While the competition is sure to be fierce in Kansas City for the 2013 Big 12 Conference Championship, we can say one thing with certainty: A new champion will be cutting down the nets on March 16.
Defending conference champion Missouri defected over to the SEC this season, becoming the latest in a rash of schools to leave the Big 12. While the Tigers' movement likely hurt the conference's overall basketball profile—it ranks just fifth in overall RPI, per CBS Sports—the competition has been no less fierce.
The No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks will walk into the Sprint Center as prohibitive favorites and look to lock up a top seed in the Big Dance. But with so many other conference foes languishing on the edge of the bubble, Bill Self's squad should expect to see nothing less than the best from the opening tip.
With that in mind, here is a look at everything you need to know about the 2013 Big 12 Tournament, including when to watch and a few teams to keep an eye on.
Tournament Schedule & TV Information
Wednesday, March 13 (First Round)
Game 1: No. 8 Seed vs. No. 9 Seed, 6 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network)
Game 2: No. 7 Seed vs. No. 10 Seed, 8:30 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network)
Thursday, March 14 (Second Round)
Game 3: No. 4 Seed vs. No. 5 Seed, 11:30 a.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 4: No. 1 Seed vs. Game 1 Winner, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Game 5: No. 2 Seed vs. Game 2 Winner, 6 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network)
Game 6: No. 3 Seed vs. No. 6 Seed, 8:30 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network)
Friday, March 15 (Semifinals)
Game 7: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner, 6:30 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network/ESPNU)
Game 8: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner, 9 p.m. ET (Big 12 Network/ESPNU)
Saturday, March 16 (Finals)
Game 9: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Full bracket information can be seen on Big12Sports.com.
Teams to Watch
Kansas Jayhawks (26-4, RPI: 5)
With so many top-flight teams falling by the wayside of late, Kansas has been one of the few constants. The Jayhawks have won seven straight games—recovering from an embarrassing three-game swoon in early February—and have three wins versus Top 25 opponents in the process.
In your average top-heavy season, the committee would probably be unable to look past that three-game losing streak. But with the inconsistency of top contenders becoming more glaring by the week, the race for the four No. 1 seeds may come down to who impresses most in the conference tournaments.
As of now, Kansas and Gonzaga look like the two closest things to locks. The Jayhawks wouldn't even likely need to win the Big 12 tournament to put the final ribbon on their top seed; they just need to make the finals and avoid any frustrating losses.
That said, Kansas’ semifinal matchup may well give Bill Self’s squad problems. Both Oklahoma and Iowa State—the current No. 4 and No. 5 seeds, respectively—played well against Kansas during their regular-season matchups. The Sooners got one of their resume-solidifying victories over the Jayhawks in Norman. The Cyclones, meanwhile, continued to prove they can score on any team in the land but narrowly lost two overtime games to Kansas.
If the standings stay where they are, Kansas will not have the cakewalk to the finals many expect. In turn, it will be up to Ben McLemore and Co. to continue their recent hot streak, take care of business and lock up a top seed in Kansas City.
Iowa State Cyclones (20-10, RPI: 50)
Speaking of the Cyclones, Fred Hoiberg’s squad is one that many mainstream fans would love to see in the Big Dance. In an era where slowed-down, over-controlled pacing rules the world, the Cyclones are the exception. They are fourth in the nation in scoring (80.0 points per game) and play by far the fastest pace in the Big 12.
Iowa State’s scoring is also not predicated on the performance of one player. The team has five players averaging double figures in points per game, and that number could be six if we squinted hard enough and used some creative rounding for Chris Babb.
At the crux of Iowa State’s attack is a familiar name for most: former Michigan State guard Korie Lucious. The senior guard left East Lansing after being suspended by Tom Izzo for conduct detrimental to the team and was taken in by Hoiberg. Though he’s still not a plus shooter, it’s Lucious’ ability to distribute—he’s averaging a team-high 5.6 assists per game—that has been integral to Iowa State’s ascent.
Still, the Cyclones still have plenty of work left on their plate. A win over Oklahoma State Wednesday put them in a good position to make the tournament—ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them as a No. 11 seed. However, history should tell us a berth is far from guaranteed. All it takes is a couple of upsets in mid-major conference tournaments to make everything go haywire and Iowa State to be on the outside looking in.
That means getting at least one win in the tournament is critical. It won’t be easy, though. The Cyclones split their season series with Oklahoma—their likely opening opponent—with both sides scoring a blowout victory.
Assuming the two sides get a hammer game, it will certainly be the one to watch during the tournament’s opening rounds.
Baylor Bears (17-13, RPI: 69)
Among the Big 12 squads vying for a tournament spot, none has more work to do than Baylor. The Bears have collapsed down the stretch, losing eight of their last 12 games, and lack a statement win that would push them over the top for the committee. Their only “big” win of the season came at home against Oklahoma State, a fine team but not one that’s good enough to knock the committee on its behind.
What’s more, Baylor has struggled overall against top-flight opponents. Scott Drew’s club has lost each of its five matchups against RPI Top 25 schools and is 1-10 versus teams with top-50 resumes.
Baylor has to make a dramatic change and soon to impress the committee—especially with the opportunities laying at the team’s feet going forward. Though the Bears currently lack a signature win, they can nab one on Saturday versus Kansas. The teams have been on polar-opposite trajectories of late, so it seems unlikely—especially on the road.
Still, as they showed in a close road loss to Gonzaga earlier this year, the potential for a deep run is there. Pierre Jackson has the ability to take games over at the drop of a hat, though his effectiveness can diametrically shift at any moment. He’s averaging a team-high 19.1 points and 6.4 assists per game but has noticeably disappeared in some pretty big moments.
If Jackson shows up versus Kansas and helps pull the upset, the sky is the limit for Baylor. Lunardi currently has the team among the first four out, but a couple momentum-shifting victories could change that dramatically.
Prediction: Kansas Wins
The Jayhawks have been far and away the most talented team in the Big 12 all season, and they showed it other than a strange midseason patch of struggles. McLemore has a chance to be the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft, Jeff Withey’s dominance in the middle is unparalleled and the team is led by one of the nation’s best coaches.
While the competition will be spry and motivated in Kansas City, talent will ultimately win out. Look for Kansas to struggle a bit in its semifinal contest before cutting down the nets with a relatively easy victory over Oklahoma State in the finals.
Tournament MVP: Jeff Withey
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