The Big 12 Tournament is here. Selection Sunday is THIS SUNDAY.
Let’s break down the 2020 Big 12 Tournament taking place in Kansas City.
12. How Kansas State wins it all
In “Space Jam,” Bugs Bunny convinces his team to drink his lucky water. J.K. Rowling stole this plot point in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber could always do the same.
11. How Iowa State wins it all
In “The Sixth Man,” a 1997 college basketball movie my mom took me to see at the dollar movie theater after begging her for weeks to see this Marlon Wayans classic, a ghost helps the Washington Huskies win and the dramatic final game is against *checks notes* Fresno State.
Thankfully, no one has died for Iowa State this year, but perhaps there’s a spirit somewhere who can help the Cyclones cut the nets down in Kansas City.
Kansas State is the No. 10 seed in the tournament and will play No.7 TCU at 8 p.m. Wednesday. TCU still hopes it could upset Baylor in the next game and possibly beat Oklahoma or West Virginia. That’s quite the stretch, but it hammer homes the point that TCU has more to play for on Wednesday than KSU, whose season ends this week.
No. 9 Iowa State plays No. 8 Oklahoma State at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Did you see Oklahoma State play on Saturday? Did you see Iowa State?
10. Casting the tournament: The Spoiler
If you did watch Oklahoma State play Texas on Saturday, you know that the No. 8 seed’s best can beat anyone in this league. The problem is it has hardly ever played its best this season. When it does, OSU beats teams from the SEC and ACC by a combined 51 points in two games. When It doesn’t, it loses to teams with 13 losses like Texas Tech by 35 points.
For the same reason I thought the Cowboys would have a good season this year, I think they have a chance to play spoiler. If they beat Iowa State in the opening game, the Cowboys play No. 1 everything Kansas.
Kansas coach Bill Self was non-committal on playing Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Garrett in the tournament on Saturday. The Jayhawks probably can’t lose the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region at this point. Despite KU’s combined 40 point margin of victory over OSU this year, the Cowboys can beat or at the very least prompt an “upset watch” push alert to my phone during what would be a 1:30 p.m. Thursday tip in Kansas City, Mo., which is likely to feel an awful lot like Kansas City, Kansas.
While Oklahoma State is 17-14 overall, Kenpom ranks OSU as the fifth-best team in the league at No. 52, nine spots higher than Texas — no one has OSU in the tournament. The Cowboys have the No. 86-ranked offense and No. 41-ranked defense. With the No. 53 ranked non-conference schedule and 12th strongest schedule overall, OSU has been tested. If Issac Likekele is the guy pre-illness, and Thomas Dziagwa is the 5-for-5 3-point shooter he was against Texas and not the 3-of-9 shooter he was against Kansas State, than OSU can beat Kansas and therefore it can beat anyone.
9. Casting the Big 12 tournament: The wildcard
The Horned Frogs blew a 20-point second half lead to Oklahoma on Saturday. They have wins over Texas Tech, West Virginia and Baylor. Desmond Bane was named First team All-Big 12 — the first Horned Frog to ever do so — and has played pretty well in this tournament during his career.
What you saw TCU, the No. 82-ranked team at Kenpom, do against Kansas in the first 20 minutes — 60% 3-point shooting, 37-35 lead at halftime — could power them to a Friday game or further.
However, they aren’t a darkhorse because what you saw in the final 20 minutes against Oklahoma — 39%, 58% from the free throw line allowed Austin Reaves to score 41 points in the game — is closer to the team TCU is and this game isn’t being played in Fort Worth.
The Horned Frogs may not get out of their Wednesday game against Kansas State, but after that it’s playing with — a new addition to the coach speak dictionary —house money. A win on Wednesday puts them in a game with Baylor, who they beat two weeks ago.
8. Casting the Big 12 Tournament: The best scheduled game
Texas vs. Texas Tech on Thursday. The best power conference tourney game of the week.
