The men's Big 12 conference tournament is winding down with the semifinals on tap for Friday evening. Kansas is the top-ranked team remaining, but a horrific loss to Baylor in the regular season finale cost them a shot at the outright title.
The Jayhawks will take on Iowa State, a high-scoring bubble team that will likely have its ticket to the Big Dance punched, but obviously a quality win would help its resume.
Meanwhile, a third rubber matchup will is set between the Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Cowboys beat the Wildcats less than a week ago, 76-70.
Here is a brief preview and prediction for each of tonight's showdowns, preceded by the Big 12 tournament bracket.
Iowa State vs. Kansas (6:30 p.m. ET)
If the first two games between these teams are any indication, then this is going to be a highly entertaining contest. Both of the prior meetings went to overtime, with the Jayhawks ultimately pulling away with ease each time.
These are two of the most dynamic offenses in the nation, and the Cyclones are incredibly balanced with five players averaging in double-figures.
Kansas has an inherent advantage on the defensive end thanks to the outstanding interior play from center Jeff Withey. This hasn't exactly stopped Iowa State on previous occasions, however.
What the Jayhawks do have is simply outstanding freshman phenom Ben McLemore. He puts up 16.9 points per game on better than 50 percent from the field and nearly 44 percent from three-point range.
ESPN Stats & Info highlights the elite company McLemore is in:
Ben McLemore:moves into 3rd place on Big 12 freshman scoring list, behind only Kevin Durant & Michael Beasley— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 14, 2013
After lighting up Iowa State for 33 the first time around, McLemore was held to just seven points—which ties for his career low. That was more of a product of Elijah Johnson having the hot hand, as he put up a whopping 39 points on the Cyclones on the road.
The key for the Jayhawks is to get a big game out of Withey on both ends, especially in establishing an offensive post game to get Cyclones Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang into foul trouble early on. It's also mightily important to chase Tyrus McGee and Iowa State's sharpshooters off the three-point line.
The Cyclones average 9.9 three-pointers made per game, which is tops in the country. That can be an equalizer, but expect better defensive intensity out of the Jayhawks in this one.
If Kansas can do that and clean up the turnovers—it had 15 against the Cyclones the last time out—then this contest should be manageable for the favorites.
Prediction: Kansas 84, Iowa State 75
Kansas State vs. Oklahoma State (9:00 p.m. ET)
Bruce Weber's squad will be on the prowl for revenge in Kansas City after dropping the final game of the regular season in Stillwater.
The Wildcats are an unselfish but rather inefficient offensive squad, while the Cowboys have much more explosiveness to their lineup. Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash are all capable of lighting it up.
Who will win the Big 12 Tournament?
Kansas State's dynamic backcourt of Angel Rodriguez and first-team All-Big 12 selection Rodney McGruder will need to step up in order to pull this one out.
Rodriguez was a nightmarish 3-for-16 shooting against the Cowboys six days ago. He must be more of a facilitator, since he doesn't stroke it at a high percentage.
What the Cowboys need to do is shut McGruder out of the game plan as much as possible, play off of Rodriguez and force the Kansas State floor general to beat them with his jumper.
This should be a really tight game, but it's hard not to like Oklahoma State, which has just a little bit more firepower and should overcome the tough Wildcats' defense to pull this one out.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 73, Kansas State 68