The 20th edition of the Big 12 men's basketball tournament tips off tonight in Kansas City with a pair of first round games and then gets going in earnest tomorrow with all remaining teams in action. Before you get set to watch all the shootyhoop goodness over the next four days leading up to Selection Sunday, read up on these team previews and what each team needs to do to have a chance to win the Big 12 Tournament.
1. Kansas (27-4, 15-3)
Head Coach: Bill Self (586-187, 379-82 at Kansas)
AP Rank: 1
NCAA Projection: #1 seed
Best tournament finish: Champion (1997, 1998, 1999, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013)
Odds to win tournament: 38.6%
The gold standard in the Big 12 remains the Kansas Jayhawks. KU won the best conference in America for the 12th consecutive season and has firmly established itself as a clear #1 team in the country as we head towards next week's NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks got off to a bit of a slow start in conference play, losing 3 of its first 4 Big 12 road games, and looking pretty vulnerable in the process. But this is a Bill Self team in the Big 12 so of course they finished the regular season on an 11 game winning streak.
WHY KANSAS CAN WIN
Simply put, this is the most well balanced team in the league and each key contributor is playing well right now. Perry Ellis is playing at a Big 12 player of the year level in any year that doesn't have Buddy Hield in it. Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham are giving KU steady, efficient guard play. Wayne Selden is a playmaker on both ends of the floor. But its been the emergence of Landen Lucas that has made the Jayhawks that much tougher to deal with on the defensive end of the court. Add in the fact that KU has a built in home court advantage with the tournament being in Kansas City, and you can certainly understand why they are the favorites to win the whole thing.
HOW KANSAS CAN BE BEAT
Other than a chance to win a Big 12 Tournament, Kansas really doesn't have much of anything to play for. The Jayhawks are a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAAs and will likely be the overall #1 seed even if they don't win this tournament. Whereas all of the other teams in this tournament can improve their postseason situation, Kansas really can't. On the court, KU doesn't have much in the way of a clear weakness, but if a game is close at the end and free throws could decide a game, it's worth pointing out that Kansas is middle of the pack at 70% as a team.
2. West Virginia (24-7, 13-5)
Head Coach: Bob Huggins (717-294, 199-108 at West Virginia)
AP Rank: 9
NCAA Projection: #3 seed
Best tournament finish: Quarterfinal (2014, 2015)
Odds to win tournament: 21.7%
Bob Huggins and his scrappy bunch of Mountaineers put together another solid regular season to finish alone in 2nd place in the conference. Now in their 4th season in the league, WVU is looking to make a push towards a first ever Big 12 Tournament championship. But first, they'll have to win a game. The Mountaineers are 0-3 all-time in the Big 12 Tournament since joining the league. But this team has an offensive identity that previous iterations of WVU basketball did not have. If Kansas isn't on their A game, West Virginia might be the team that can take them out.
WHY WEST VIRGINIA CAN WIN
West Virginia's entire strategy is to make their opponent uncomfortable and get them out of any sort of rhythm. The Mountaineers play a unique style and they thrive on forcing turnovers that lead to easy baskets. WVU turns the opponent over on 22.6% of defensive possessions, 2nd best in all of college basketball. Guards Javon Carter, Jaysean Paige, Daxter Miles Jr. and Tarik Phillip all average at or over 1.5 steals per game. Offensively, West Virginia will attack the basket and feast on the offensive glass, as they lead the country in offensive rebounding. If you let WVU dictate the pace of the game, they become extremely difficult to beat.
HOW WEST VIRGINIA CAN BE BEAT
Although the Mountaineers are better in the halfcourt offense this season, that is still not their strong suit. There have been games this season where WVU just looks completely out of sorts offensively and has been blown out because of it. Keeping Paige and the other guards out of the paint and forcing perimeter shots is a good recipe for success. And as we saw with Baylor last year, teams with experienced ball handlers can beat the press and frequently catch West Virginia in a 3 on 2 type of situation. Getting across halfcourt is half the battle. Defensively, the Mountaineers also foul. A LOT. So a team that can get to the free throw line early in the half should get some opportunities for free points from the line.
3. Oklahoma (24-6, 12-6)
Head Coach: Lon Kruger (585-359, 106-55 at Oklahoma)
AP Rank: 6
NCAA Projection: #2 seed
Best tournament finish: Champion (2001, 2002, 2003)
Odds to win tournament: 16.1%
The Sooners looked to be a team that could unseat Kansas atop the Big 12 standings and for the first half of the conference season, this looked like a distinct possibility. Buddy Hield was playing at an absurdly high rate and his teammates were doing their part as well, leading OU to a 19-2 start and a #1 AP ranking for 3 weeks. But the Sooners' shooters sputtered a bit in February and Oklahoma fell out of the conference title race as a result. The Big 12 Tournament provides an opportunity to build some momentum for a big NCAA run with an experienced and talented team full of seniors that knows this is their last rodeo.
