NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 TeamsPosted by Brian Goodman & Taylor Erickson on March 16th, 2014
Sunday night, the Big 12 realized the rewards of an outstanding 2013-14 season. Back in November, the league was expected to top out at five NCAA bids, but a league record-tying seven schools heard their names called on Selection Sunday. The conference’s selection of NCAA Tournament participants run the gamut from national title contender (Kansas, if the Jayhawks live long enough to see the return of Joel Embiid) to trendy second weekend picks like Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma State, to a trio that not only outperformed preseason expectations but cemented their standings without needing extra wins over this weekend to do so (Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma). The league may not have a team that you can feel great about locking in for an appearance in Dallas in early April, but you can say the same thing for most power conferences around the country.
Kansas (Brian Goodman)
- Seed: #2 South
- Quick First Round Preview: Kansas will square off against the 15-seed Eastern Kentucky Colonels, winners of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. The Jayhawks shouldn’t have much trouble handling them — even without Joel Embiid in the lineup — but Jeff Neubauer’s senior-laden team operates with the nation’s fourth-best effective field-goal percentage (57 percent) and turns opponents over at a rate of 24.2 percent.
- Intriguing Potential Future Matchup: A second-round match-up against New Mexico will await the Jayhawks provided both teams take care of business. Bill Self‘s team beat Craig Neal’s in Kansas City just three months ago, but New Mexico forward Cameron Bairstow didn’t have much trouble against Kansas’ front line even with Embiid, as he led the Lobos with 24 points in the losing effort.
- Final Word: The Jayhawks reap the rewards of their historically intense non-conference schedule and relative walk to their 10th straight Big 12 regular season title with favorable placement in St. Louis, just a five-hour drive from Lawrence. Traveling Jayhawks fans will be in for a treat, as they can catch Wichita State, Kentucky and fellow Big 12 member Kansas State all under one roof.
Iowa State (Kory Carpenter)
- Seed: #3 East
- Quick First Round Preview: Iowa State rode a Big 12 Tournament title all the way to a #3-seed and landed in the easiest region in the tournament. They should have no problem with #14 seed North Carolina Central in San Antonio. The Eagles won the MEAC tournament and have won 20 straight games, but they haven’t beaten a team with a pulse since Thanksgiving. Look for Iowa State to roll.
- Intriguing Potential Future Match-up: Fred Hoiberg against Roy Williams would be great television. Both coaches love to push the tempo and an Iowa State-North Carolina battle would likely finish in the 80′s. If the Cyclones aren’t cold from deep, I expect them to advance to the Sweet 16 and a very winnable game against #2 seed Villanova.
- Final Word: It’s hard to ask for a better draw than what Iowa State received. They are playing as well as anyone in the country and have the easiest path to the Elite 8 out of all the #3 seeds in the tournament.
- Seed: #5 West
- Quick First Round Preview: Offense will be optional when the Sooners face North Dakota State in Spokane. Both teams finished among the nation’s top 20 teams in adjusted offensive efficiency.
- Intriguing Potential Future Match-up: Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler was the conference’s top rebounder this season with 9.3 boards per contest, but how would he fare under the glass against San Diego State’s Josh Davis? We’ll get the chance to find out if both teams led by seasoned head coaches win their first round match-ups.
- Final Word: Oklahoma’s road to the Big Dance didn’t feature a ton of frills, but that’s no knock on Lon Kruger’s team. Still, the Sooners’ ceiling seems limited due to a lack of overwhelming victories away from the Lloyd Noble Center (their best road victory to date is either at Oklahoma State when the Cowboys were without Marcus Smart, or in Austin as Texas started to slide). They’ll have to bring their improved defense with them on the road if they want to outperform their seed the same way they outperformed November expectations.
- Seed: #6 West
- Quick First Round Preview: We’ll have a throwback Big 12 match-up on our hands when the Bears take on 11-seed Nebraska in San Antonio. Baylor’s zone will be tested as it looks to contain Nebraska’s three-man firing squad of Walter Pitchford (41.7 percent 3FG), Terran Petteway (34.3 percent), and Ray Gallegos (33.6 percent). I like Baylor’s chances to use its loaded front line to get past the Cornhuskers, who will enter the Big Dance as one of the darlings of the NCAA Tournament (as much as a darling can come from a power conference).
- Intriguing Potential Future Match-up: The Bears’ half of the West Region is stacked with offensive powerhouses including Creighton, Wisconsin, Oregon and BYU. Baylor’s ability to extend its zone could be challenged like it never has before should the Bears draw the Bluejays in the next round.
