Cleat Geeks

Tourney Talk: Big 12

From the most exhilarating game of recent years in the form of Kansas-Oklahoma Part I to the fact that eight teams of the ten-squad conference are over .500 (six of the seven are ranked) and tournament eligible, the Big 12 may just be the most intriguing of the Major 5 conferences. Even with recent tournament failure, the Big 12 looks poised to send a team or two to Houston for the first time since 2012 Kansas, especially with both the overall number #1 seed (barring an early exit from the conference tournament) and player of the year favorite. But in order to know exactly how far a Big 12 team can go, keep an eye on a few teams and key players.

Teams to Watch:

Kansas (27-4, 15-3)

Arguably the hottest team in college basketball, Kansas will look to ride an 11-game win streak into March Madness next week, and things look even better for the Jayhawks as they’re expected to secure the #1 overall seed Sunday. However, before immediately picking the favorite to win your bracket, remember that the last time Kansas held the overall #1, they were ousted by Northern Iowa in the round of 32. However, this team looks different. In hi-res-e4d08e5e73eb4b20a7877fab0741588e_crop_northa season with no dominant stand-outs, Kansas could be the best. Over their last 11 wins, the team has conquered Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, and Iowa State, all of which were ranked; that is, six of Kansas’ last eleven wins came against ranked squads.  What’s just as tempting about the team is that four starters average double figures and the Jayhawks rank in the top 15 for PPG, FG%, and 3P%; not only can they score, they can score in a variety of ways with several different weapons on the floor at a time. And for the “defense wins championships” believers, Kansas ranks second in points allowed in one of the highest scoring conferences in the nation. Clearly, the Jayhawks will bring a lot to the table come March Madness.

Oklahoma (24-6, 12-6)

All eyes will be on Buddy Hield next week as his 25.1 PPG (2nd in the NCAA) will lead the Sooners into the tournament. Like Kansas, Oklahoma can score, with four double-figure starters and ranking second in 3P%. However, such whopping success from behind-the-arc has its ups and downs.  For one, Oklahoma shoots just as well from downtown (43.0%) as it does from inside-the-arc (45.8buddy-hield-ncaa-basketball-oklahoma-kansas-850x560%). In a momentum-based tournament, one long-range jumper can change a game instantly. But when shots aren’t falling, it can be costly. This means that the Sooners will only go as far as the three ball will take them.  In a six-game stretch of electric basketball, there’s bound to be a cold game, which will ultimately be Oklahoma’s last. In addition, don’t be fooled by the Sooners; undefeated non-conference play: Villanova was the only ranked team played, and lowly Wisconsin was the only Major 5 team faced.  Plus, Oklahoma’s last ten games have seen four losses, two of which were to unranked teams,  so they’re obviously not hot.  All in all, barring unstoppable performances from Buddy Hield and major success from downtown, don’t be surprised if the Sooners don’t make it past the Sweet Sixteen.

West Virginia (24-7, 13-5)

wvuThe Mountaineers may be one of the sneakiest top-10 teams of recent years. Many wouldn’t think such a squad could do much come March, but once again, “defense wins championships,” and WV ranks #1 in the highest scoring of the Major 5 conferences.  With a win versus #1 Kansas, they’ve already proven they can beat the best, and not to mention score over 79 PPG, so offense isn’t a problem.  Plus, they’re abnormally deep, with nine players averaging over 18 mins/game.  Don’t be surprised if this team can stop some of the more offensively-driven to make a run into the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.  However, the Mountaineers have two red flags that could keep them from such success. First, their only ranked non-conference game was a 16-point loss versus Virginia. Second, they’ve lost three of their last nine, albeit to ranked teams.  Keep an eye out for West Virginia next week as they could easily make it the second weekend and beyond.

Dark Horses:

Iowa State (21-10, 10-8)

IowaStateDon’t let an early exit last year fool you, Iowa State returns Georges Niang and Monte Morris to this year’s tournament, both of whom are experienced All-Stars. With key wins against Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma, plus a not-so-easy non-conference schedule, the Cyclones are ready for an unexpected run deep into March Madness. ISU has seven players (seven!) who average double-digits, more than Kansas or Oklahoma.  They have diverse weaponry on the floor and bench and could easily steal a few games from the higher seeds.  Don’t sleep on the Cyclones.

Texas (20-11, 11-7)ShakaSmart

The most intriguing thing about Texas is their coach. Shaka Smart knows March, and now he gets another stab at it at a Major 5 school.  With key wins against Oklahoma and North Carolina, don’t be surprised if the Longhorns steal a few, but one thing is certain: they won’t be out-coached early.  It will be interesting to see what kind of March tricks Smart pulls out of his sleeves to get Texas past the Round of 32 and into the Sweet Sixteen, knocking off a high seed along the way.

My Pick: Kansas

Hard to argue against a talented lineup, an experienced and victorious coach, and a team that can shoot well from nearly anywhere on the floor.  As long as they don’t have to face Northern Iowa in the round of 32 again, Kansas has the best shot of the Big 12 teams to bring home some hardware. Rock Chalk.

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