Big 12 Keys to Sweet Sixteen Success

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 21st, 2018

Last weekend, the Big 12 propelled four teams into the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2002. That year, two of those teams  (Kansas and Oklahoma) went on to make the Final Four, although neither prevailed in their respective National Semifinal game. As KansasTexas Tech, West Virginia and Kansas State prepare for their second weekend action, here are each team’s keys to surviving to play another game.

Kansas guard Malik Newman is shooting a scorching 57 percent from deep over his last nine games. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

  • Kansas: Avoid a cold shooting night. Kansas has been one of the most prolific and consistent three-point shooting teams in the country this season. As a team, the Jayhawks have shot 40.3 percent from distance with only one outing at less than 35 percent over their last nine games. Clemson doesn’t have a ton of length and is perfectly fine in letting opponents fire away while they focus on forcing tough angles inside, so while Udoka Azubuike starting is a positive development, Friday’s outcome will likely hinge more on whether the Jayhawks hit their threes early. A hot-shooting Kansas team will cause problems for the Tigers very quickly, but if they start off cold and lose confidence, the Jayhawks will be as vulnerable as they’ve been on their worst days of the season.
  • Texas Tech: Capitalize on the injury to Purdue center Isaac Haas. The Red Raiders have been a tremendous defensive team all season, but have had trouble containing highly efficient big men, so the elbow injury that Purdue’s Isaac Haas suffered in the Round of 64 should be a boon to Chris Beard‘s team whether he plays or not. Matt Haarms will alter some shots, but the key for Texas Tech will be to not let his presence keep them from attacking closeouts and drawing contact. The Red Raiders will also need to discourage Purdue’s shooters on the defensive end, an area in which they haven’t excelled despite their athleticism and depth. Still, I like their chances.

  • West Virginia: Hope Villanova struggles from deep. The Wildcats have been perhaps the most impressive team of the NCAA Tournament thus far. They didn’t let Radford hang around for even a minute in the Round of 64 and two days later slammed on the gas in the the second half against Alabama. This team just looks like it’s on a mission, and that’s attributable to both head coach Jay Wright and the two-headed monster of Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. The Wildcats’ backcourt is poised enough to break Press Virginia anywhere they play, so as enjoyable as it’s been to watch senior Mountaineer guard Jevon Carter, he’s going to have his work cut out for him on Friday night. If West Virginia’s pressure doesn’t force some early mistakes, the Mountaineers will have to adjust quickly and get out on Villanova’s shooters — something they haven’t been comfortable doing for most of the season.
  • Kansas State: Have the backcourt play the game of its life. Makol Mawien has shown some flashes this postseason, but let’s be honest: He’s not going to have the same success he had against Kansas and UMBC when he lines up against Kentucky’s collection of size and athleticism. It’s possible that Dean Wade could be a difference-maker if his foot has improved, but he still won’t be at 100 percent if he plays at all. With such a noticeable disadvantage, the onus is going to be on Bruce Weber‘s coaching and the backcourt’s ability to mask the lack of frontcourt depth. Kentucky isn’t the superteam it’s been compared to in recent versions and Barry BrownKamau Stokes and Xavier Sneed have each shown they belong on a big stage, but all three will have to be on at once to get the best of Kentucky in a partisan Atlanta venue. It’s a tall order, but it’s what has to be done for this team’s charmed run to continue.
Brian Goodman (968 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.


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