The Big 12 started the NCAA Men’s Tournament with seven teams, more than any other conference, but after two rounds of wall-to-wall and wire-to-wire action over the weekend, only two schools from the Big 12 are still dancing.
With two-seed Kansas and seven-seed Texas losing in the third round of the NCAA Men’s Tournament, only Iowa State, the No. 3 seed in the East Region and resurgent Baylor, the six seed in the West Region are moving on.
The Jayhawks, who many predicted would make it all the way to the Final Four, trailed Stanford by seven points on Sunday with just 32 seconds remaining in the game. They still had a pulse, though, with two seconds left on the clock when freshman Connor Frankenkamp’s three-point shot to tie was off the mark, sending the Cardinal on to the Sweet 16 and Kansas home to ponder what could have been.
Kansas was the second No, 2 seed to get knocked out of the tournament on the first weekend. Villanova, the two seed in the East Region, was the other, losing to UConn, a seven seed, on Saturday.
Looking ahead to the matchups for the two teams remaining in the NCAA Men’s Championship, Iowa State (28-7) heads east to New York City, where the Cyclones will face No. 7 Connecticut (28-8) in one the East Region semifinal game,s and Baylor will be in Anaheim to take on Wisconsin (28-7), the No. 2 seed in the West Region.
Iowa State got there by defeating two schools from the state of North Carolina: North Carolina Central and third-seeded North Carolina in a grind-it-out, last-second victory. Connecticut got by St. Joseph’s in overtime in its opening game of the tournament and then upset No. 2 seed Villanova to move into the Sweet 16.
For Connecticut, getting to play at Madison Square Garden will be like a homecoming. The Huskies won seven Big East championships on the Garden floor and are playing relatively close to home. The Huskies are led by senior guard Shabazz Napier, who averaged 24,5 points in UConn’s two tournament wins.
Iowa State is led by Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim, who tied for the Big 12 scoring title this season with an 18.1 points-per-game average, and the Newcomer of the Year in the conference, guard DeAndre Kane, who averaged 17 points on the season and had 24 in the Cyclones’ win over North Carolina on Sunday.
The Cyclones will be playing their second consecutive game without the services of their third leading scorer, sophomore Georges Niang, who suffered a fractured foot in the second-round win over North Carolina Central. Niang averaged 16 points a game this season.
Baylor, the Big 12’s hottest team having won 12 of its last 14 games and the runner-up to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament, will be facing a team that can match the Bears in frontline size. Isaiah Austin of Baylor has been a matchup problem for the Bears’ first two tournament opponents because of his 7-1 size. The Badgers have a seven-footer of their own, however, in Frank Kaminsky, who averages 13 points and almost seven rebounds a game.
Four of Wisconsin’s five starters average in double figures in scoring, led by Kaminsky. Badger junior guard Traveon Jackson had 34 combined points in Wisconsin’s first two tournament wins, and Kaminsky had 19 to go along with Jackson’s 16 in the win over Oregon.
Baylor is a prolific three-point-shooting team, and it has the Big 12 leading three-point shooter in senior two-guard Brady Heslip. Heslip hits 46 percent of his three-point tries, and as a team the Bears are shooting 39 percent from long range. Senior 6-9 forward Cory Jefferson is Baylor’s team leader on the floor, however. Jefferson has averaged 13 points and 8 rebounds per contest this season.
Both teams play good defense, so it is quite probable that the West Region semifinal between the Big 12’s Bears and the Badgers, the second-place team in the Big Ten this season, will be played in the 60s or 70s.
My Big 12 NCAA Men’s Basketball Regional Semifinals Picks
Baylor 68, Wisconsin 77 @ West Region semifinals in Anaheim, Calif.
Iowa State 78, UConn 73 @ East Region semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York City