Ranking the Big 12's Best Hopes for March Madness Success
The Big 12 continues to be one of the top basketball conferences in the country. There is a lot of depth in the conference again this season, but, of course, Kansas is again the conference leader. Kansas is looking to win their ninth straight Big 12 regular-season championship.
With Kansas being the heavy favorite to win the conference championship again, even after being upset by Oklahoma State on Saturday at home 85-80, it is up to the rest of the teams in the conference to continue to play well. There are five other teams in the conference that could find themselves dancing in March.
Here is Kansas, along with the five other Big 12 schools, that may have success in March.
1. Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas Jayhawks (19-2, 7-1 in the Big 12)
Key Wins: Ohio State, Iowa State, Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma
The Kansas Jayhawks have been one of the most consistent teams in the country.
Even though the Jayhawks have been one of the most consistent teams in college basketball this season, it does not mean they have been perfect by any means. They have had very close games with opponents that were very much inferior to them.
Kansas struggled to take down Temple on January 6, but found a way to win the game by a score of 69-62. Then they needed a game-tying three-point shot from Ben McLemore to tie things up against Iowa State with six seconds remaining in the game on January 9. The Jayhawks went on to defeat Iowa State 97-89 in overtime.
The other two notable games where the Jayhawks struggled to win were on the road against Texas, who is now 2-6 on conference play, and at West Virginia, who has been a disappointment in their first year in the Big 12 Conference.
Star freshman guard Ben McLemore has been a true leader this season averaging 16.4 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game. Senior Jeff Withey has been tough on the boards and has averaged 13.0 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game.
Releford has averaged 12.6 points per game, Johnson has averaged 9.3 points per game and Young has averaged 6.8 rebounds per game.
The Jayhawks don't always play their best basketball, but find a way to get the job done most of the time.
This is going to be important once March hits. There are not many teams this year in college basketball that can consistently get the job done.This Jayhawk team should win the Big 12 regular- season title again and will be one of the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
Don't be surprised if the Jayhawks find themselves in their second straight Final Four.
2. Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State Wildcats (17-4, 6-2 in the Big 12)
Key Wins: Florida, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma (twice)
Even though the Kansas State Wildcats lost two games two weeks ago to Kansas and Iowa State, the Wildcats are the clear No. 2 team in the Big 12 right now.
The Wildcats are strong on the boards and continue to spread the ball around. They currently are averaging 37.4 rebounds per game and 16.0 assists per game.
Kansas State started off the season with two blowout losses to tough Michigan and Gonzaga teams, but recovered quickly after. What put the Wildcats back in the national spotlight was a 67-61 upset win over No. 8 Florida in Kansas City on December 22.
The Wildcats ended up going on an eight-game winning streak, but eventually ran into a tough week. They lost at home in a close one to in-state rival Kansas 59-55 and at Iowa State 73-67.
What is good for the Wildcats is that they have good quality wins.
This Wildcat squad has been led by senior guard Rodney McGruder. McGruder is averaging 14.5 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Angel Rodriguez has been a key player for this team as well.
Rodriguez has averaged 9.2 points per game and 4.9 assists per game. His clutch free-throws in the remaining seconds of the game this past Saturday won the Wildcats the game at Oklahoma.
Spradling is dangerous from beyond the arc and can be counted on to play good defense. He broke his nose in the first half against Texas last Wednesday and came back in the second half with no protective mask. He is scrappy and is one of the toughest players on the court. He is averaging 8.5 points per game.
Hendriquez continues to be a tough player down low for the Wildcats and has averaged 4.5 rebounds per game. He has now made his way into the starting lineup after coming off the bench for a majority of the season.
The Wildcats need to continue to win and will have an important date at Kansas on February 11 to battle it out for the Big 12. It will be tough though, because Kansas State has not won in Allen Fieldhouse since 2006.
Kansas State is in a good position to make the NCAA Tournament and is good enough to be a Sweet Sixteen team.
3. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma State Cowboys (15-5, 5-3 in the Big 12)
Key Wins: NC State, Iowa State, Kansas
The Oklahoma State Cowboys hit this third spot after upsetting Kansas on the road 85-80 for the first time since 1989. The Cowboys needed this victory to keep them in the Big 12 Conference title race and also in the NCAA Tournament picture.
I also think this is one of the most talented teams in the conference and could make some noise come tournament time.
The Cowboys were playing inconsistent basketball and started conference play with a 2-3 record. Things have been turning around for this team though, as they have won three straight conference games, including important wins against Iowa State and Kansas.
Smart is averaging 14.2 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game. He is one of the best players in the Big 12 Conference and has played a key role in the Cowboys last three wins by averaging 19.6 points per game.
Brown, like Smart, has been a key to the recent success of the Cowboys in conference play. Brown has averaged 15.5 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game this season. Smart looked impressive at Kansas on Saturday by dropping 28-points and hitting 7-of-10 from beyond the arc.
