After a grueling conference season that saw three teams lose starting point guards (Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State), the Big 12 tournament represents a welcome relief for some squads. Although the Big 12 features no bubble teams this year and thus no intriguing story lines to follow, this week's action at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, MO., should prove entertaining none the less.
Either way, any excuse to hit up the famous Power & Light District located conveniently across the street from the Sprint Center is a good one. Especially if it's basketball.
First round games tip off Wednesday afternoon and continue all day. Let's take a look at those first couple games....(all times Central Standard)
Wednesday, March 10
11:30 AM - No. 8 Colorado (15-15, 6-10) vs. No. 9 Texas Tech (16-14, 4-12)
The Buffaloes are fresh off a 101-90 win versus Texas Tech in their regular season finale. The 101 point outburst represented the highest point total for CU this season since beating Cal State Northridge 92-58 on Dec. 22 of last year.
Winners of four of their last six, including three straight, CU appears to be building some momentum heading into tournament play. With the combination of junior wing Cory Higgins (19 points/game) and Big 12 Freshman of the Year Alec Burks (16.8 points/game), basketball hopes appear to be rising in the Rocky Mountain State.
On the other hand, Texas Tech have lost seven straight. However, this streak may have aptly prepared them for tournament play. Those seven games were all against either at the time ranked teams or played away from Lubbock, TX.
Nonetheless, look for much of the same that was seen on Saturday this Wednesday afternoon. Lots of Colorado (made) free throws and too much Higgins/Burks.
The winner will take on No. 1 Kansas at 11:30 AM Thursday.
Prediction: Colorado 80, Texas Tech 62
2:00 PM - No. 5 Missouri (22-9, 10-6) vs. No. 12 Nebraska (14-17, 2-14)
Tempo. Tempo. Tempo. Whoever can control the tempo will move onto the quarterfinals. Known for their break-neck tempo, Missouri can put up points in bunches if their system is working. If it is not working however, look for Missouri guards to force ill-advised threes that have led to dangerous scoring droughts throughout the season.
Nebraska loves to slow it down, use the entire shot clock, and get high percentage shots. If the Cornhuskers can force their methodical play on the Tigers like they did in their first matchup this season, Nebraska will pose problems for Missouri . Much more than fans in Columbia think.
All in all, Missouri is too talented and will win a close game, but the scoreboard won't indicate it.
The winner will take on No. 4 Texas A&M at 2:00 PM on Thursday.
Prediction: Missouri 78, Nebraska 62
6:00 PM - No. 7 Oklahoma State (21-9, 9-7) vs. No. 10 Oklahoma (13-17, 4-12)
The James Anderson Show kicks off the nightcap in a matchup of in-state rivals. In the history of the conference, only four players have scored more points in Big 12 conference games than Anderson's 385 this year. While on paper this game may be a lock for the Cowboys, don't count anyone out in a rivalry game, especially one as heated as the Bedlam Rivalry.
While Anderson (22.9 points/game), Keiton Page (10.2), and Obi Muonelo (13.4) will ultimately be too much for OU to handle, the lingering effects of the stress and strain of a rivalry game as your first tournament game may leave the winner gassed for their game on Thursday, according to OSU coach Travis Ford.
For the Sooners, it will be up to a mix of underclassmen and veterans to guide OU to a few upsets this week. In his only matchup against Oklahoma State (he missed the second game due to suspension), freshman center Tiny Gallon dominated for 13 points and 18 rebounds in a 62-57 victory in Norman. That game also saw sophomore Willie Warren, who has only played in four games since Jan. 23 because of mono, go for 15 points and seven assists.
Coach Jeff Capel will look to freshman Tommie Mason-Griffin to pick up the slack left by Warren. Since Warren's diagnosis, Mason-Griffin has averaged 38.9 minutes, 18.5 points, and 5.3 assists.
The rematch was ugly: A 97-76 beatdown by Oklahoma State. This game will be much like the second one. Oklahoma will keep it close early, but their lack of depth will prove to be their downfall as well as leaning so heavily on two freshmen.
The winner will take on No. 2 Kansas State at 6:00 PM Thursday.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 85, Oklahoma 66
8:30 PM - No. 6 Texas (23-8, 9-7) vs. No. 11 Iowa State (15-16, 4-12)
Finishing out the first round games is maybe the most interesting game of the day. For Iowa State to have a shot, they must lean on second-team All Big 12 forward Craig Brackins (16.5 points/game, 8.6 rebounds/game) to lead them like he did Saturday at K-State. In that game, Brackins had 19 and 12 but more importantly kept the highly aggressive Wildcats off the offensive boards.
Against Texas, he'll face another team who loves to crash the glass (14.8 offensive rebounds per game). To combat the talent of UT, Iowa State must imitate Nebraska's approach to games and slow the tempo. The impatience and under-performance displayed by Texas all year may force the Longhorns into an embarrassing first round exit.
The winner will play No. 3 Baylor at 8:30 PM Thursday night.
Prediction: Iowa State 72, Texas 65