March Madness 2010: 10 Things You Need To Know About the Big 12 Tourney
The upcoming Big 12 Tournament has essentially no implications on which men's hoops squads will be playing in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Barring an unforeseen Cinderella run, the berths have been decided. But this doesn't preclude the Big 12 Tournament from providing a slate of entertaining games. Nor does it mean that the Big 12 teams have nothing to play for.
While Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas A&M, Mizzou, Oklahoma State, and Texas are in the NCAA tournament as at-large bids no matter what results the Big 12 Tournament bring, the top teams will be looking to display their best basketball to the tournament committee as they joust for seeding in the Big Dance.
Can Kansas State climb back up to a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance, or a potential No. 1 seed? Can Baylor get to the conference tournament finals again this year, and grab a seed higher than its projected No. 6 seed? Will Texas regain its form and establish itself as a championship contender?
Even without the bubble drama of other conference tourneys, The Big 12 Tournament will serve up high-level hoops for its own sake. Tune in to watch good basketball, and see many of the nation's top teams battle it out for national spotlight and Big 12 supremacy.
Here are 10 things to watch for in the Big 12 tourney.
It's All About the Guard Play
College basketball teams win with good guard play. The top teams in the Big 12 understand and demonstrate this much-revered maxim.
The list of top-tier guards in the conference goes on and on: James Anderson, Damion James, Sherron Collins, Jacob Pullen, Donald Sloan, LaceDarius Dunn, Danny Clemente, Kim English, Cory Higgins (in Colorado's losing cause), Xavier Henry, and on.
These guards are flat-out good and should carry their teams on deep tournament runs. Look for many of these guards to shoot and drive as they look to exploit the zone defenses that many of the Big 12 teams (will inevitably) play.
Pay particular attention to James Anderson and the pairing of Jacob Pullen and Danny Clemente, as Oklahoma State and Kansas State will need these players to play their A game to knock Kansas off its pedestal.
But There Are Big Guys Who Can Play, Too!
Kansas' Cole Aldrich deservedly comes to mind when we think of the Big 12's best center (and perhaps the nation's best center)—the defensive contributions he has provided for Kansas are innumerable. Alongside Marcus Morris, Aldrich anchors a powerful frontcourt that has propelled Kansas to its No. 1 ranking.
While the aforementioned two have dominated the national headlines, the two names to watch in the Big 12 Tournament are: Craig Brackins, Iowa State's talismanic forward, and Ekpe Udoh, Baylor's superstar transfer and compliment to Dunn.
Can Brackins help Iowa State maintain its momentum gained after beating Kansas State and pull together a miraculous run in the Big 12 Tournament? Will Udoh dominate the boards in Kansas City and help Baylor repeat as Big 12 Tournament finalists?
The Top Seven Teams Are Really Good, But Questions Remain
Kansas and Texas were among the most highly regarded teams during the preseason.
Frank Martin, Mark Turgeon, Scott Drew and Travis Ford have built top programs at Kansas State, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Oklahoma State.
Missouri is a consummate basketball school that consistently wins in the Big 12.
But the quality oozing from every corner of the Big 12 doesn't preclude us from having questions and doubts about some of its teams.
Kansas State and Mizzou have experienced recent blips in form, although you can't blame either team for losing to Kansas.
Texas, however, remains the most puzzling question. The Longhorns opened the campaign 17-0 and catapulted to the No. 1-ranking, only to finish the season on a 6-8 skid.
Perhaps Texas will follow the blueprint used by Kansas last season: Using the conference tournament to erase a bad end-of-season run and springboard a sprint for the national championship.
The High-Reputation Bottom Dwellers Can Still Play
Call me old-fashioned, but I still respect struggling teams like Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Despite lacking the conference record to show for it, these programs have fielded strong teams in recent years and are still pretty talented.
Last year's ninth-seeded Baylor team provides the model example for these underdog teams. Baylor switched defenses prior to last year's conference tournament and stormed to the finals.
Colorado is riding a modest three-game winning streak and have one of the conference's best guards, Cory Higgins, who is capable of leading a run to the conference finals.
Iowa State has momentum and "the spark" after defeating Kansas State, with the immense talented and hard-working Craig Brackins leading their team.
There is so much parody in the Big 12, despite the top-heavy, national-contending nature of the conference leaders. Oklahoma State beating Kansas and Iowa State beating Kansas State proves that any team can win on any given day.