WHY OKLAHOMA CAN WIN
Oklahoma's offense has been incredibly fun to watch all season and for good reason: the Sooners shoot 43% from 3 as a team and they shoot a bunch of them. Of course, the star of the show is Big 12 player of the year Buddy Hield, who averaged 25.5 points/game and made 124 3 pointers in the regular season. Hield is the type of player that can absolutely put a team on his back and carry it on a postseason run. But the Sooners aren't just Buddy Hield. Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard have had big years offensively as well, and OU's defense has taken a big leap forward led by Khadeem Lattin's play in the interior. This is the most well rounded team that Lon Kruger has had at OU and if they are firing on all cylinders offensively, Oklahoma is as good as any team in the country.
HOW OKLAHOMA CAN BE BEAT
Live by the 3, die by the 3. While the outside shot is Oklahoma's biggest offensive weapon, it has also betrayed them a bit of late. When the 3 pointers aren't falling, OU struggles. The Sooners are 210th in college hoops in 2 point FG%. They don't have a guy who can consistently get easy baskets in the paint except for Hield's ability to drive. Ryan Spangler is their best big man offensive threat, but he's much more comfortable in the pick and pop game than he is down low. Lattin is good on the receiving end of alleyoops, but that's about it. And although Hield is going to get his, Cousins and Woodard have not produced as much as of late. Those two guys are critical to a sustained OU run. If they're misfiring, the Sooners can be knocked out early.
4. Texas (20-11, 11-7)
Head Coach: Shaka Smart (183-67, 20-11 at Texas)
AP Rank: 23
NCAA Projection: #5 seed
Best tournament finish: Finalist (2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011)
Odds to win tournament: 5.9%
The Longhorns' season looked dead in the water in mid-January when UT lost at TCU on January 9 to fall to 9-6. The Horns were struggling to adjust to the loss of Cameron Ridley and had the makings of a team that was bound for the NIT. But Prince Ibeh filled the void better than anyone could have expected and UT began to make a big late season push that was Shaka Smart's calling card in his days at VCU. Texas' rotation goes 10 players deep, led by guards Isaiah Taylor and noted Baylor fiend Javon Felix. UT will go as far as their defense can take them and with the confidence that Smart had them playing with in February, I wouldn't be shocked to see them make a run.
WHY TEXAS CAN WIN
Texas is best post defense team in the conference led by Ibeh, the Big 12's defensive player of the year. But the Horns make it difficult on the perimeter as well with several athletic guards that Shaka Smart can bring into the game in waves to put pressure on the opposing ball handler. Guys like Kerwin Roach, Eric Davis and Tevin Mack are all capable of coming off the bench and immediately making an impact. Texas has also benefited this season from taking care of the basketball, ranking 14th in opponent steals/game. If the Longhorn defense is playing its best and Taylor is able to penetrate and create consistently, Texas is a tough team to deal with.
HOW TEXAS CAN BE BEAT
The simple answer here is to ask Kansas as the Jayhawks laid a 30 point whipping on the Horns in Austin last Monday night. Texas has appeared to hit the skids a bit in the last couple weeks as they have taken a couple of bludgeonings at home including one that Baylor gave UT on February 20. The entire key to stopping the Longhorn offense is to keep Taylor out of the paint. He's just about the only UT player that can consistently create his own shot and if he is slowed, the points for Texas are few and far between. The Horns shoot just 66.9% from the free throw line and 34% from the 3 point line, both ranking outside the top 200 nationally. And while Texas is strong defensively, they are susceptible to getting beat on the defensive glass. Look for that to be a key for Baylor in the quarterfinal matchup on Thursday.
5. Baylor (21-10, 10-8)
Head Coach: Scott Drew (271-181, 251-170 at Baylor)
AP Rank: 22
NCAA Projection: #6 seed
Best tournament finish: Finalist (2009, 2012, 2014)
Odds to win tournament: 6.0%
Well shucks that Scott Drew guy who can't coach has another 20 win season and NCAA Tournament appearance locked up. Baylor began the season with high expectations but they have gotten more contributions from role players than may have been expected in November. The Bears once again rank near the top of the country in offensive efficiency and are led by Taurean Prince at 15.5 points/game. The recent emergence of Johnathan Motley has also given BU a solid scoring weapon in the paint that has opened up the offense more for the other guys on the court. Baylor has been a hard team to figure out at times this season, but if they put it all together, they can be dangerous in the next few weeks.
