Four Storylines Heading into the Big 12 TournamentPosted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2017
While the Big 12 figures to take a step back from 2016 in terms of NCAA Tournament participation, the league has once again enjoyed a stellar season. You could certainly look at Kansas winning the regular season championship by four games and conclude that it wasn’t all that great, but a look under the hood reveals a different stance. Of the 90 league games that were played this season, 43 were decided by five points or fewer (or in overtime) and just two were decided by 20 points or more. Although the majority of the league’s NCAA Tournament fates are already sealed, we should be in for more several more exciting finishes over the next four days. Here are the four biggest storylines worth following this week in Kansas City.
- Kansas State has everything to play for. After losing eight of 10 games, the Wildcats rejoined the bubble conversation by closing its regular season with victories in must-win games against TCU and Texas Tech. Bruce Weber also appears to have received a temporary reprieve from the hot seat with athletic director John Currie stepping down, so things are trending in the right direction in Manhattan. A win over Baylor in Thursday’s quarterfinals should remove any lingering doubts over an NCAA Tournament bid, and senior D.J. Johnson is the most important piece of that puzzle. The injury-prone big man was healthy and, more importantly, productive in the team’s regular season finale, scoring 19 points on an efficient 8-of-11 shooting against the Red Raiders. He also helped contain standout Bears forward Johnathan Motley to 6-of-17 shooting in the Wildcats’ win over Baylor in early February.
- Will Kansas enter the Big Dance on a high note? The Jayhawks are a lock for a #1 seed no matter what happens this weekend, but one thing (among many) at which Bill Self excels is having his players prepared no matter the situation. Case in point: Kansas had long since clinched the Big 12 regular season title when it played Oklahoma State last weekend, but that didn’t stop Frank Mason III from delivering one of his best performances of the season — 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds against only two turnovers in 36 minutes of action in front of a hyped road crowd. Earlier this week, Self shunned any notion that that he’ll rest his starters should Kansas proceed into the deeper rounds at the Sprint Center. Whether that’s the right move can be debated elsewhere, but it is good news for anyone wanting another good look at a group that could be the favorite to cut down the nets in Glendale, though the Jayhawks will be without Josh Jackson for the team’s opener, which will take place on Thursday against the winner of tonight’s Oklahoma-TCU matchup.
- Will Baylor lock up a #2 seed? Scott Drew has plenty of critics, but few active coaches can claim #3 seeds or better in four of their last six NCAA Tournament appearances, as Drew is on track to accomplish this Sunday. This Bears team can aim even higher, as it could be named a #2-seed for the first time in program history. A win over Kansas State on Thursday should do the trick, and a run to Saturday’s championship game would almost certainly cement the Bears on the two-line. If they stumble tomorrow night and drop a seed line as a result, Baylor would still be a safe bet to play its opening weekend game in nearby Tulsa, but it’s nice to have goals.
- Monte’ Morris starts his coda. Iowa State’s senior point guard was selected to the all-Big 12 First Team on Sunday, but he’s still under-appreciated nationally, a shameful result evidenced by his omission from Monday’s list of Bob Cousy Award finalists. The Cyclones have a tough draw this week in Kansas City, however, opening Thursday’s action with a quarterfinal game against surging Oklahoma State. If they beat the Cowboys for the third time this season, Steve Prohm‘s team will likely draw Kansas on Friday. Morris brings career Sprint Center averages of 10.8 points, 4.6 assists and a microscopic 0.6 turnovers per contest to the Big 12 Tournament, where he will look to add another chapter to his legacy by leading the Cyclones to their third conference tournament crown in four seasons.