The 2014 Big 12 basketball tournament features one of the deepest conferences in the nation, providing a showcase of national championship contenders. Though Kansas has held a monopoly over the conference tourney crown in recent years, having won three of the past four years, the top-seeded Jayhawks should face stiffer competition than they have seen in recent seasons.
The Big 12 placed seven teams into the NCAA tournament in Joe Lunardi's most recent bracket projections, more than any other conference. Below is the bracket and full TV info on how you can catch what will surely be one of the most competitive conference tournaments in the country:
|Big 12 Tournament TV Schedule|
|Game||Teams||Date||Time (CT)||TV Info|
|1||No. 8 Oklahoma St. vs. No. 9 Texas Tech||Wed., March 12||6.00 pm||Big 12 Network|
|2||No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 10 TCU||Wed., March 12||8:30 pm||Big 12 Network|
|3||No. 4 Iowa St. vs. No. 5 Kansas St.||Thu., March 13||11:30 am||ESPN2|
|4||No. 1 Kansas vs. G1 Winner||Thu., March 13||2:00 pm||ESPN2|
|5||No. 2 Oklahoma vs. G2 Winner||Thu., March 13||6:00 pm||Big 12 Network|
|6||No. 3 Texas vs. No. 6 West Virginia||Thu., March 13||8:30 pm||Big 12 Network|
|7||G3 Winner vs. G4 Winner||Fri., March 14||6:00 pm||Big 12 Network or ESPNU|
|8||G5 Winner vs. G6 Winner||Fri., March 14||8:30 pm||Big 12 Network or ESPNU|
|9||G7 Winner vs. G8 Winner||Sat., March 15||8:00 pm||ESPN|
Most casual fans are probably familiar with the spectacular freshman tandem of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid at Kansas, as well as the wild roller-coaster season of Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State. But beyond those mainstream topics, here are a few more intriguing storylines to keep an eye on.
Who is Kansas' Biggest Challenger?
The Jayhawks enter the tournament as the consensus favorite, despite an eight-loss regular season that includes several shaky performances. At their best, Kansas is not only the top team in the conference, but arguably in the entire country.
Nevertheless, the top seed has shown vulnerability throughout the season, and there are several teams capable of exploiting those weaknesses.
Second-seeded Oklahoma played the Jayhawks tough at Allen Fieldhouse, and the Sooners have been on a roll, winning five of their last six games to make a late jump up the standings. The Sooners have had one of the best offenses in the country all year, but it's their recent defensive surge that makes them a true contender. Indeed, Oklahoma has not allowed more than 75 points in a regulation game since a Jan. 27 win over Oklahoma State.
Elsewhere, Iowa State stands out as a likely top-four seed in the NCAA tourney field, as the tandem of Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane have led an uptempo, high-scoring Cyclones team to national relevance. As Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune notes, the transfer Kane and the four-year Ames career of Ejim both reflect the success of coach Fred Hoiberg's recruiting strategies:
The Cyclones added transfers — a lot of them — and flourished. It’s continued to be a strategy employed by Hoiberg as his team nears its third-straight NCAA tournament appearance.
But long-term success has always been a part of Hoiberg’s plan as well. He’s not solely buying up distressed assets and turning them into cornerstones. Under Hoiberg, the Cyclones have continued to build a foundation of four-year players.
Kansas is currently lined up to play Iowa State in the semifinals and Oklahoma in the finals if the bracket seedings hold. However, the Sooners and Cyclones are far from the only two schools capable of dethroning the Jayhawks.
Which Teams Are on the Bubble?
Despite the high projected at-large bid number, the Big 12 has a few teams vacillating on the bubble. As such, at least one of those teams figures to make a deep run to solidify its tourney standing, while others may end up sweating out Selection Sunday after an early exit.
One team in danger of such a fate is the Baylor Bears. Good Baylor has shown up recently, with seven wins in their past eight games against opponents including Kansas State (twice), Iowa State and Oklahoma State. The win over the Cyclones have put the Bears in a comfortable position for the moment:
However, as a 10th seed due to their 9-9 conference record, Baylor cannot be too comfortable. The Bears play hapless TCU in the first round, a game that will not help their resume. If Baylor then bows out to second-seeded Oklahoma, will the selection committee be satisfied with a team that is currently hot but has been one of the country's most enigmatic teams all season?
Oklahoma State and Kansas State are other pseudo-bubble teams, though both are likely in good standing. The Cowboys have impressed since Smart's return from suspension, with their March 1 victory over Kansas serving as the signature win that should propel them into the tournament.
The Wildcats are on shakier ground after consecutive losses to the Cowboys and Bears, and their first-round game against Iowa State looms as a chance to potentially cinch an at-large berth. Still, with wins over Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Gonzaga, Kansas State is more likely playing for seeding at this point.
Which Breakout Stars Will Emerge?
As alluded to earlier, DeAndre Kane has been the missing ingredient for the Cyclones, propelling Iowa State from a middling tournament team to one that should be playing on the second weekend. Kane, who transferred from Marshall after three seasons, overcame a difficult childhood to emerge as a candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year:
Indeed, Kane has emerged as one of the best transition players in the country while also providing a rare rebounding (6.7 per game) and passing (5.9 assists per game). The 6'4" guard is an increasingly prominent name, and along with Ejim, he could be the face of a deep Iowa State run.
In addition, sophomore center Cameron Ridley has led an underrated Texas squad to the third seed in the conference tournament. The Longhorns project as a No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament, a strong rebound after missing the Big Dance last season.
Ridley is arguably the Big 12's most improved player. After averaging just 4.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game his freshman campaign, those numbers have spiked to 11.5 points per game and 8.1 boards per game this season. His presence inside has made a huge difference for a team which relies on its defense despite playing a fast offensive pace, a rare combination.
Players like Ridley and Kane will not truly enter the mainstream conscience until the NCAA tourney, but with strong Big 12 tournament performances they can signal their impending arrival on college basketball's biggest stage.