Big 12 Tournament 2014: Breaking Down Top Contenders for Conference Title

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Big 12 Tournament 2014: Breaking Down Top Contenders for Conference Title
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The 2014 Big 12 Tournament kicks of on Wednesday, and it's sure to be the most compelling conference tournament in all of college basketball.

Three teams in the tournament are ranked within the top 16 in the nation, and multiple teams in the tournament have a legitimate chance at taking home the Big 12 title. That will make for a compelling four days of basketball.

Here's what the bracket looks like entering the action, courtesy of the Big 12 Conference's Twitter account:

Now that you know all the teams involved, here are the three teams in the hottest contention for the title.

 

Kansas

Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

Kansas is by far the most talented team in this tournament. Rob Dauster of NBCSports.com breaks down just how loaded this squad is:

They have the two guys that will go top three in the NBA Draft in June (Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid), another lottery pick (Wayne Selden) and an all-Big 12 caliber role player that could end up being a first round pick himself (Perry Ellis).

They'll be without one of those stars, however, as freshman Joel Embiid is out indefinitely, reports Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com. Without Embiid, the Jayhawks will struggle defensively. They'll have enough firepower offensively from the aforementioned players to shoulder the load, but Embiid was by far the team's best defensive option.

SI.com's Brian Hamilton points out that Embiid's 72 blocks represent 40.2 percent of his team's season total. His ability to alter shots while defending the rim cannot be matched by anyone on the Jayhawks—and probably not by anyone in the country.

Kansas' depth on offense will keep them competitive through this tournament, but they are no longer a lock to take home the Big 12 title. They'll need a complete team effort on defense for that to happen.

It's within the realm of possibility, though no longer a safe bet.

 

Iowa State

Justin Hayworth/Associated Press

Despite being slotted as the No. 4 seed, Iowa State has a chance to make a run at the title. It's really not as crazy as it sounds.

DeAndre Kane, Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang make the Cyclones good enough to compete with almost any team in the country. Ejim, the Big 12's Player of the Year, shot 51.3 percent from the floor en route to 18.2 points per game. He also brought in 8.6 boards per night.

He hasn't been great over his last five games—save for a 30-point outburst against Kansas State—and he'll need to get back to form if the Cyclones want to challenge the tournament's best teams.

Iowa State is essentially a lock for the NCAA tournament after a very successful regular season, but that isn't stopping them from competing to their fullest in the Big 12 tourney. Ejim told Alex Halsted of IowaStateDaily.com that they're focused on the upcoming event: "We play for the Big 12, we want to win the Big 12. We’re excited for that, we want to win that, so it’s a step at a time. It’s a process."

Look for them to ride the Big 12 Player of the Year all the way.

 

Oklahoma

Garett Fisbeck/Associated Press

Oklahoma has been rolling since taking down Texas, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, on March 1 by a score of 77-65. The Sooners defeated West Virginia, 72-62, and TCU, 97-67, since.

The Sooners know that they can take down Texas, but it will be interesting to see how they'll fare in a matchup with the Jayhawks. Kansas got the best of Oklahoma, 83-75, the last time the two squads went head-to-head.

Which of the three aforementioned teams has the best chance to win the title?

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Embiid was force in that game, scoring 12 points and grabbing 13 boards. With Embiid on the pine for the tournament, Oklahoma might just be able to exact revenge on their conference rivals.

Buddy Hield and Cameron Clark are one of the best tandems in the country. Hield checks into the tournament averaging 16.8 points per night on 45.3 percent shooting, while Clark is averaging 15.2 per game on 46.6 percent from the floor.

The two will be relied upon heavily by the rest of their teammates. The Sooners are currently 23-8 in large part to their efforts, and it will be their continued success and efficiency from the floor that results in a Sooners victory in the Big 12 tourney.

 

Follow me on Twitter to debate the action: @kennydejohn

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