They say it is very difficult to beat a team three times in the same season, and Kansas will find that out Friday night in the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Mo.
The No. 1-seeded Jayhawks swept their two regular-season games with Iowa State, their semifinal opponent at the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City. And adding to the peril of the Kansas challenging Friday’s semifinal matchup is that this time the Jayhawks will not have their seven-foot freshman center Joel Embiid. Embiid had 16 points and nine rebounds as Kansas defeated the Ccylones at Iowa State, and he scored 14 and added 11 rebounds in a second Kansas victory in the rematch a couple of weeks later in Lawrence.
With Embiid out of the Jayhawk lineup, though, fellow freshman super star Andrew Wiggins has been a beast. The No. 1 overall recruit coming into his freshman season at Kansas exploded for a career-high 41 points in the Jayhawks’ regular-season finale last weekend at West Virginia, and poured in 30 more, including a game-tying field goal to send the game into overtime, in Kansas’ quarterfinal victory over Oklahoma State on Thursday in the Big 12 Tournament.
Iowa State is the highest scoring team this season in the Big 12, and they rang up 91 points Thursday in a second-round win over No. 5 seed Kansas State. The Cyclones of one of the few teams in the country and the only team in the Big 12 to have three starters – DeAndre Kane, Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang – averaging 16 or more points a game.
Three All-Big 12 individual award winners for the 2013-14 season will be playing when the Jayhawks and Cyclones take the floor in their semifinal showdown. Iowa State’s Ejim is the Big 12 Player of the Year and Kane was voted by the Big 12 coaches as Newcomer of the Year. Andrew Wiggins of Kansas is the Freshman of the Year. The conference also honored the Jayhawks’ Embiid as the Defensive Player of the Year. Kane, Ejim and Wiggins were also named to the All-Big 12 First Team.
With the tournament being played just 40 minutes east of the Kansas, conventional wisdom would tell you that the Jayhawks would have the home-court advantage in Friday night’s game with Iowa State. That definitely would be true if it were any other team in the conference than Kansas State – and Iowa State. The Cyclone fans actually travel better than any Big 12 team, and there are a ton of them in Kansas City this weekend hoping to cheer on their team to a tournament championship and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, which begins late next week.
The Kansas-Iowa State matchup should be close and very physical, not unlike the quarterfinal contest between eight-seed Oklahoma State and the Jayhawks. Only, sorry to say Kansas fans, the outcome this time will be different. This may just be Iowa State’s year to be the team that survives the most competitive and evenly matched conference tournament in the 18 years of the Big 12.
My Big 12 Tournament Semifinal Picks
Iowa State 82, Kansas 79
Texas 72, Baylor 65
Saturday’s Big 12 Tournament Championship Game
Iowa State 78, Texas 70