Big 12 Tournament 2017: Preview and Predictions for Every Team
This year's Big 12 tournament doesn't have the overall strength of last season's loaded field, but there are still some intriguing storylines to follow during the week in Kansas City.
Regular-season champion Kansas is the No. 1 seed after winning the Big 12 title for the 13th consecutive season as the Jayhawks fight for the potential No. 1 overall NCAA tournament seed that should allow them the most favorable initial travel destination.
Behind Kansas looms a pack of tough teams that are all safely in the NCAA tournament as West Virginia, Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State are all trying to pick up more wins to earn a better seed. The Bears are still sitting at a No. 2 seed in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi's latest update, so the Bears could be in position for a bump if they make a run while West Virginia is trying to stay in a top-four seed.
The bubble banter is relatively quiet with the Big 12 this season as Kansas State is really the only team with a chance to play their way into an at-large bid. With Texas Tech and TCU both stumbling mightily down the stretch, the Wildcats are hoping to net the Big 12 a sixth NCAA tournament bid, but they likely have to beat No. 3 seed Baylor in the opening game, at the very least, to get in.
Since the Big 12 still has true home-and-home scheduling during the regular season, all these teams will be intimately familiar with each other entering the tournament, which should make for an exciting event.
Local times are used for game times; Kansas City, Missouri, is in the Central Time Zone.
First matchup: No. 7 Texas Tech (Wednesday, 8 p.m.)
Prediction: Loses opening game
The Longhorns (10-21, 4-14) struggled at the end of the regular season as they have dropped seven consecutive games entering the Big 12 tournament. The good news for Texas? One of the four conference wins that Shaka Smart's ballclub registered during the season came against first-round opponent Texas Tech. That means the Longhorns should at least be able to put up a fight in this one.
Texas isn't a typical No. 10 seed for this tournament because the roster features multiple McDonald's All-Americans and plenty of talent. Center Jarrett Allen is a future NBA big man, and fellow freshman Andrew Jones has shown some scoring ability on the perimeter. But with a very young team and an uncertain point guard situation hovering over them this season, the Longhorns were never able to put things together like they had hoped.
The Red Raiders got the best of Texas in the rematch on March 1, as they ran up a big lead to start the second half to cruise to a 10-point win. With Texas Tech having superior depth to Texas, while also playing much better ball down the stretch, the Red Raiders should be able to bounce Texas out in the opening game.
First matchup: No. 8 TCU (Wednesday, 6 p.m.)
Prediction: Wins one game and loses in the quarterfinals
This version of Oklahoma (11-19, 5-13) will look quite different than last season's Buddy Hield-led group that eventually advanced to the Final Four. While this version of the Sooners was Lon Kruger's worst Big 12 team in his six years at the school, they enter the Big 12 tournament on a positive run by winning two out of three and beating first-round opponent TCU in a close game to end the regular season.
Freshmen like Kameron McGusty and Kristian Doolittle are growing more comfortable in bigger roles, as both of those guys had strong outings in the Saturday win over the Horned Frogs. Besides a young Oklahoma roster playing with more confidence down the stretch, TCU is in a free fall to end the season as it has lost seven straight games.
Oklahoma hasn't had the strongest season with such a young roster, but it is in good position to pick up a win over the Horned Frogs in the opening round before bowing out in the quarterfinals.
First matchup: No. 9 Oklahoma (Wednesday, 6 p.m.)
Prediction: Loses opening game
TCU (17-14, 6-12) was in the NCAA tournament bubble conversation until it bottomed out and lost seven straight games to end the regular season. In head coach Jamie Dixon's first year coaching at his alma mater, the Horned Frogs looked like one of the most surprising teams in the country, but the rigors of the Big 12 eventually caught up to them.
Losing close games has also really hurt TCU lately as it has lost its last three games by five points or less—including a loss to Big 12 tournament first-round opponent Oklahoma when the game was tied in the final minute.
The Horned Frogs have the talent to win some games and surprise some people but they are way too inconsistent and they can't be trusted in tight games. Guards Alex Robinson and Jaylen Fisher need to step up and help this team in close games, but they haven't been getting it done lately.
Oklahoma is playing much better down the stretch and just beat TCU on Saturday, so the Sooners should be able to handle TCU in the opening round.
7. Texas Tech
First matchup: No. 10 Texas (Wednesday, 8 p.m.)
Prediction: Wins opening game and loses in quarterfinals
Another Big 12 team which has seen its NCAA tournament at-large hopes go away, Texas Tech (18-13, 6-12) is hoping to surprise some people with a run in the Big 12 tournament.
Depth and balance will be the key for Texas Tech as juniors Keenan Evans and Zach Smith have emerged as two of the conference's better players. If the Red Raiders are also getting scoring production from role players like Anthony Livingston, Aaron Ross and Justin Gray, they're a really tough team to stop.