WHY BAYLOR CAN WIN
When Baylor's offense is humming at its peak level, its simply beautiful to watch. Lester Medford is a capable distributor for a team that is 5th in the nation in assists/game at 17.6. And the Bears have several combo type players that are capable of beating you inside and outside, most notably Prince and Al Freeman. And if they miss, Rico Gathers is one of the best in the nation at scoring off of offensive rebounds. When Baylor's ball movement is crisp and they consistently get good shots, the Bears are going to score. And if Baylor is scoring, they can hang with anybody. Not to mention, this is an even year. And we know how Scott Drew teams can wield some magic in even years.
HOW BAYLOR CAN BE BEAT
When it comes to defending top level offenses in this conference, Baylor has consistently struggled this season. The Bears rank 314th in the country in opponent 3PT%, allowing 37.6%. Baylor's guards have done a better job on the perimeter the past couple of weeks but it remains a weakness. And on the interior, the Bears often allow too many easy baskets simply by allowing the opponent to gather the ball too close to the hoop. This was apparent against the top 3 teams in conference this season as Baylor was 0-6 against Kansas, West Virginia and Oklahoma. On the offensive end, BU struggles on occasion with protecting the ball. While Medford has been better than expected this season, he can sometimes make some puzzling decisions with the ball in his hands. The turnover bug could mean a quick exit for Baylor.
6. Iowa State (21-10, 10-8)
Head Coach: Steve Prohm (125-39, 21-10 at Iowa State)
AP Rank: 21
NCAA Projection: #5 seed
Best tournament finish: Champion (2000, 2014, 2015)
Odds to win tournament: 8.1%
Iowa State was a strange case coming into the season with sky high expectations but a new coach with Fred Hoiberg leaving to go to the NBA. Injuries and inconsistent defensive play have plagued the Cyclones at times this season but this team is still just as effective offensively as it has been the last couple years. ISU has the #2 offense in the country according to KenPom led by Georges Niang, who played at an all-conference level once again this season, averaging 19.4 points/game. Monte Morris also had a big year and has established himself as the best offensive point guard in the league. The ability to score in bunches always makes Iowa State dangerous.
WHY IOWA STATE CAN WIN
This is an experienced team that is the back-to-back defending champion in the Big 12 Tournament, so who's to say they couldn't pull off the 3-peat even though they are the 6 seed? Niang and Morris are obviously the stars of the show but every player who steps on the court for Iowa State is capable of having a big night offensively. Abdel Nader has stepped into more of a lead role this season and Matt Thomas has picked up the slack from Naz Long's season ending injury. A big key for the Cyclones is their defense, which is much better when Jameel McKay is active and engaged. McKay has been a bit of an enigma this season, but when he is playing at a high level, he provides a big time rim protector for a team that doesn't feature a ton of size.
HOW IOWA STATE CAN BE BEAT
The biggest issue facing Iowa State in a tournament like this is depth. It's hard enough to win 3 games in 3 days, but it's especially difficult to do it with a 6 or 7 man rotation. Couple that with the fact that ISU will probably have to go through the top 3 teams in the league to win the title, and it becomes a pretty daunting task. And while Steve Prohm has brought more of a defensive mindset to this team than what Hoiberg possessed, the Cyclones still struggle to stop the opponent from scoring. Iowa State is not a physical team so opponents that have bruisers down low can overpower ISU in the paint (see: Motley and Maston's production against them this season).
7. Texas Tech (19-11, 9-9)
Head Coach: Tubby Smith (557-274, 46-48 at Texas Tech)
AP Rank: RV
NCAA Projection: #7 seed
Best tournament finish: Finalist (2005)
Odds to win tournament: 2.2%
This has been a banner year in Lubbock for Tubby Smith, as the Red Raiders are poised to go to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. Tech got off to a nice start in non-conference but staggered out to a 3-7 start in Big 12 play. But a light switch came on in mid-February as the Red Raiders picked up wins over Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma to get themselves back on the right side of the bubble. There's nothing unique or spectacular about how Texas Tech goes about its business, but Smith has been able to get this team to buy in and they have the making of a team that could pull an upset on the first weekend of the NCAAs.
