Big 12 Tournament Storylines To Follow

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2019

This year’s Big 12 Tournament will have a different feel to it than those of recent memory. For the first time since 2005, Kansas will not enter the event as the regular season champion; and coincidentally enough, that year was also the last time that Texas Tech advanced to the championship game. The Red Raiders lost to Oklahoma State that year, but they are the clear favorite to cut down the nets in Kansas City this weekend. It’s easy to see The Streak ending as the biggest takeaway from this Big 12 season, but there’s still some conference intrigue left between now and Selection Sunday. Let’s get to it.

Jarrett Culver is licking his chops at the opportunity to deliver Texas Tech’s first Big 12 tournament championship. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Texas Tech looks to ride the wave. The Red Raiders are the clear favorite this week, and for plenty of reasons. Not only are they the conference’s best team with the nation’s best defense and the Big 12’s best player in Jarrett Culver, but they also have one of college basketball’s best coaches in Chris Beard. On top of all of that, they’ve won nine in a row and 11 of their last 12 with an offense that has significantly improved. Additionally, among the serious contenders to take home the trophy this weekend, Texas Tech is the only team that has its full complement of players healthy and available. So take your pick. Sure, anything can happen in a single-elimination setting on a neutral floor, but if you’re looking for a bold prediction about which team will cut down the Sprint Center nets, you won’t find it here.

Can Kansas muster the energy and defensive focus necessary to make a run? The Jayhawks’ impressive trip through non-league play and some impressive conference wins puts them in line for a quality NCAA Tournament seed no matter what. Playing an hour away from campus will give the team a helpful lift this weekend, but it is tough to envision this Kansas group advancing to its third Big 12 final in four years. I won’t predict an early exit, but it’s not that hard to see such a thing coming in Thursday’s nightcap. Texas is one of the best finishing teams in the country, ranking in the 90th percentile in field goal percentage at the rim (66 percent, per, and the Jayhawks’ inside trio of Dedric Lawson, Mitch Lightfoot and David McCormack could have a hard time containing Jaxson Hayes and Dylan Osetkowski on the defensive end. If Kansas gets past Texas, it will likely have a date with a team that pummeled the Jayhawks into oblivion just three weeks ago. So it’s not looking great.

The Big 12 Champions are Playing With House Money (USA Today Images)

Can Kansas State go deep without Dean Wade? The Wildcats played three league games without their all-Big 12 First Team forward, and they weren’t exactly inspired efforts. They lost to Texas and Texas Tech, and then needed a comeback for the ages just to beat a putrid West Virginia team at home. If you ask Bruce Weber, Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes or anyone else from the team, they’ll tell you otherwise, but this has every bit the look and feel of a house money trip to Kansas City for the Wildcats. Kansas State could wrestle its way to a #3 seed with a conference tournament title — a feat it hasn’t accomplished since 1980 — in addition to getting some help from around the country, but a lot would have to go their way in the next several days.

Which Iowa State team will show up? There’s always a wildcard in this league, and this year it is the Cyclones. They’re the team with the best collection of talent and the best offense, but they also enter this week on a 2-6 skid with some highly visible cracks in the foundation. Marial Shayok is back in action after missing some time with a sprained toe, but he isn’t 100 percent. Even still, perhaps more worrisome are chemistry issues like Michael Jacobson and Talen Horton-Tucker not seeing eye to eye. Steve Prohm may have said following last Saturday’s close loss to Texas Tech that his team’s performance instilled some confidence in the Cyclones’ ability to deliver this postseason, but from my vantage point, they still have some hurdles to clear. With all that said, you don’t have to squint very hard to picture Iowa State making it to Saturday night’s final. Yes, they were swept by Baylor and went 1-3 against TCU and Kansas State, but none of those teams strike much fear into anyone’s hearts at present, especially not a Wade-less Wildcat squad. I get the appeal of Iowa State as a value play, but can’t quite get on board with it.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

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

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