It’s Big 12 tournament time! I’ll be reporting on the ground from Kansas City this week as Baylor looks to claim a Big 12 tournament title in addition to its regular season championship. Below is the bracket for the men’s championship and my previews for the first round and quarterfinals:
#8 Kansas State vs. #9 West Virginia
Wednesday, March 9th 6:00 PM CT, ESPNU
The Big 12 tournament tips off Wednesday with the only first round game of the tournament (typically, there are two first round games but Oklahoma State is barred from postseason competition this year, including the conference tournament). Both of these teams have to win the whole Big 12 tournament to have a shot at the NCAA tournament. That’s a tall order with one more game to play than everyone else. 8 seed Kansas State (14-16, 6-12) enters the tournament on a five game losing streak. Their last win actually came against 9 seed West Virginia (15-16, 4-14). And while the Wildcats beat the Mountaineers in their last meeting, West Virginia got the better of K-State in their first matchup. And both games were close. So this is a matchup that could go either way. The Mountaineers actually have a slight bit of momentum entering this game, as they snapped a seven game losing streak with a win against TCU. Still, Kansas State will likely have closer to a home crowd given the tournament’s location in Kansas City, so I like the Wildcats here.
68-64 Kansas State
#4 Texas vs. #5 TCU
Thursday, March 10th 11:30 AM CT, ESPN2
Thursday’s loaded slate of games tips off with a Lone Star showdown between 4 seed Texas (21-10, 10-8) and 5 seed TCU (19-11, 8-10). Both of these teams should be comfortably in the NCAA tournament, so this game is all about seeding and pride. TCU is fresh off of a loss to West Virginia, but that is somewhat understandable since it was the third game of the week for the Horned Frogs. They also picked up a huge win against Kansas earlier in that week. Texas is also coming off of a loss, which was a disappointing overtime defeat in Lawrence. Texas overall had a heartbreaking last week of the regular season, where they suffered that defeat to Kansas and lost their last ever game in the Frank Erwin Center to Baylor. It’ll be interesting to see if they can bounce back here. The Longhorns swept the Horned Frogs in the regular season in fairly convincing fashion. While I don’t think TCU will go down as easily as those first two games, this matchup is simply problematic for the Horned Frogs who would need a huge game from Mike Miles to have a chance. I’ve got Texas in this one.
#1 Kansas vs. #8 Kansas State/#9 West Virginia
Thursday, March 10th 2:00 PM CT, ESPN
Big 12 regular season co-champion and overall 1 seed Kansas (25-6, 14-4) takes on the winner of 8 seed Kansas State and 9 seed West Virginia in the second quarterfinal matchup. Let’s get the easy version of this preview out of the way first: if West Virginia makes it to this game, I think Kansas advances with relative ease. They swept the Mountaineers in the regular season, winning both games by double digits. The more interesting matchup would certainly be rival Kansas State. Kansas also swept the Wildcats, but the first meeting required a huge comeback to barely win and the second meeting was an offensive shootout. While I think the Jayhawks would likely win this matchup as well, it would be a much more challenging game both physically and emotionally than a game against West Virginia. In a tournament format like this I think that takes a much bigger toll on the Jayhawks moving forward. So while I think Kansas wins this game, who they play and how they win will matter a lot for the Friday matchup against either Texas or TCU—both teams that the Jayhawks have struggled with recently.
Kansas (since the matchup is still uncertain I’m not giving a score prediction here)
#2 Baylor vs. #7 Oklahoma
Thursday, March 10th 6:00 PM CT, ESPN
I think this is about the best opening round pull Big 12 regular season co-champion, 2 seed Baylor (26-5, 14-4) could have asked for. 7 seed Oklahoma (17-14, 7-11) has really had some struggles in conference play, although they do have some momentum with a three game win streak (granted, against teams at the bottom of the conference like Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and Kansas State). Baylor handled Oklahoma with ease in both of their regular season meetings. While it has been a bit since these two teams played and Baylor’s playstyle has had to change because of injuries, I still think the Bears matchup well against the Sooners. Baylor is the more athletic and aggressive team with multiple scoring threats. Oklahoma relies heavily on Tanner Groves who has a tendency to go pretty cold when he’s well defended. The big thing for Baylor, given how shorthanded they are, will be making sure this game does end up being a relatively easy win so that they aren’t too physically and emotionally drained going into the next game. But above all else, it’s about winning and advancing.
#3 Texas Tech vs. #6 Iowa State
Thursday, March 10th 8:30 PM CT, ESPN2
The quarterfinals wrap up with 3 seed Texas Tech (23-8, 12-6) taking on 6 seed Iowa State (20-11, 7-11). The Cyclones are a really hard team to pick because they are great defensively, but their offense can either be decent to good or just horrendous on any given night. Baylor fans saw both of those realities in the Cyclones’ last game against the Bears. Luckily for Iowa State, they seemed to figure something out offensively in the second half against Baylor and almost pulled out a victory in Ames. If they can carry that forward, they have a chance here against Tech whose offense is almost as sputtery at times. To that point, the Red Raiders lost their regular season finale to Oklahoma State largely because they could only muster 51 points. Iowa State has a good enough defense to contain Tech, and Tech has a good enough defense to contain Iowa State, so this could end up being a really ugly defensive battle. These two teams split their regular season meetings, with a shorthanded Tech only scoring 47 points in the first meeting in Ames but mustering 72 in the second game in Lubbock. With that, I think a low scoring game favors Iowa State and a higher scoring game favors Tech. While I could see this one going either way, Iowa State fans are notorious for flooding into Kansas City for this tournament and the teams split along home courts in the regular season, so I think there will be a definitive advantage for the Cyclones here. I’ll go with the upset.
54-51 Iowa State