WHY TEXAS TECH CAN WIN
It's a team effort with the Red Raiders, and that team approach has been a big key to their success lately. Toddrick Gotcher tops this team in scoring and provides a senior leader for others to fall in line with. Aaron Ross, Zach Smith and Keenan Evans have also stepped up big at times for Tech this season. But if there is a guy who can get hot and take over a game, it's Devaugntah Williams. Williams is not a high percentage shooter but his hot streaks are unmatched by anyone else in the Big 12 not named Buddy Hield. The Red Raiders will need to win 4 games in 4 days, but Williams may be the kind of guy who can steal a game for them. Tech is also extremely adept at getting to the free throw line and they shoot 74.8% as a team.
HOW TEXAS TECH CAN BE BEAT
As good as they've been lately, there is still a bit of a talent gap between Tech and the other 6 teams that will be heading to the NCAA Tournament next week. The Red Raiders don't have a real "go-to guy" to lean on when their offense sputters. And when playing teams that put a lot of pressure on the perimeter, the Tech guards have struggled at times. This was especially the case when Tech was whacked by WVU last week. If the Red Raiders can beat TCU in round 1, they'll see West Virginia again. And while Tech is a pretty stout group in terms of defensive FG%, they regularly get mauled on the boards. There are some teams in this conference that will absolutely feast on that weakness.
8. Kansas State (16-15, 5-13)
Head Coach: Bruce Weber (391-208, 78-53 at Kansas State)
AP Rank: NR
NCAA Projection: OUT
Best tournament finish: Finalist (2010, 2013)
Odds to win tournament: 1.4%
In what was expected to be somewhat of a rebuilding year in Manhattan, it was an up and down roller coaster ride for Bruce Weber's young Wildcats. K-State is a scrappy bunch that could make some noise in the next couple of years but they just didn't quite have enough to consistently find wins in the conference schedule. They will be looking to get at least a couple of wins in the Big 12 Tournament to make their case for an NIT bid.
WHY KANSAS STATE CAN WIN
K-State has been competitive in most of its games this season, led by Wesley Iwundu and Justin Edwards, who have been two guys that have really stepped into big minutes and roles this season for K-State. The Wildcats knocked off Oklahoma and were right in games with Kansas, West Virginia, and North Carolina until the bitter end. They possess size down low in Stephen Hurt and DJ Johnson to frustrate opponents on the defensive end, a big reason why they are in the top 15 in KenPom defensive efficiency. Of the 3 non-NCAA teams in this tournament, K-State has the best chance to make noise.
HOW KANSAS STATE CAN BE BEAT
The Wildcats simply struggle to put the ball in the basket consistently. K-State doesn't shoot at a high percentage from anywhere on the court, highlighted by a 29.5% from 3 point range that ranks 336th in the country. To compound this, the Wildcats turn it over more than 14 times per game. There are just way too many empty possessions for Kansas State to be seriously considered a team that can make a run to a Big 12 title.
9. Oklahoma State (12-19, 3-15)
Head Coach: Travis Ford (278-225, 155-110 at Oklahoma State)
AP Rank: NR
NCAA Projection: OUT
Best tournament finish: Champion (2004, 2005)
Odds to win tournament: 0.2%
This appears to be Travis Ford's swan song in Stillwater as the Cowboys are one loss away from their first 20 loss season since 1987. The Cowboys are a team that was void of high level talent to begin the year and then saw injuries take away their biggest contributors. Jawun Evans was the Big 12 freshman of the year, but his absense has crippled Oklahoma State down the stretch as they just can't score enough to hang with the rest of the Big 12. A 20 point win over Kansas in mid-January was nice, but its been a rough year for OSU.
WHY OKLAHOMA STATE CAN WIN
Because T. Boone Pickens has deep pockets.
HOW OKLAHOMA STATE CAN BE BEAT
Because T. Boone Pickens would like to use his deep pockets to find a new coach.
10. TCU (11-20, 2-16)
Head Coach: Trent Johnson (275-264, 49-78 at TCU)
AP Rank: NR
NCAA Projection: OUT
Best tournament finish: Quarterfinal (2015)
Odds to win tournament: 0.02%
After a promising 2015 in which the Frogs won 5 conference games and were set to move into a brand new arena, things seemed to finally be looking up for Trent Johnson's Horned Frogs. Instead, his young team has taken it on the chin in conference play and once again finished dead last in the Big 12 standings. TCU is now 9-67 against Big 12 opponents since joining the league.
WHY TCU CAN WIN
HOW TCU CAN BE BEAT
Play them in basketball and they will probably lose.