At the beginning of the season, five Big 12 teams were ranked in the Top 25. Currently, there are only three teams ranked, with Kansas being No. 2.
Regardless of their rankings now, the Big 12 has proven to be a silent but very powerful force this season.
Kansas, the leader of the Big 12 standings over (in order) Texas, Texas A&M, Kansas State and Missouri, is clearly the favorite to win the Big 12 Tournament.
Let us look at the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship, which starts Wednesday March 9th in Kansas City, and predict the possible upsets.
This first round game puts two very similar teams against each other.
Nebraska, who won their only meeting of the season, 65-54, will face Oklahoma State team which ended their season 2-5. However, the Cowboys will be looking to bounce back and will do so by upsetting the Cornhuskers.
Although the only major category that the Cowboys beat the Huskers in is points per game (68.9 to 67.4), the Cowboys have better individual players in scoring, rebounding, and assisting.
Marshall Moses, who leads Oklahoma State with an average of 14.7 PPG and 7.5 rebounds per game, is a senior who will need to step up and lead his team like he did in wins over Kansas State and Missouri.
This second round match up will be a very intriguing one, as Missouri looks to seek revenge for the 91-89 overtime loss in January. In this game, Khris Middleton scored 28 points, including 11 in overtime. He made crucial plays, including the game-tying shot and a last second steal in overtime.
The Aggies, still nationally ranked at 21, are just two games ahead of the Tigers in the conference.
Missouri has higher averages than Texas A&M in points per game (81.5 to 68.7), assists per game (16.6 to 13.5) and field goal percentage per game (46.4 percent to 44.4 percent). Texas A&M only outdoes Missouri in average rebounds per game (36.6 to 35.6).
Comparing the teams individually also swings in Missouri’s favor, as their top two individual performers outdo Texas A&M’s in average points per game, assists per game, and rebounds per game.
The numbers can only tell so much of a story, as both of these teams play extremely fast paced basketball. Missouri, who has had trouble closing big games this season, needs to make smarter decisions towards the end of the game. Turnovers were also a deciding factor in the previous game, as Texas A&M had only nine compared to Missouri's 12.
The Tigers will need to begin to begin play like they did in the 2009 tournament, which they ended up winning.
Two words: Jacob Pullen.
Pullen will need to take advantage of the electric atmosphere that will occur between these two in-state rivals. He needs match and even out-do his February 14 performance in which he had 38 points, five assists, two steals, and one block in the upset of then number one Kansas. The six-foot senior guard helped bring back faith in the Wildcats program, and he will have to step up once again in one of the most important games in his career.
The Wildcats will have to mirror their offensive and defensive performance from their last victory. They held the usually score-crazy Morris twins to just 16 points combined on 5-11 shooting. In addition, while Kansas State shot 56.3 percent from field goal range, Kansas shot just 44%. K-State made six three pointers and Kansas made just three.
Although Kansas has better points, rebounds, and persists per game averages, Kansas State has more momentum and a psychological edge over them. When looking at past games in conference tournaments, this can be a deciding factor.
It will be a close game and Kansas State will most likely rely on the determination of Pullen to pull off the upset. Although Kansas will try to avenge the loss, they will lose a close one in Kansas City.
The Wildcats will advance to the Big 12 Tournament Championship game.
Once again, there will be an upset in the third round.
It may seem like a long shot, but one has to look at how the Tigers perform once they get on a roll. Statistically, Missouri has the edge. Despite being five games behind Texas in the standings, they are a better scoring, assisting and shooting team.
The matchup of the two teams’ top scorers Marcus Denmon and Jordan Hamilton will be a very interesting one to watch: whoever starts the game strong and gets in a rhythm will set the scene for the rest of the game.
In order to win and complete their second upset in a row, Missouri has to out rebound and hit more threes than Texas, but take smart shots and not force anything.
When Missouri lost to Texas, they were held to a season-low 58 points. Entering the game, they were the highest scoring Big 12 team. Kim English and Phil Pressey were the only Tigers scoring double digits (10 and twelve, respectively), while the Longhorns had three starters in double digits.
Being close to home will also help, but the team that boasts they play “The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball” will need to play more physical and tough in order prevail and advance to the conference final.
There is no doubt that these two teams are dark-horses in the tournament.
After splitting the two games in the regular season, it is a tough prediction. Both teams are equally as unpredictable.
In their first matchup, in which Missouri won, Kansas State blamed their performance on laziness and turnovers; Missouri drained eight three-pointers while never trailing by more than four.
In their second matchup, in which Kansas State won, the whole team pulled together after Jacob Pullen went into foul trouble; their bench scored 29 points and never trailed by more than two.
Both teams have had their ups and downs all season, and are similar in that they have both fallen way below their preseason expectations. Making it to the Big 12 Championship game may seem like a long-shot for both of these teams, but they both undoubtedly have the ability, talent, leadership, and playing style to make it.
Picking Missouri to upset Kansas State in this game would be all too easy. But once an good team gains momentum and sees results from hard work, they become a great team.
It will be a very close game, with the stadium probably split down the middle with fans, but Missouri will step up to the plate and win the championship like they did in 2009.