Big 12 Tournament 2014: Teams That Must Impress in Kansas City

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Big 12 Tournament 2014: Teams That Must Impress in Kansas City
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Before the college basketball regular season ended, Kansas would have been the overwhelming favorites to win the Big 12 Tournament that starts on Wednesday in Kansas City. 

The Jayhawks are still going to be the odds-on favorite to capture their fourth conference tournament title in five years, but the gap has closed thanks to two losses in their last three games. 

Even though Kansas is the best team in the Big 12, there is quality depth with Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa State and Kansas State being NCAA Tournament teams. With much to be settled, let's look at the teams that need an impressive showing before Selection Sunday. 

Kansas Jayhawks (23-8, 14-4 in Big 12)

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We might as well start with the cream of the Big 12 crop. 

The Jayhawks are loaded on paper. Andrew Wiggins has run hot and cold in his freshman year, but is coming off a 41-point game against West Virginia in the season finale.

Joel Embiid could be the No. 1 player taken in the NBA draft, but a back issue that is sending him to a specialist, according to CBS Sports' Gary Parrish, clouds his ability to play at a high level this month. 

Kansas coach Bill Self told Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star that Embiid's back injury is more "significant" than just a strain. 

Despite all the talent in Lawrence, Kansas has struggled away from home. The Jayhawks have lost eight games—six were true road games. They will be playing neutral site games this week, but it doesn't bode well for their chances. 

No one doubts Kansas' NCAA Tournament credentials. The Jayhawks were projected to be a No. 1 seed for a long time, but ESPN's Joe Lunardi has dropped them to the two line because of their late-season struggles. 

While the NCAA Tournament is still Kansas' ultimate goal, the team can alleviate a lot of concerns with a strong showing this week. 

Kansas State Wildcats (20-11, 10-8 in Big 12)

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If Kansas has hit a bump in the road, Kansas State is in a free fall. The Wildcats have lost back-to-back games against Oklahoma State and Baylor and four of their last seven games overall. 

The loss to Baylor was particularly damaging because it gave the Bears a season sweep of the Wildcats and could be a difference maker for the selection committee if both teams lose early in the Big 12 Tournament. 

CBS Sports still has Kansas State as a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, so there's no immediate danger for the Wildcats this week. But considering their inability to close out games, including blowing a 12-point second half lead to Baylor, a victory over Iowa State on Thursday would help this team's confidence. 

Oklahoma State Cowboys (20-11, 8-10 in Big 12)

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You will struggle to find a team that runs as hot and cold as the Oklahoma State Cowboys. After starting the season ranked eighth in the AP Top 25, they won 16 of their first 19 games and looked like a team that would be playing on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament without question. 

The bottom fell out for the Cowboys as the calendar turned to February. They lost seven straight games and star player Marcus Smart had to deal with the fallout from shoving a fan at a game against Texas Tech. 

Smart is working to control his attitude in the time since returning from a three-game suspension. He told Eric Prisbell of USA Today that the pressure, at times, would get to him. 

I have put a lot of pressure on myself. That's kind of been my weakness and biggest problem. I have always done that, but now more than ever. It is something I have to learn to control more. I kind of lost the control-ness of it. I've always done it, but more this year than ever. It is a lot more that I put on myself than I ever have.

After that seven-game losing streak, the Cowboys won four straight games, including victories over Kansas and Kansas State, before dropping the season finale against Iowa State. 

They are probably in the NCAA Tournament right now, but with possible upsets during championship week, the Cowboys could use at least one more win and a matchup against Kansas to secure their spot. 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 

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