Big 12 Survival Guide: Keys to Each First Round MatchupPosted by Brian Goodman on March 16th, 2017
Despite Oklahoma‘s Final Four run last season, the Big 12 continues to fight a public relations battle for reasons both earned and not when it comes to NCAA Tournament success. Kansas State‘s win over Wake Forest in Tuesday’s First Four started things off on a positive note, but the league still has plenty of work ahead. Here are the keys to each of the conference’s six games taking place over the next couple of days.
- #1 Kansas – Show up. The Jayhawks have had plenty of rest over the last couple of weeks, so Friday’s game is about shaking off the rust. A handful of #15 and #16 seeds over the last decade have hung with Kansas for 20 or so minutes, but UC Davis wasn’t competitive in its only game against a Power 5 school this season — an 86-61 loss to California in November. Additionally, the Aggies have only won their last three games by a combined nine points, so they’ve beaten long odds to even get to this point. There’s no need to overthink this.
- #5 Iowa State – Avoid foul trouble. Nevada is similar to Iowa State in that it sports an efficient uptempo offense, but don’t expect the Wolf Pack to hang around very long. They take a lot of jump shots — ranking among the bottom 20 nationally in at-rim field goal attempt percentage (per hoop-math.com) — yet they’re 30th in free throw rate. For all the deserved praise the Cyclones get for their offense, they’ve also been stellar on defense, carrying one of the nation’s best defensive free throw rates. Steve Prohm‘s team will be in great shape tonight if it continues to avoid whistles on the defensive end.
- #4 West Virginia – Let the press do its thing. Bucknell ranks 89th in adjusted offensive efficiency and would be much higher if the Bison didn’t also rank among the bottom 50 nationally in offensive steals rate. They held on to the ball in their best win of the season (Vanderbilt) but turnovers were their undoing in a close loss at Butler. If Bucknell can break Press Virginia, it will have a shot to pull off the major upset, but it doesn’t appear that they have the personnel to do so. Mountaineers fans should be able to breathe easy for at least one round this year.
- #3 Baylor – Stick with what’s worked. New Mexico State is underseeded as a #14, but the Bears are simply a bad match-up for a team whose strengths lie in getting shots up (5.3% offensive block rate) and defending in transition. Baylor should be able to block their share of shots since the Aggies have only one rotation player taller than 6’7″, and transition opportunities probably won’t be there to begin with given the Bears’ 337th-ranked pace. There’s a chance that New Mexico State’s Ian Baker or Braxton Huggins get hot from deep and make this one interesting, but it’s doubtful.
- #10 Oklahoma State – Start strong. Tomorrow’s tilt against Michigan is rightfully billed as a battle of elite offenses, but while neither team is great defensively, the Wolverines have made strides in holding four of their last five opponents under one point per possession. A good start for the Cowboys in this game is crucial because their defense just can’t be counted on to make the stops needed to buy opportunities for Jawun Evans, Phil Forte and Jeffrey Carroll to dig out of a potential hole down the stretch.
- #11 Kansas State – Get the perimeter game going. Bruce Weber exploited Wake Forest’s swiss cheese defense in Tuesday’s First Four game, but those same easy looks won’t be there on Friday evening. Cincinnati boasts elite rim protection, ranking third in the country in opponents’ field goal percentage at the rim, though it’s worth keeping in mind that the AAC had a serious lack of low-post threats. Still, the Bearcats are stocked with athletes who will make scoring difficult, which means Kamau Stokes and Wesley Iwundu will need to draw enough attention from Cincinnati’s backcourt to open some space for the big men inside.