Might be a knock-out game. Winner in, loser to the NIT.
And also could help determine Shaka Smart’s future in Austin.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) March 9, 2020
There’s a lot of disagreement on Texas, the No. 61-ranked team at Kenpom, and Texas Tech, the No. 21-ranked team, in terms of tournament projections.
One thing is clear: Neither team wants to see which Bracketologist is right or wrong after a loss on Thursday.
Both are trending down.
To me, the Longhorns have a stronger case for the tournament than Texas Tech based on résumé. The strength of schedule numbers (non-conference is 295 vs. 185, overall is No. 37 vs. 28) and UT’s best non-conference win was played on an actual road court is my reasoning. Both went 0-4 against the top two programs. Both suffered bad losses to Oklahoma State. While Texas’ loss to Iowa State (89 at Kenpom) is the worst either team has, Texas Tech does have a road loss to DePaul (97 at Kenpom).
I wrote it then and I write it now: Winning at Purdue (No. 24) is a better win than beating a top 10 Louisville team (No. 9) on a neutral court.
How you think of that last sentence probably determines what you think of both team’s résumés and tournament hopes.
These two teams played a pair of the league’s best games and we’re lucky to have a rubber match. Texas winning in Lubbock 68-58 is the biggest upset of the conference season. The Longhorns blew the game against the Red Raiders in Austin (falling 62-57 despite a 12-point halftime lead), otherwise, they would have a sweep against Tech.
Texas Tech is a tough team to figure out because in the four games they played against Kansas (No. 1 at Kenpom) and Baylor (No. 3 at Kenpom), the Red Raiders looked like a top 15 team that belonged with those clubs — they looked like a tournament team.
They still went 0-4 in those games. They took Crieghton (No. 12) to overtime in November. Took Kentucky (No. 28) to overtime in January.
Here’s the problem: Take away the Louisville win, who’s the best team Texas Tech actually beat? No. 23 West Virginia, statistically No.10 at Kenpom, is the answer.
Texas also beat West Virginia.
Both teams have flaws offensively and I don’t think this game will be any different from the other two.
Perhaps Texas laying the ultimate egg and putting their coach’s future back in jeopardy this weekend may not be a huge red flag. UT played better on the road in the second half of conference play. Perhaps Texas Tech losing to KU on senior day will motivate it to rip off three wins this week and win the tournament.
If this game wasn’t being played at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, I’d say it had a chance to be the game of the tournament, but I wonder what the atmosphere is going to be like. I just wish it was a primetime matchup.
7. Casting the Big 12 Tournament: The team that needs it the least
Kansas, the favorite to win it all. Frankly, why play the big three (Udoka Azubuike, Devon Dotson and Garrett) more than 25 minutes in any game that isn’t the championship game this week?
6. Casting the Big 12 Tournament: The team that needs it the most
I’m putting Texas Tech, Texas and the teams not projected to make the tournament to one side. Which of the three teams — Baylor, Oklahoma and West Virginia — need to win this tournament the most?
Right now the Mountaineers are the third-highest seeded team in the Big 12 according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who has them as a No. 7 seed as of Monday. CBS’ Jerry Palm has them as a No. 6 seed.
I don’t believe there’s a lot of difference between the 7, 8, 9 and 10 seeds. Your next game is against one of the best eight teams in the field and there’s not much difference between teams that landed on the seven through 10 line — most of those teams have spent time on or on the cusp of the bubble. Or they’re mid-majors who haven’t played many Power 5 teams.
But the No. 6 seed is different. If West Virginia were to run the table, it could be in line for a No. 4 seed if they picked up wins over Kansas and Baylor this week. Even if they don’t get those opportunities, I think a fifth seed is in play if they win the whole thing.
5. How I voted in the Gannett Big 12 awards
The Big 12 coaches awarded Azubuike as the Player of the Year and Scott Drew as the Coach of the Year among other awards. Here’s the whole list.
