Assessing Three Key Big 12 Matchups in the Sweet SixteenPosted by Brian Goodman on March 26th, 2014
The Big 12 has had a rough go of things in this season’s NCAA Tournament, but the conference is very much alive with two teams still playing. To briefly recap how we got here, Kansas returned to campus earlier than expected, Oklahoma State failed to carry its improved play into the Tournament, and Oklahoma fell victim to a #12 seed darling in North Dakota State. It’s safe to say that those teams underperformed relative to expectations both at the beginning of the season and after Selection Sunday, but the damage doesn’t end there. Kansas State was also bounced by Kentucky in the second round and Texas fell to Michigan in the round of 32 after needing a buzzer-beating putback to get past a mediocre Arizona State squad. While some attrition is to be expected whenever a large percentage of a conference makes the field, it was reasonable to believe that more than two teams from the Big 12 would emerge from the frenzied opening weekend. Still, what we’re left with are two proud programs in Baylor and Iowa State that have been playing well for about six weeks now. As the Cyclones and Bears get ready for their next tests against UConn and Wisconsin, respectively, here are the three key match-ups worth your attention.
- DeAndre Kane vs. Shabazz Napier - The country’s two best do-everything guards lock horns in Madison Square Garden Friday night with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line — what could be better? After stepping up in a huge way with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists against North Carolina Sunday, Kane will likely need another large performance to offset the loss of Georges Niang if the Cyclones are to make their first Elite Eight since 2000. On the other side, Napier was fantastic against Villanova, shaking off foul trouble and a tweaked leg on his way to 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting. The MSG crowd will certainly be pro-UConn, and Napier will have a chip on his shoulder after the Cyclones ended the Huskies’ NCAA Tournament defense a couple of years ago. While Kane and Napier may not be matched up against each other when they step onto the court, it stands to reason that whichever team gets the best performance from its stud guard will play for a chance to cut down the nets in New York.
- Baylor’s offensive rebounding vs. Wisconsin’s defensive rebounding - Shifting gears to Anaheim, we have a case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object when it comes to the glass there. Baylor’s 40.6 percent offensive rebounding percentage ranks second in the country, while Wisconsin collects opponents’ misses at a rate worse than only 10 teams (73 percent). Which strength prevails? If Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers are assertive early, they could force Bo Ryan’s hand to deploy Nigel Hayes alongside Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. While that would help Wisconsin’s chances down low, it would likely come at the expense of removing either of the sweet-shooting Josh Gasser or Ben Brust from the lineup.
- Brady Heslip, Kenny Chery and Royce O’Neale vs. Wisconsin’s lockdown perimeter defense - While Bo Ryan is the second-longest tenured coach in the Big Ten, it’s only been over the last five seasons that his teams have put the clamps down on opponent three-point attempts. Still, they haven’t met a long range threat quite like Heslip. The Bears senior has been deadly accurate throughout his entire career, and while neither of Baylor’s first two NCAA Tournament games were nail-biters, Heslip was a pivotal reason why Baylor was able to put so much daylight between his team and Creighton on Sunday. Throw in a few more outside shooters in O’Neale, Chery and Gary Franklin, a trio that combined to shoot over 50 percent from beyond the arc last weekend, and the Badgers are sure to have their hands full.