The Red Raiders split the season series with opening-round opponent Texas, but the Longhorns are slumping and Texas Tech handled them with relative ease in the latest matchup on March 1. The superior depth of Texas Tech should help them wear down Texas and prevail in the opening round.
The quarterfinals are where things get really interesting for the Red Raiders because they've given No. 2 seed West Virginia a lot of problems this season. Both games between the two teams went to overtime this season, and Texas Tech picked up perhaps its biggest win of the season by beating the Mountaineers at home.
West Virginia's press doesn't seem to bother Texas Tech the way it bothers most teams, but the Red Raiders also have to turn around and play the Mountaineers less than 24 hours after their game against Texas. That might give West Virginia just enough of an edge to get by the Red Raiders—although it wouldn't surprise anyone to see the rubber match go to overtime.
6. Kansas State
First matchup: No. 3 Baylor (Thursday, 8 p.m.)
Prediction: Loses its opening game
Nobody in the Big 12 tournament will have more to play for than Kansas State (19-12, 8-10). Every other team in the field is either safely in the NCAA tournament or has no chance of earning an at-large bid, so the Wildcats are the only true bubble team playing in Kansas City.
The Wildcats have plenty of scoring balance as they feature four players averaging 11 points per game in Wesley Iwundu, Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown and D.J. Johnson. Even if one player has an off night, players such as Dean Wade and Xavier Sneed have also stepped up to make plays this season.
That could make Kansas State a dangerous team, and it won't be afraid of No. 3 seed Baylor after splitting the season series and beating the Bears on the road.
But there is also reason to be concerned about Kansas State beating Baylor for a second time. When the Wildcats earned that two-point road win on Feb. 4, they played the Bears after they had just lost an emotional road game at Kansas. Baylor came out completely flat in that game and saw Kansas State use a 15-0 run to put up a huge first-half lead. That Baylor win over a month ago was also the last time Kansas State beat an NCAA tournament-bound team.
With Baylor more prepared for this game, they should take down Kansas State and leave the Wildcats sweating on Selection Sunday.
5. Oklahoma State
First matchup: No. 4 Iowa State (Thursday, 11:30 a.m.)
Prediction: Loses its opening game
Oklahoma State (20-11, 9-9) has arguably the best offense in the nation, as the Cowboys had won 10 of 11 games before losing close ones to Iowa State and Kansas to close out Big 12 play.
The three-headed monster of Jawun Evans, Jeffrey Carroll and Phil Forte III is one of the Big 12's best as Evans has played like an All-American and Carroll is one of the country's most improved players. Forte's shooting ability and veteran presence is also vital to Oklahoma State as it needs him to knock down shots.
The Cowboys will be in one of the most fun first-round conference tournament matchups in the country when they battle No. 4 seed Iowa State in the quarterfinals.
Since both of these teams have All-American-caliber point guards and high-octane offenses, this game should see plenty of points. Iowa State swept the season series between these two teams, but both games saw the Cowboys fight back because their offense allows them to stay in most games.
The key to this one for Oklahoma State might be the play of Evans. After a so-so outing in the first matchup against the Cyclones, Evans went off for 29 points in the second Iowa State game as he gave the Cowboys a chance to win that one on the road. Iowa State senior guard Monte Morris torched the Cowboys for 30 in the first game and just missed a triple-double in the second game, so Evans will have his hands full on both ends of the floor.
Iowa State was able to do whatever it wanted offensively against Oklahoma State, and that should be the case again in Kansas City.
4. Iowa State
First matchup: No. 5 Oklahoma State (Thursday, 11:30 a.m.)
Prediction: Wins one game, then loses in semifinals
Iowa State (20-10, 12-6) enters the Big 12 tournament with a solid amount of momentum as they won six straight games before dropping the regular-season finale on the road at West Virginia.
With a core group of four senior starters and the emergence of new freshman starter Solomon Young, the Cyclones have been a much tougher team inside the last month of the season. Senior point guard Monte Morris drives a potent offense that features shooters in Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long, while Deonte Burton is Iowa State's X-factor. If Burton plays at a high level on both ends, Iowa State can compete with any team in the country.
The Cyclones swept the regular-season series with Oklahoma State and should beat the Cowboys in the quarterfinals before getting another crack at No. 1 seed Kansas in the semifinals.
Iowa State played two close games with Kansas this season and beat the Jayhawks at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, but it can't expect to knock down 18 three-pointers again and for three players to all get ridiculously hot in one half.
Kansas is much better on the interior and should be able to put away Iowa State in the rubber match.
First matchup: No. 6 Kansas State (Thursday, 8 p.m.)
