Bohls: Why an all-Big 12 Final Four isn't far fetched
- Baylor can shoot lights out from behind the arc and has refound its swagger.
- Texas has all the ingredients to make a deep run and perhaps get to the Final Four.
- The Bears will win their first men's hoops national championship.
OK, Big 12. It’s time.
Time to put up or ship out.
It’s time for the Magnificent Seven — has that been taken? — to show the rest of the college basketball world what we here in the Bread and Barbecue Basket of the U-S of A that the Big 12 is the best league in the country.
I think it is, with all due respect to the top-heavy Big Ten.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t watch nearly as much of the Big Ten or the SEC or the ACC as usual this year. Oh, is there any league getting more disrespect than the ACC? Of course, when Georgia Tech wins its conference championship in 28 years and Duke is headed to the NIT — is it? — it’s a down year for the conference that invented basketball. But we digress.
The Big 12 hoops was can’t-miss TV this year. Honest. It’s been so entertaining, I can’t believe Netflix hasn’t bid for its future rights.
Sure, Iowa State didn’t sniff the NCAA dance, but it almost beat Baylor. Yeah.
Big 12 hoops was downright riveting, and Friday starts the nationwide educational tour where the rest of COVID Nation gets introduced to it, if it hasn’t been already.
So let it be said I’m a believer. I’m all in on the Big 12. Hey, our league got a deserving No. 1 seed, a trio of dangerous No. 3 seeds that can do a lot of damage, a No. 4 seed that should have earned a much higher ranking even if it did get swept by TCU, and a No. 6 seed that scares the pants off every coach in America. Oh, and a No. 8 seed that really has cooled off dramatically but is more than capable.
I’m seeing an All-Big 12 Final Four.
No, no, I’m just kidding. But would anyone be shocked if any of four teams — Baylor, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma State — made it to the final weekend? OK, yeah, we would, but any of those four are entirely capable of catching fire and getting there.
In that vein, I pretty much have to pick a team from the Bob Bowlsby Conference to cut down the nets, don’t I?
Put me down for the Baylor Bears as the national champions.
And if you listen to all the talking heads, that would be a colossal upset. Seems like pretty much everyone sees a Gonzaga-Illinois matchup on the final Monday, and I agree those are the prettiest two teams with the most talent. I don’t think the Zags will even blink at the pressure of becoming the first undefeated team since Bobby Knight’s team in 1976.
But I can’t exactly trumpet the praises of the Big 12 and not have one as a winner, can I?
This could well be the myth-busting NCAA Tournament. And as befitting a two-year run during a pandemic in which we weren’t even sure if a team was going to have enough players to suit up, these next three weeks will be a case of hit and myth.
And here’s Myth No. 1: Baylor hit a pause of about three weeks for COVID-19 and just hasn’t been the same. Wrong. That was true for a week or two, but Scott Drew's Bears are back and roaring. They do have the best backcourt in the nation, a tight end in Mark Vital, a superior sixth man in Matthew Mayer and runaway confidence after winning, what is it now, 45 games the last two seasons.
So don’t buy into the notion that Baylor can’t run the table. It can. It also has the softest of the four regionals in the South, lead the nation in three-point accuracy and will whip Ohio State to reach its first Final Four before surviving Illinois in the semis and whipping Gonzaga on that Monday.
Yes, it’s a chalky 2021 dance, in part, because the three top No. 1 seeds are that much better than everyone else, they are playing the entire tournament sequestered in Indiana and with fewer fans come fewer upsets.
That leaves the East Regional, and I’ve got tough No. 2 Alabama emerging there.
That 80-79 Alabama win over athletic LSU in the SEC Tournament title game was spectacular and Final Four-quality. They could get a rematch in the East final.
Myth No. 2: Texas can’t get it done.
The Longhorns are again hitting their stride as they did when they raced to a 10-1 record and a No. 4 national ranking. They’ve won five straight, and all have come on the road, which is a good sign for the Hoosier State-bound Longhorns. Shaka Smart has thrived this season, done his best coaching and has his team primed for a deep run, maybe even to the Final Four.
They have a veteran backcourt where any of the three can shine, although Courtney Ramey is in a bit of a funk these days. That means Ramey may go off against Abilene Christian in the opener Saturday night and be the leading scorer.
Or it could be a revitalized Jericho Sims, who has been his best self these last three weeks and could open a million eyes this month. If not Sims, Kai Jones just might be the the ultra-flexible Gumby who will light up living rooms with some ferocious dunks.
If Texas gets going, no team might be able to stop it. However, the Longhorns occasionally stop themselves with an inexplicable in-bounds pass or an unwise shot selection in the late going or foul trouble. That’s when heartbreak inevitably comes in. Maybe it won’t kick in this March, and Texas will romp its way to new heights and get to Indianapolis to join Baylor. I’d love to see it, but I’m picking the Crimson Tide to beat the Burnt Orange in the East finals.
Myth No. 3: Kansas ain’t Kansas.
The Jayhawks are good and capable, but they’ve hit their own pause of late, having to cancel a semifinals matchup with the Longhorns, who frankly owned Kansas this winter. David McCormack was hitting his stride before being a Big 12 Tournament scratch. That said, the Jayhawks have won eight of their last nine games, and they are Kansas.
Bill Self’s team just isn’t as reliable as normal and doesn’t have that one alpha dog.
Myth No. 4: West Virginia only has defense.
Have you not paid attention? This is one of Huggy Bear’s best offensive teams, whether it’s Sean McNeil or Deuce McBride, the one-time quarterback at Cincinnati Moeller, or Taz Sherman, and they led the league in free throw accuracy. Plus, the Mountaineers have Derek Culver, the league’s best glass-cleaner, to wipe the boards clean inside.
Myth No. 5: Oklahoma State is a one-man gang.
Hardly. Yes, Cade Cunningham may well be the best player in the nation and this year’s No. 1 pick in the NBA. He’s silk in basketball shorts. Smooth. He's 6-8, so no guards can block his shot. And yes, he can get to the bucket. He’s compared to Paul George for a reason.
Myth No. 6: Texas Tech is having a down year.
OK, it’s not a total myth. Chris Beard loses guys to the NFL Draft or Italy — we miss you, Davide Moretti — on an annual basis but always restocks. They live on defense and will strangle you in the paint. And they will play with a bigger sense of urgency than a taxi cab to the maternity ward.
Still, the Red Raiders can go through some horrific scoring droughts if Kyler Edwards’ shot isn’t falling or Kevin McCullar is having a rough night. And truthfully, Mac McClung hasn’t been the same guy since mid-February.
So all that said, given my luck in Bracketville, five of the seven Big 12 teams will get upset this first weekend, Baylor will get a bad whistle and we’ll be witnessing a Final Four without a Big 12 team.
But I’m all in until then.