But for as physical and high-flying as Smart, Markel Brown, and Le’Bryan Nash are, they’re also vulnerable to cold stretches from three-point land and there’s not a ton of depth on the front line. Like we said, there is no perfect team in this league.
The Bubble Teams Are All Dangerous
You saw what Baylor did to Kansas on Saturday. Oklahoma beat the Jayhawks in Norman, and Iowa State blew two golden opportunities to beat KU as well. Without using that one horrible, overused sports word (it rhymes with “marity”), we’ll just say that anybody can beat anybody in this league among the top six. There’s a reason to believe that all three bubble teams in this instance could potentially cause some trouble, but the Cyclones are the obvious choice here as a sleeper. Save for a late-game mishap in Lawrence and controversial officiating in Ames, they played so well in those two match-ups with Kansas and clearly have the offensive firepower to hang with anybody. The way they shoot and score the basketball makes for an entertaining 40 minutes, so for the fans’ sake, let’s hope they win a few games in Kansas City. Tyrus McGee shoots 47 percent from beyond the arc, for pete’s sake, and he doesn’t even start.
Match-up We Want to See: Kansas vs. Kansas State
This will make for a happy Saturday if Part Three of this trilogy materializes. Smart people always say it’s hard to beat a team three times, so we’ll have to see if that’s the case if these two teams play each other. They both have equally difficult paths, but Kansas State would likely need to beat the Cowboys in the semifinals. Although after that double-overtime classic at Gallagher-Iba in February, perhaps that’s the match-up we want to see in the finals.
Player Who Can Make a Name For Himself: Markel Brown, Oklahoma State
Marcus Smart, the walking-cliche of a point guard for Oklahoma State, makes all the headlines with his high basketball IQ, smart decision-making, leadership and all that other really unimportant stuff. Rightfully so. We’re joking about it being “unimportant,” of course. Smart won Big 12 POY honors for a reason, but this team is fun to watch not only because of him. It’s because of a guy like Brown, who can dunk with the best of them and has had a terrific campaign in 2012-13. He’s becoming more and more of a known commodity in Big 12 circles because of his increased scoring production, but this might be the weekend the rest of the nation takes notice of him as they frantically fill out their brackets on Selection Sunday.
Coach Under the Most Pressure To Win: Scott Drew
He’s quieted the haters throughout most of his career, but Drew can’t run from his failures this season. His team has not performed, and he will need to resurrect the Bears in the Big 12 Tournament. The pieces are there, as they say so often in this sport. Pierre Jackson is still one of the conference’s best play-makers in all facets of the game. Isaiah Austin hasn’t been bad as a freshman, Cory Jefferson has lived up to his individual expectations and there’s enough experience here to make something happen in the Sprint Center. We saw this team’s capabilities in Waco on Saturday, but that’s not going to be enough for Drew’s team. He needs a stellar performance this weekend, or else he’ll have to defend himself all offseason against the critics.