- Final Word: On the surface, it was slightly surprising to see Baylor draw the six-seed out west, but credit is due to Scott Drew‘s team for engineering a turnaround all the way to the Big 12 Tournament final after the Bears started 2-8 in conference play. Combine that with the appeal of non-conference wins over Kentucky and Colorado and it’s easy to see why the selection committee awarded Baylor the benefit of the doubt here.
- Seed: #7 Midwest
- Quick First Round Preview: The Longhorns drew #10 seed Arizona State in the Round of 64 and will play Thursday in Milwaukee. Arizona State is 21-11 and finished fifth in the Pac-12 conference, but ended the season on a three-game losing streak. They are good defensively (27th nationally on kenpom.com) but are barely a top-100 offensive team, averaging 75 points per game. They are led by sophomore guard Jahii Carson, who averages 18.6 points and 4.6 assists per game.
- Intriguing Potential Future Match-up: While Texas benefited from avoiding the 8/9 seed line and facing a #1 seed in the Round of 32, they would likely face #2 seed Michigan and #3 seed Duke to make the Elite 8. Michigan probably isn’t the toughest #2 seed in the tournament, but a Sweet 16 game against Duke is nothing to be excited about. The Blue Devils are #7 on kenpom.com and figure to ride Jabari Parker to at least a few wins in the tournament.
- Final Word: Texas didn’t get an easy draw but not many #7 seeds do. They face a guard like Jahii Carson in the Round of 32 that could send them home quickly. The Longhorns should beat the Sun Devils, but beating Michigan in the Round of 32 would be a shocker.
Oklahoma State (Erickson)
- Seed: #9 West
- Quick First Round Preview: Oklahoma State will wet their feet in this season’s NCAA Tournament when they meet Gonzaga in San Diego on Friday. While the Gonzaga name has traditionally carried a little bit of weight, this is not the Bulldogs team we’ve seen in past seasons. Mark Few’s squad is 2-3 against RPI top 50 teams, with both of those wins coming against BYU. The Zags this season lost 72-62 against Kansas State in Wichita and knocked off West Virginia in a difficult place to win in Morgantown. Kevin Pangos is solid at the guard position for Few, but he will have his hands full trying to contain the incredibly talented duo of Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. Given how well the Cowboys have played down the stretch, I feel fairly comfortable in saying that Oklahoma State can advance to the round of 32.
- Intriguing Potential Future Match-up: Arizona could not have been happy to see the Cowboys show up as a nine-seed in their bracket. Sure, Oklahoma State has its flaws, but it has to be frightening to see a team with as much if not more talent in their backcourt than the Wildcats. That said, Arizona’s size inside with Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski would pose an incredibly difficult match-up with the thin Oklahoma State front line, should this game come to pass.
- Final Word: I anticipated seeing Oklahoma State as an eight-seed, but as we all know there’s basically no difference between the two seeds. Regardless of where the Cowboys fell in the draw, they were going to be a trendy pick to potentially knock off the top seed in their region, which happens to be Arizona. Overall, this seed feels just about right for Oklahoma State.
Kansas State (Taylor Erickson)
- Seed: #9 Midwest
- Quick First Round Preview: Kansas State will square off with Kentucky on Friday in St. Louis, and the first question that comes to mind is this: Are there two teams more different from each other from an attention standpoint than these two? John Calipari and the Wildcats have spent most of the season failing to live up to expectations, while Bruce Weber led his Kansas State team to the NCAA Tournament in a year where most expected them to be NIT-bound. While Kentucky’s athleticism is certainly frightening, perhaps Kansas State is just the type of team that could pose a serious problem for Kentucky. I say that in the sense that Kansas State plays a very structured, disciplined brand of basketball, while Kentucky has been anything but that this season. Almost every bracket will automatically move Calipari and Kentucky into the next round to square off with Wichita State, so if you’re looking to go against the grain, consider picking Weber’s squad in this one.
- Intriguing Potential Future Match-up: If Kansas State can get by Kentucky, there’s a dream scenario for Kansans waiting in the round of 32 with a potential showdown with the Wichita State Shockers. Gregg Marshall has spent much of the season on the defensive when it comes to his team’s schedule, and the coach will have a chance to earn some respect from a fellow in-state school.
- Final Word: Much like Oklahoma State, this seed for Kansas State appears to be spot-on. The Wildcats were projected in the 8/9 line by a majority of the brackets out there for the last few weeks, and have the potential to pose a difficult match-up because teams will fail to give the Wildcats the respect they deserve without a school pedigree that calls for that type of attention.