Prediction: Makes it to the tournament final, then loses
Baylor (25-6, 12-6) has slipped up a bit over the last few months since starting the season 15-0 with impressive wins over Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier. Conference play saw the Bears lose a couple of games, but they still have one of the most dangerous teams in the Big 12.
Junior Johnathan Motley is a double-double machine and one of the nation's best players, and he's surrounded by a supporting cast that has meshed well together all year. Junior guard Manu Lecomte has been steady with the ball in his hands, while veterans like Ish Wainwright, Al Freeman and Terry Maston are also quality role players.
The Bears love to slow down the tempo and make opponents score on their top-10 defense as Motley and center Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. provide superior rim protection.
Baylor should get past Kansas State in the opening round before potentially facing No. 2 seed West Virginia in a rubber match. While the Mountaineers blew out Baylor at home when the Bears were No. 1 in the country, the Bears came back and decisively beat West Virginia the second time around.
Since Baylor looked like it was much better at handling the West Virginia press the second time around, it should be able to handle the Mountaineers once again and advance to the title game.
If the Bears have to face Kansas, they'll be facing a team that beat them both times in the regular season. The Jayhawks have the upper hand on Baylor this season and should get the best of them once again.
2. West Virginia
First matchup: No. 7 Texas Tech/No. 10 Texas winner (Thursday, 6 p.m.)
Prediction: Wins one game, then loses in the semifinals
West Virginia (24-7, 12-6) surprised many by once again finishing second in the Big 12 this season. Head coach Bob Huggins once again has a group that will press and force a ton of turnovers, as the Mountaineers can break open any game very quickly if they start converting turnovers into easy buckets.
West Virginia can go up to 10 deep in its rotation as it tries to wear down opponents and generate as many easy scoring opportunities as possible. The Mountaineers miss the scoring production of Jaysean Paige from last year's team, but junior guard Jevon Carter is one of the most unsung lead guards in the country. Esa Ahmad and Nathan Adrian are a very solid scoring duo in the frontcourt.
Unfortunately for West Virginia, it also has a less-than-ideal draw when it comes to teams it might face in the Big 12 tournament. Potential quarterfinal opponent Texas Tech doesn't seem fazed by the press as it went to overtime in both matchups with the Mountaineers this season, beating West Virginia at home.
The Mountaineers should be able to outlast Texas Tech—although overtime wouldn't surprise anyone—and then get another potentially tough matchup against No. 3 seed Baylor. While West Virginia easily handled the Bears in the first matchup, Baylor was much more prepared for the Mountaineer defense the second time around as they won by double-digits and dominated the glass.
Since Baylor now knows what to expect in a third matchup between these two teams, they get the edge to advance.
First matchup: No. 8 TCU/No. 9 Oklahoma winner (Thursday, 1:30 p.m.)
Prediction: Wins the Big 12 tournament
Kansas (28-3, 16-2) enters this event as the favorite as the No. 1 team in the country and hasn't lost in over a month. The Jayhawks are expected to win the Big 12 regular season every year now, but this year's group has eyes on bigger goals.
Senior guard Frank Mason III is the front-runner for National Player of the Year as he's been brilliant this season. Mason has plenty of help around him as junior guard Devonte' Graham is back alongside Mason in the Jayhawk backcourt, while freshman Josh Jackson has become one of the nation's best players.
Center Landen Lucas is a steady interior presence on both ends of the floor, while junior Svi Mykhailiuk and sophomore Lagerald Vick are serviceable wings in the Kansas rotation. Former McDonald's All-American Carlton Bragg Jr. is the main reserve big man for the Jayhawks, as he's shown flashes of strong play during an inconsistent season.
Depth is going to be the big concern with Kansas. Outside of those seven aforementioned players, head coach Bill Self doesn't have many other guys to turn to since injuries have hit this team so hard. If the Jayhawks are hit with foul trouble or take another injury, they could be in trouble with the conference tournament's format of three games in three days.
Kansas should have no issue with either TCU or Oklahoma in the opener, and the Jayhawks should be able to outlast Iowa State or Oklahoma State in the semifinals as long as those teams don't go wild from the perimeter.
A potential championship against West Virginia would be tougher for Kansas than Baylor. The Mountaineers beat the Jayhawks at home before taking Kansas to overtime at the Phog later in the year, so West Virginia will know what it takes to potentially knock off Kansas. When you also factor that it would be the third game in three days for both teams, then West Virginia gets another advantage thanks to its 10-man rotation.
The Jayhawks fared much better with Baylor as they swept the season series from the Bears in two close games. Since Baylor might be able to take out West Virginia, that would be an ideal scenario for Kansas in the championship game.
With its ability to win tight games while having two All-American-caliber players, Kansas is the favorite to win this event as long as it can withstand playing so many minutes over the course of three days.