Kansas took care of business against in-state and Big 12 rival Kansas State in the conference tournament on Saturday afternoon, clinching a spot they already had in the Big Dance and likely putting themselves in contention for a No. 1 seed.
Led by 17 points from big man Jeff Withey and a major contribution off the bench from Perry Ellis and Naadir Tharpe, the Jayhawks outscored the Wildcats by eight points in each half en route to a 70-54 win and the school's ninth Big 12 Championship since the tournament's beginning in 1997.
Kansas State just couldn't mount enough of a comeback to make things serious in Kansas City on Saturday, giving Kansas the win and sending Bruce Weber back to the drawing board before March Madness begins.
With selection Sunday just a few hours away and the Big 12 officially done with conference play while it awaits the decisions on bubble teams (Baylor and Iowa State), here are a few takeaways from the conference title game on Saturday.
Kansas Is Dangerous
While offensive scoring and turnovers have been problems for Bill Self's team this season, Saturday's win proved that this team can make a deep tournament run with the right matchups in place.
Just look at the stats. Big-time playmakers Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore combined for just 14 points, seven turnovers and five field goals. Based on earlier Jayhawk losses, it wouldn't have been hard to chalk this game up as a loss from the Kansas box score.
But because of the dominance on the inside, Kansas was able to keep the Wildcats at bay for most of the evening. Withey was a force inside, getting to the line 10 times and making the most of his 17 points.
Ellis and Tharpe aren't regular starters, but each chipped in 12 points on Saturday, showing that Self can use his bench components when they are needed too. Johnson and McLemore struggling certainly isn't an ideal situation for the Jayhawks, but the team has proven it can survive the gauntlet in a big game if that happens.
Add it all up, and Kansas is a dangerous team come March. They have the kind of "boom or bust" potential that will make it hard to put them through to the Final Four, but don't be surprised if that is the end we are stretching towards.
Rodney McGruder Is K-State's Only Hope
McGruder had 18 points against the Jayhawks on Saturday, and, despite shooting a little under 50 percent, he's clearly the best offensive option this team has to get hot in March.
And don't get me wrong—Kansas State is a good team.
Weber's bunch defends well, plays its own brand of ball and has a legitimate stud in McGruder, a guy who can go off at any time and will be one of the X-factors for the entire tournament when it gets underway on Tuesday.
That being said, he's also the only real shot this team has at contending.
Angel Rodriguez is talented, motivated, quick off the dribble and can create his own shot, but he disappears at times and sometimes simply forces the ball up late in the shot clock after dribbling around for most of the possession.
Will Spradling and Shane Southwell can shoot the ball when open, but they provide little else that would be beneficial to this team when McGruder isn't clicking.
In the middle, Jordan Henriquez is an underrated player and a potential sleeping giant, but when will he wake up?
Overall, you can't take anything away from what Kansas State has done this season. Winning 27 regular-season games is a huge accomplishment—one that should be quite fearsome to opponents in March. However, don't put your life savings down on this team. McGruder can carry them only so far, and the rest of the group is too inconsistent to overcome the defensive pressure they will see in March.
Big 12 Is a Sneaky Conference This March
We've just completed a fast and furious Big 12 conference tournament, and there's a good chance this conference produces a Final Four participant.
History doesn't exactly side with the Big 12; only Kansas has reached the Final Four (twice) since the 2003 Final Four featured Kansas and Texas both. However, we've seen some serious talent in Kansas City that can't be ignored in the Big Dance.
Oklahoma State is a dangerous matchup for anyone. Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash have the potential to carry this team in the tournament, and role players like Phil Forte bring shooting and a wild card that can't be counted out.
Don't sleep on Baylor, Iowa State or Oklahoma (if any of the three get in on Sunday) either. Baylor has pro-level talent abounding but struggles with consistency. Iowa State has the passion and the three-point shooting to stick with anyone, and Oklahoma has surprised us all with tough defense and team ball.
While the Big Ten and Big East get a ton of press—and deservedly so—there's something to be said about what the Big 12 can accomplish this March.
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