Mar 1, 2014; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Markel Brown (22) drives against Kansas Jayhawks forward Jamari Traylor (31) during the first half at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Oklahoma State beat Kansas 72-65. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Big 12 Men's Tournament: High Stakes For 'Boys, Bears In Tourney Openers

The 2014 Big 12 Tournament tips off Wednesday evening at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., with the traditional eight-nine play-in game. Only Oklahoma State, the No. 8 seed in the tournament, is not your traditional eighth-place team.

Oklahoma State (20-11, 8-10) was voted the Bug 12 co-favorite in the conference coaches’ preseason poll, and at one point much earlier in the season, the Cowboys were ranked as high as No. 6 in the national polls. That was before they went into a virtual free fall in late January and February and inexplicably dropped seven games in succession. Three of those losses, however, were without the services of their best player, Marcus Smart, who was forced to sit down for three games with a suspension.

Nevertheless, with last season’s Big 12 Player of the Year (Smart) and three of the conference’s top offensive players from a year ago (Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash), much more was expected from Oklahoma State this season. The Big 12 Tournament provides a stage and an opportunity for redemption for the Cowboys, who would like nothing better than to win four times over the four days of the championship tournament and hoist the winning trophy on Saturday.

The journey to the tourney final for OSU starts on Wednesday , when the Cowboys face No. 9 seed Texas Tech (14-17, 6-12). The two teams split their two regular season games, with the Red Raiders winning at Texas Tech in the game in which Smart was ejected for rushing into the stands in the closing seconds and shoving a Red Raider fan. The Cowboys avenged that loss in the rematch at Oklahoma State a couple of weeks later.

The Red Raiders enter the conference tournament after a giant win over in-state rival Texas, the No. 3 seed in this week’s championship, in their regular-season finale. Texas Tech is led by senior forward Jaye Crockett, one of just five Red Raiders to score more than 1,000 points and record 600 rebounds, 100 assists and 100 steals in his career, and junior forward Jordan Tolbert, who has scored in double figures in five of his last seven games.

Among Texas Tech’s six conference victories this season are wins over Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State. The win over Oklahoma was on the road. Additionally, the Red Raiders lost to conference-champion Kansas by just a single point in a game played at Texas Tech. Oklahoma State also owns a victory over Kansas this season.

Despite its record, Oklahoma State is one of the top scoring teams in the conference (third at 80.7 points per game) and, as a team, the Cowboys are very efficient on the offensive end. The Cowboys also are very opportunistic on defense. They lead the Big 12 in steals and turnover margin, averaging three more takeaways every game than turnovers.

The winner of the Oklahoma State-Texas Tech will face No. 1 seed Kansas on Thursday afternoon.

In the second opening-round game on Wednesday, No. 7 seed Baylor (21-10, 9-9) squares off against No. 10 TCU (9-21, 0-18), which failed to win a conference game in its second season in the Big 12. Baylor was another surprise team in the conference this season. The Bears began their Big 12 season with a 13-1 marki and a nonconference victory at Kentucky to its credit. For the week of Jan. 7, Baylor was ranked seventh in the weekly Associated Press media poll.

The Bears split their first two conference games in January (losing at Iowa State and prevailing at home over TCU) before losing their next five games and seven of the next eight. From that point Baylor managed to get things turned around, winning seven of the next eight and going from 2-8 record in the conference to finish the league season at a respectable  9-9.

Baylor and TCU are no strangers to each other. They have played 174 times previously, with Baylor holding a 94-81 advantage. The Bears are 4-0 against the Horned Frogs since the latter joined the conference in 2012. The Bears have eight wins this season against teams in the top 50 in RPI.

A couple of intriguing story lines pertaining to the Baylor-TCU first-round game: Baylor is 21-5 this season when holding its opponent below 50-percent shooting (TCU is averaging 40 percent in 30 games in 2013-14). The Bears are 15-3 when holding opponents under 70 points and 6-7 when their opponents score 70 or more points (the Horned Frogs average a league-worst 63 points a game on offense).

The winner of the Baylor-TCU contest gets a date with No. 2 seed Oklahoma on Thursday evening. The Sooners swept both teams this season.

Both Oklahoma State and Baylor are expected to receive bids to the NCAA Tournament, but a win in their opening-round games would further solidify their selection chances.

My Picks/Big 12 Conference Tournament (first-round games)

Oklahoma State 72, Texas Tech 67 – Look for the Cowboys to be on a mission in this tournament. And if they win this one, they get Kansas next and without Joel Embiid. Watch out for the Cowboys this week.

Baylor 79, TCU 65 – Baylor’s 33-point win at TCU was the largest margin of victory in the Big 12 this season. This is a bad matchup for TCU.



Tags: 2014 Big 12 Conference Men's Basketball Tournament Baylor Bears Big 12 Basketball Championship Week In College Basketball Jaye Crockett Kamsas Jayhawks Marcus Smart Oklahoma Sooners Oklahoma State Cowboys TCU Horned Frogs Texas Tech Red Raiders

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