I can live with both picks.
It’s good to see Drew get a nod for this season, one in which Baylor won 23 straight games. I believe if the stink of an NCAA investigation wasn’t all over Kansas coach Bill Self and his staff — because a coach of the year award is a staff award — I think Self would be the near unanimous winner. He went 17-1 in league play and didn’t lose on the road in Big 12 play.
Dotson to me was more crucial to Kansas, but it’s hard to argue against the big fella, especially since ESPN dug up the now 31-1 Kansas record stat when Azubuike scores 15 or more points in a game.
Here’s how I voted within our Gannett network:
Player of the Year: Devon Dotson, Kansas
Coach of the Year: Bill Self, Kansas
Freshman of the Year: Jahmi’us Ramsey, Texas Tech
Four potential games I’d like to see this week:
4. Texas Tech vs. Kansas
This would be the 6 p.m. Friday game. Kansas beat Texas Tech twice by a combined seven points. If Kansas is trying to win the tournament and Texas Tech is trying to improve its tournament seed after locking a spot with a win over Texas the day before, this has a chance to be the third great game these two teams have played.
3. TCU vs. Baylor
This is potentially the 6 p.m. Thursday game. Baylor is on the No. 1 seed line. But I think the Bears are more vulnerable than some national media members are thinking.
If Baylor is knocked off Thursday by TCU, and Florida State (No. 15 at Kenpom) wins its tournament along with Dayton (No. 4 at Kenpom) — assuming Gonzaga (second at Kenpom) is a No. 1 seed regardless — I don’t know if the committee will pick the second-place Big 12 team who didn’t win its league tournament over the ACC regular season and tournament champion.
If Dayton — who went undefeated in the Atlantic 10 — loses its tournament, sure, Baylor can drop a game and still be a No. 1 seed.
While I think you’re picking nits when it comes to the first and second seeds, I’d still rather be a No. 1 seed than a No. 2 considering more No. 2 seed upsets have happened the last several years than No. 1 upsets.
This is a good revenge game for Baylor, who lost a 13-point lead with less than three minutes to go in regulation before losing to TCU in Fort Worth.
2. Oklahoma vs. Texas Tech
This would be the championship game at 5 p.m. Saturday. If I can’t get Kansas-Baylor III, I want round three of this game. The Sooners are the tournament darkhorse. OU is No. 35 at Kenpom with the No. 58 offense and No. 28 defense — fairly balanced — and played the fourth most difficult schedule in basketball and 30th non-conference schedule.
Outside of the Matt Coleman buzzer-beater last week against Texas, Oklahoma played extremely well down the stretch, which included wins over Texas Tech and West Virginia. Outside of WVU, Oklahoma has the best chance to move into the sixth line with wins. It’ll have possible opportunities against WVU, Baylor and Kansas. In this scenario, the Sooners have Texas Tech instead of Kansas, which would be three extremely physical games in three straight days.
Reaves’ 41-points against TCU this weekend is one of the best individual performances of the year. He’s had an up-and-down season, but only a sophomore, the return of Reaves, Manek, Jamal Bieniemy and Davion Harmon should make Sooner fans excited for next year.
1. Baylor vs. Kansas
The expected championship game. It’s both the game I can live without if it means Baylor is resting Mark Vital and anyone else remotely banged up with Kansas doing the same. It’s also the game I most want to see because the last matchup in Waco was so good.
My pick to win this thing: Kansas has won this tournament 11 times since it was first played in 1997.
The Jayhawks are 46-12 — 79.3% — in this tournament.
The last team to win it who wasn’t Kansas or Iowa State was Missouri in 2012. The last time a team only lost one game in conference play was in 2010 when Kansas went 15-1. It won the Big 12 Tournament that season.
If Kansas is putting out the team that ranked No. 1 in just about every human and computer ranking, then the Jayhawks will win this tournament.
If they don’t, then I see this tournament being wide open.