The Big 12’s Road to the Final Four

Posted by Chris Stone on March 24th, 2016

The opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament was a mixed bag for college basketball’s toughest conference. Although three Big 12 teams — Iowa State, Kansas and Oklahoma — advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, the other four invitees headed home after the first weekend. Baylor, Texas and West Virginia were all upset by double-digit seeds, while Texas Tech was knocked off by higher-seeded (but favored) Butler. Still, this is the first time since 2009 that the Big 12 has produced as many as three Sweet Sixteen teams and each has a legitimate chance to make the Final Four in Houston. Let’s take a look at how they can get there.

Buddy Hield is the key to Oklahoma's Final Four potential. (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield is the key to Oklahoma’s Final Four potential. (Getty Images)

  • Iowa State – The Cyclones have the most difficult task ahead. Virginia is currently the top-ranked team in the KenPom ratings and represent a stylistic nightmare for an Iowa State team that prefers to get up and down the floor. Virginia has not played a single game with more than 70 possessions this season, while only about a third of the Cyclones’ contests have fallen below that mark. Iowa State will have to rely on its highly efficient offense — especially senior All-American Georges Niang  to produce enough points to get past the Cavaliers. If Steve Prohm’s team can make it to the Elite Eight, they’ll face one of two teams in Gonzaga or Syracuse with good but not great defenses. In either matchup, Iowa State would likely be favored to advance to Houston. The key game for the Cyclones comes Friday night.

  • Kansas – The Jayhawks’ Sweet Sixteen draw, Maryland, could be the most talented team remaining. Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone both figure to be first round picks in this June’s NBA Draft, while Jake Layman has a strong case for a second round selection. Kansas will need star forward Perry Ellis to take advantage of his matchup against the slower Robert Carter Jr. here. In the Elite Eight, the Jayhawks would face an athletically superior Miami squad or a dangerous and hungry Villanova team. The Hurricanes are reliant on scoring inside the arc, an area where Kansas has excelled defensively this season. A matchup with the Wildcats would likely come down to how well the Big East regular season champion shoots from behind the arc.
  • Oklahoma – Texas A&M, the Sooners’ next opponent, will present a new challenge for National Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield. The Aggies will likely throw the versatile Danuel House at the smaller Hield, forcing him to navigate his 6’7″ length to find open looks. If Oklahoma makes it past Texas A&M, it will face either Oregon or Duke in what figures to be a high-scoring Elite Eight affair. The Sooners’ advantage in that round will likely come from its underrated defense, which will hope to slow down an elite offense on the way to Houston.

The Big 12 has been well-scrutinized over the past several seasons for its failure to deliver great results in the NCAA Tournament. With three teams now in the Sweet Sixteen, the league has an opportunity to quell some of those lingering doubts by sending one or more teams to the Final Four.

Chris Stone (136 Posts)

Chris Stone is a contributor to the Big 12 microsite. You can find him on Twitter @cstonehoops.

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