The 2014 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship gets underway in earnest on Thursday with four quality games scheduled from morning to night. This could be the most competitive tournament in the 18-year history of the Big 12, with any of seven different teams having a decent chance of coming away the overall winner.
The tournament actually tipped off Wednesday night, with No. 8 seed Oklahoma State and seven-seed Baylor advancing to Thursday’s quarterfinal round with victories over Texas Tech and TCU, respectively.
Seven of the eight teams in action on Thursday are expected to make next week’s NCAA Tournament field. And Kansas head coach Bill Self thinks an eighth, West Virginia, which meets No, 3 seed Texas in the late game on Thursday, should be given strong consideration, as well. “After what they did to us (defeating the Jayhawks 91-85 on Saturday), how are they not considered for the NCAA field?” Self said this week during the Big 12 weekly teleconference.
C0och Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers come into the conference tournament as the No. 6 seed. They finished the regular season with an overall record of 17-14 and went 9-9 in league games. If West Virginia were to make a strong run in the tournament and win all three of its games, the mountain men would be the lowest seeded team to ever win the conference championship.
It also would give the Mountaineers 20 wins for the season, making them the eighth Big 12 team to do so this season. More importantly, it would give West Virginia the conference’s automatic MCAA Tournament bid, which could bump either Oklahoma State or Baylor from the Big Dance.
Perhaps the marquee matchup of the second round is the first game on Thursday, with fourth-seed Iowa State going against the tournament’s five seed, Kansas State. The two teams split their two games in conference play, with each winning on its home floor. These two teams offer a distinct contrast in styles. The Widcats (20-11, 10-8) lead the Big 12 in scoring defense. Fourteen times this season K-State has held its opponent to 60 or fewer poiints, and 16 of the Wildcats 31 opponents have failed to shoot better than 40 percent against the aggressive K-State defense.
Iowa State will pose a tough challenge for the Kansas State defense. The Cyclones (23-7, 11-7) lead the Big 12, scoring an average of 82.5 points per game. Three Iowa State starters average more than 16 points per game, the only conference team that can make that claim.
Whichever team is able to dictate its style of play will likely prevail in this game. My pick: Iowa State 70, Kansas State 65.
League champion Kansas won its 10th consecutive regular-season crown, and the Jayhawks have won the conference tournament nine times in the Big 12 era, including last season and two of the three years before that. Their opening tournament game this year will be the toughest the Jayhawks have faced in any of their championship years, however. Without seven-foot Jayhwk freshman Joel Embiid available for this game, the one vs. eight quarterfinal game between Kansas and Oklahoma State could almost be considered a toss up.
Embiid is the one player Kansas (23-8, 14-4) can ill afford to be without – even with its tremdous depth - as evidenced by the fact that the Jayhawks lost two of the last three games with Embiid out for all or significant parts of the game.
The Kansas-Oklahoma State contest, the second game of the Thursday afternoon session, will feature the teams ranked third (Oklahoma State) and foirth (Kansas) in scoring and one (Kansas) and two (OSU) in shooting percentage. That is hardly the stat comparison you would typically see in a team seeded as low as eighth in the tournament field.
Kansas City is like a home game for the nearby Jayhawks. They will need considerably more support than what the 10,000-plus fans can provide, however, to get by a very good Oklahoma State team, despite what the record reveals. My pick: Kansas 80, Oklahoma State 72.
No. 2 seed Oklahoma (23-8, 12-6) will meet the tournament’s No. 7 seed Baylor Bears in the first game of the evening session on Thursday. The Sooners swept Baylor in the regular season, coming from behind to win by two at Baylor and by 16 in the return match in Norman. This is the first year that OU has been as high as a two seed in the conference tournament since two-time All-American Blake Griffin’s final season in 2009.
Oklahoma likes to push the ball and averages 82.5 points a game, tied for the conference lead with Iowa State. The Sooners are 20-3 this season (6-2 in the Big 12) when they score 80 or more points. Oklahoma is particularly dangerous from the three-point line. Its 261 made three-point baskets is tops in the Big 12. OU has reached double digits in made threes in six of its last eight games, six of which were wins.
Baylor has a considerable size advantage on the frontline over the Sooners, although averaging only one more rebound per game than the smaller OU starting five. The Bears also like to lauch from three-point range. Baylor leads the conference in three-point shooting percentage at 39 percent.
If the game is close in the final minutes, Oklahoma has a definite edge as the best free-throw-shooting team in the conference. My pick: Look for Oklahoma to pull a three-peat in a game that should be closer than most quarterfirnal matchup pitting a two seed against a seven seed. Oklahoma 79, Baylor 74.
The final game of Day 2 pairs Texas (22-9, 11-7), the No. 3 seed in this tournament, and No. 6 West Virginia (17-14, 9-9). The Longhorns won both of their conference games with West Virginia this season by an average victory margin of 13 points. West Virginia is led by its two guards, Juwan Staten and Eron Harris, both of whom averaging 18 points per game. The Mountaineers also rank eighth in the nation for the fewest turnovers per game (9.6).
Texas freshman Isaiah Taylor has 24 double-digit scoring games to lead the Longhorns. The combination of Taylor, Jonathan Holmes and Juvan Felix is averaging 37 points a game for Texas. The Longhorns have been strong on the boards all season, averaging almost eight rebounds a game more than their opponents. In the Horns’ last four games, sophomore center Cameron Ridley has averaged 16.3 points a game.
West Virginia has played well at home this season, but not as good when they have gone on the road, and the Mountaineers are the furthest away from home for this tournament. The stakes are higher for West Virginia, but I believe Texas has a better all-around game and will hold off the wishful Mountaineers to advance to the conference semifinals. My pick: Texas 77, West Virginia 69.
Tags: 2014 Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament Baylor Bears Big 12 Basketball College Basketball Championship Week Iowa State Cyclones Kansas Jayhawks Kansas State Wildcats Oklahoma Sooners Oklahoma State Cowboys Texas Longhorns West Virginia Mountaineers