This isn’t the most talented roster that Coach Scott Drew has assembled, especially when considering the season-ending injury to Tristan Clark, but the Bears still do some things that can cause trouble to an unfamiliar opponent. First, the Bears need to get back to doing what they do well, and that is pounding the offensive glass. When done well this year, second and third chance opportunities led to some backbreaking 3s by the Bears. Second, Baylor’s zone can cause confusion to opponent’s offense when done effectively; active hands, hustling, and closing out hard on shooters can unnerve even the best teams.
There are of course, other positive aspects of Baylor’s game, but I believe that those two facets are tough for opponents to prepare for. It’s almost impossible to appreciate the physicality of an opposing player until you have real game-time experience against them. Until an opposing player blocks out a Mark Vital or King McClure crashing the boards, he won’t have a good read from watching film on how difficult of a task that can be. And the same concept is true when preparing for the Baylor zone defense. It’s one thing to have walk-on players trying to imitate the zone, but its quite another to face a team that knows the nuances of it in every situation.
And although some Baylor fans probably wanted to avoid the 8/9 line, at least a potential matchup would be against the lowest rated 1-seed in the tournament, rather than a Duke or UNC team whom after watching this past weekend, seem impossible to beat when playing their best. Combining all those reasons with a Coach who has made some nice runs in the tournament before, and I could see Baylor with a chance to make some noise in the coming weeks.
Fresh off a Big 12 Tournament Championship, it looks as though the Cyclones are ready to live up to their potential. For me it’s simple; the case for Iowa State comes down to talent. I have believed for a long time now that they are the most talented team in the Big 12. They have multiple guys that can take over a game, including, Marial Shayok, Lindell Wigginton, and Talen Horton-Tucker, along with several high-quality contributors. At times, Iowa State seems to lack rhythm, and sputters throughout a game, especially if they aren’t hitting their shots early. This isn’t a team that will blow you away with their defense, but any time you have as much talent on the court as the Cyclones do, you have a chance in any game.
A back to back Final 4 run will likely have to be spurred on by an overwhelming KU homecourt advantage in Kansas City in the Midwest Region. If Kansas can make it out of the first weekend, they will be sitting pretty in the second weekend. Even though the Jayhawks may not be as talented as years past, it’s hard to imagine a Kansas team going down easily in Kansas City. Bill Self’s team also will be playing with a little less pressure than years past. With the streak ending, it won’t be the Jayhawks who will be called upon to carry the torch for the Big 12. Maybe it will lead to a looser and more confident Kansas team? Regardless, as a college basketball fan I would not object to a UNC-KU Sweet 16 game in Kansas City.
Iowa State may have the best accumulation of talented players on their roster, but I would still argue that Kansas State still plays the best as a unit. This Wildcat team managed to win a share of the Big 12 even after having to fight through injuries of key contributors. Remember this a team that advanced to the Elite 8 last year, and the players from that team are back this year. I think this will be a confident bunch heading into the tourney, and they have reason to be. As of now they own the bragging rights in the state of Kansas, and they will be one of the most experienced teams in the tournament. Experience and confidence matter. If healthy, this Kansas State is more than capable of going as far as they did last year, if not deeper.
Typically, when I think of OU basketball I think of superstar individual talent, carrying the team. Whether it was Blake Griffin, Buddy Hield, or Trae Young, Oklahoma has had a way of attracting once a generation type of players. This year was different, however. There’s really nobody on their roster that has that wow factor of OU teams in the past, but rather the Sooners have had a much more balanced approach this year. I think Oklahoma can use the element of surprise to their advantage in this tournament. Nobody is really talking about the Sooners at all, neither nationally or locally, except for some commentary suggesting that they were seeded too low. Whereas in years past, Oklahoma would attract plenty of publicity due to the type of players that were on the team. Kristian Doolittle is one of the better freshmen I have seen play this year, and if he is playing at a high level, he is extremely tough to stop off the block. Every year there are surprise teams that make a deep run in the tournament, and maybe being overlooked by the media can work to OUs benefit.
I think the Red Raiders have the perfect trifecta of the makings a possible Final 4 run. They play good defense, are well coached, and have an experienced NBA talented type player in Jarrett Culver. In addition, it’s possible Texas Tech will not play a major conference team until the Sweet 16. And up until their debacle against West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament, looked to be one of the hottest teams in the country. It seemed as if their offense was finally catching up to their defense. I expect a big contingent of red and black in the stands in Tulsa, Oklahoma this weekend. This is a team that pushed Duke to the brink earlier in the season. There’s not much else to be said, this Tech team has already made the case they can compete with the best of them when playing at their peak.
Now that the season is over and the Big 12 tournament is behind us, Big 12 fans will soon get to see which teams can advance and go the farthest this March. Will the conference have as much success as it did last year?