The Big 12 quietly produces college basketball winners each season. The list is usually headlined by Kansas, but often joined by other schools that churn out tournament appearances, big moments and future NBA prospects.
This year's tournament in Kansas City is the first to feature TCU and West Virginia as official members of the conference, but both schools have already gone home. The four schools that are still alive are also holdovers from the Big 12 transition period (Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma State) and will vie for the conference tournament title over the next two days.
With only two days to go in the Big 12 tournament, and NCAA tournament seeds starting to feel wrapped up with each passing game in these conference tournaments, this is the last chance for the Big 12 (and particularly Kansas) to assert itself as a force to be reckoned with during March Madness.
Kansas and Iowa State will square off in the first matchup of the evening, followed by Kansas State and Oklahoma State in the nightcap. Get ready for 5-6 hours of basketball greatness from the Big 12 on Friday night, and we'll get you ready for that greatness here with a preview of Friday's semifinal games.
No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 1 Kansas
When: Friday, March 15, at 7:00 p.m. EDT
Watch: Big 12 Network/ESPNU
These two Big 12 squads have already given us two thrilling overtime games this season, but can they give us one more game that transcends this basketball season?
History would say yes, especially if you look at the firepower on the Jayhawk side of the court and the quiet three-point onslaught that is the Iowa State offense.
Kansas won both overtime games between these two teams, marked with a physical asterisk in the most recent game as both teams approached the century mark in scoring and the game got very chippy down the stretch. As noted by Jeffrey Flanagan of Fox Sports, that could benefit the Cyclones in this third game between the two.
There is some concern that because of the ugly fashion in which the KU-Iowa State game ended the last time the teams played, the officials this time will call the game extra close — that could benefit the Cyclones.
Led by Will Clyburn and Melvin Ejim, the Cyclones are not the same team that went toe-to-toe with Kentucky in the third round of the tournament in 2012. Royce White is gone, and in his place is an unselfish, sharp-shooting squad that thrives on the three-point shot. Iowa State leads the nation in threes per game with 9.9.
On the other side, Kansas has future NBA stars Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore to make sure things go its way. Elijah Johnson is a bit of a wild card for the Jayhawks, evidenced by his 39-point outburst in the second game of this rivalry and his penchant to turn the ball over in key spots in other games.
Iowa State will be highly motivated without the assurance of a tournament bid, but Kansas will prevail once more because of superior talent and a little bit of a home-court advantage in its home state.
Prediction: Kansas 85, Iowa State 80
No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 2 Kansas State
When: Friday, March 15, at 10:00 p.m. EDT
Watch: Big 12 Network/ESPNU
If you want to see a battle of scoring that no one is talking about, tune in to Kansas State's Rodney McGruder as he goes head-to-head against Oklahoma State's Markel Brown on Friday night.
Both scorers can light up the scoreboard in bunches, and McGruder had 24 points in his team's big win over Texas in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Brown, on the other hand, is a little bit overshadowed because of freshman phenom Marcus Smart and fellow stud Le'Bryan Nash, but he could be the key to any tournament run the Cowboys make.
The two teams played a thriller in early March, as Oklahoma State outlasted the Wildcats at home—keeping Kansas State from winning the Big 12 regular-season title outright in the process. Smart, Nash and Brown combined for 61 of the team's 76 points—a recipe it will likely follow against against Kansas State on Friday night.
Which championship game are you anticipating?
However, the Wildcats are peaking at the right time.
Throw out the loss to Oklahoma State and a 20-point blowout to Kansas in late February, and the Wildcats have 11 quality wins that provide a window to what kind of tournament team this bunch can actually be—like when it beat Oklahoma State back in January.
Angel Rodriguez, Jordan Henriquez and Thomas Gipson lead Kansas State into battle, and Bruce Weber's team has the tools to be a balanced squad on offense and a dangerous one on defense. Add it all up, and the relatively young Oklahoma State team that almost blew it to Baylor on Thursday night will show some inexperience on Friday night in Kansas City—a loss that would make for an all-Kansas final in the host state of the two schools.
Don't miss the Big 12 tournament on Friday night, or you just might miss two instant classics.
Prediction: Kansas State 71, Oklahoma State 62