Nash has averaged 13.2 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game. Forte has averaged 11.9 points per game and is shooting 90.0 percent from the free-throw line. Forte made four clutch free-throws in the last 30 seconds of the game against Kansas, which helped the Cowboys pull off the upset.
The Cowboys have a chance to go at least 8-2 in their last ten games in Big 12 play. Their tough home games will be against Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State. Their tough road game will be against Iowa State. This is a good team and will more than likely find themselves playing in the NCAA Tournament.
This could potentially be a team that makes it to the Third Round or Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
4. Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State Cyclones (15-6, 5-3 in the Big 12)
Key Wins: Brigham Young, Kansas State, Baylor
Hello Fred Hoiberg and company and welcome to the No. 4 spot!
Iowa State has put themselves in a good position to go to the tournament again after defeating Kansas State and Baylor in the same week. The Hilton Coliseum magic is back in Ames as the Cyclones have extended their home game winning streak to 19.
When I look at the Cyclones, I can’t help but notice their statistics. They are ranked in the Top 15 in the categories of points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game. The Cyclones average 78.5 points per game, 40.4 rebounds per game and 16.2 assists per game.
The Cyclones have been led this season by Utah transfer Will Clyburn. The senior guard has averaged 15.0 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game and 2.3 assists per game. In Iowa State’s wins against Kansas State and Baylor, Clyburn averaged 26.0 points.
Niang is averaging 11.6 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per game. Ejim is also averaging over ten points a game with 10.1 and has averaged an impressive 9.4 rebounds per game.
Lucious, who sat out a season after transferring from Michigan State, has adapted well and is averaging 9.7 points per game, along with 5.5 assists per game. McGee has averaged an impressive 12.3 points per game and 3.5 rebounds per game coming off of the bench.
Iowa State needs to keep the momentum up and continue to win crucial conference games. Their next two games will be important as they host Oklahoma tonight and travel to play at Kansas State on Saturday. Going 6-4 in their last ten games could be good enough to put them in the NCAA Tournament.
If the Cyclones make the NCAA Tournament they could be a potential Third Round or Sweet Sixteen team.
5. Baylor Bears
Baylor Bears (14-7, 5-3 in the Big 12)
Key Wins: Kentucky, Brigham Young, Oklahoma State
It was a toss up between Baylor and Oklahoma for the fifth spot. If this was simply about power rankings, I would have went with Oklahoma, because they just defeated Baylor this past week 74-71. Unfortunately, this is about how teams will fare once they enter March Madness.
The Baylor Bears should be a better team this season, but have not lived up to expectations and is very inconsistent. Baylor has a lot of talent, but you never know what Baylor team is going to show up.
This Baylor team, led by senior guard Pierre Jackson, is averaging 75.8 points per game and 39.2 rebounds per game.
Jackson is averaging an impressive 19.1 points per game and 5.9 assists per game.
Austin, who was named to the Freshman of the Year watch list, has averaged 14.5 points per game and has been a force to be reckoned with on the boards by averaging 9.4 rebounds per game. Jefferson is averaging 12.3 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game.
With ten conference games remaining, the Bears may need to win at least six of them to be NCAA Tournament worthy. There are a few noteworthy games that could benefit the Bears.
They play at Oklahoma State this Wednesday, play at Kansas State on February 16, at home against Kansas State on March 2 and at home against Kansas on March 9. Just in case Baylor stumbles to a bad team, a win against these teams could save them.
If Baylor is able to show up every game, they could easily be a Sweet 16 team when tournament time comes around. I'm not quite sure though, even with the talent they have, if they can do it. It’s all about Baylor becoming more consistent and not losing to teams they should be able to beat.
6. Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma Sooners (14-6, 5-3 in the Big 12)
Key Wins: Oklahoma State, Baylor
The Oklahoma Sooners have been one of those surprise teams this season. After last seasons disappointing 15-16 finish, this team has turned things around.
If the Sooners would have upset Kansas State on Saturday, this team would have been in much better shape when it came to the newest Bracketology projections.
It would have been their best win of the season. They currently have an RPI of 23 and a strength of schedule of nine, which will benefit them when tournament selection time comes around.
The Sooners have been led this season by senior forward Romero Osby. Osby is averaging 14.2 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Pledger has averaged 11.0 points per game. M’Baye has looked impressive averaging 10.7 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game. Hield has also played well averaging 9.1 points per game and recording 4.7 rebounds per game.
Oklahoma needs to make sure they take care of business against TCU, Texas Tech, Texas and West Virginia. They cannot afford to lose any bad games. If they do, they have to make it up by defeating a team like Oklahoma State or Kansas. They then need one or two wins against either Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma State or Baylor.
The Sooners still must play Iowa State twice. If Oklahoma finishes 6-4 in conference play they are a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.
The Sooners at best advance to the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament. I cannot see them making it any further than that. Making the tournament this season should be an accomplishment for this program.