If the lowly Baylor Bears of yesteryear could beat the then-No. 1 seed Kansas, any Big 12 team of this year can beat the major players.
The Most Important Players Could Be The Ones Not Playing
Oklahoma was never going to be a serious Big 12 contender after the losses of Austin Johnson and the Griffin brothers. Nonetheless, they still carry a talented team with plenty of young McDonalds All-Americans.
The loss of their leader Willie Warren will undoubtedly make it harder for the Sooners to beat their in-state rival Oklahoma State.
Additionally, Texas will miss Dogus Balbay and his leadership, although debate lingers about whether or not his loss is addition by subtraction (due to the fact that Texas has so many legitimate starting point guards), and Oklahoma State will miss scoring threat Ray Penn.
Are There Really Any Big-12 Bubble Teams?
Texas (23-8) and Missouri (22-9) are the only teams dangerously close to the NCAA tourney bubble, with "dangerous" being an extremely exaggerated adjective.
While many want to perceive danger on Texas' front, we must realize that they did go 17-0 and storm to the nation's top ranking. Any team that has a decent schedule in a power conference that goes 23-8 will be in the tournament.
It would be a complete atrocity if Texas did not make the Dance, although a loss in the first round of the conference tournament against a suddenly-streaking Iowa State team could presumably put Texas on the "bubble" heading into Selection Sunday. What a fall from grace that potential loss could be if the formerly No. 1 Longhorns landed in the NIT.
Missouri, on the other hand, has not advertised itself or carried itself flamboyantly. The Tigers have are poised to reach the NCCA tourney with little national hoopla, which makes them seem like a bubble team to those who haven't followed the Big 12.
Nonetheless, they have beat Old Dominon and Illinois out-of-conference and garnered a fifth-place 11-5 conference record, which should see them in no matter how poorly they perform in the conference tournament.
If you're watching conference tournaments for bubble drama then you probably want to shy away from the Big 12. There are no bubble teams.
The General Excitement Will Come from Games' Offense
Just because there is no bubble drama in the Big 12 postseason tournament doesn't mean the games won't be exciting. Expect offensive fireworks to keep the entertainment level high throughout the tournament.
Almost all of the Big 12 teams are laden with offensive talent, and the statistics prove it. All of the Big 12's top seven teams score above 74 PPG, with Texas and Kansas scoring more than 80 PPG.
Thanks to offensive maestros like Pullen, James, and Anderson, the Big 12 Tournament should feature numerous instances of offensive brilliance, and Chalmers-like clutch shooting.
Tops Teams Will Play for Seeds: First, Kansas State
As of last week, Kansas State was in prime position for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The loss to Iowa State not only ruined the Wildcats' chances at that elusive and valuable No. 1 seed, but jeopardized their chances at even drawing a No. 2 seed.
Coupled with the recent loss to Kansas, Kansas State is "struggling". Can fiery Frank Martin utilize the skills that earned him Big 12 Coach of the Year honors and pull his team together for a run in the conference tournament?
Martin sure has the talent to win the conference tournament. Will luck fall Kansas State's way as well? WIns against Oklahoma State/Baylor (or the two lower-seeded teams) would definitely help their case for a top-two seed.
Eyes on the Tigers
I've always considered Missouri as a consummate basketball school. They win. And they do so consistently. Unfortunately, they reside in the same conference as traditional power Kansas and contenders Texas and Oklahoma State, which limits the national media attention they receive.
Mike Anderson received a huge break last year when Baylor beat top-seeded Kansas in the second round of the conference tournament. With their path cleared of the Jayhawks, the Tigers roared to the conference championship and a run to the Elite Eight.
Can Anderson guide his team through the conference tournament again and shine the spotlight on his talented group? With J.T. Tiller and Kim English leading the way, another deep conference tournament and NCAA tournament run is more than possible.
Watch the Big 12 Tourney To Figure Out Texas
Is Texas the team that started 17-0, surged to the No. 1 national ranking, and fulfilled its role as supreme national championship contenders and satisfiers of the label "best, deepest, most talented team in history," or the team that slumped to a 6-8 finish?
Texas is far too talented not to produce results in the NCAA Tournament, so perhaps the conference tournament provides Rick Barnes with an opportunity to tinker with some things and build a good starting lineup.
Perhaps a run in the tournament, or a low tournament seed, is what the doctor ordered for this Longhorns squad. Complacency is one factor that seems to be holding this team back, and a low seed in the NCAA tournament could humble them and cause them to buck up.