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Big 12 Tournament 2018: Preview, Predictions and Players to Watch

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 4, 2018

OKlahoma's Trae Young, left, drives past Iowa State's Donovan Jackson, right, in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, March 2, 2018, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Kyle Phillips)
Kyle Phillips/Associated Press

The Big 12 has the potential to put 80 percent of its teams into the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

While Kansas gets most of the attention for its play at the top of the conference, there's a bevy of other teams ready for the challenge of postseason basketball.

At some point during conference play, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma threatened Kansas' Big 12 crown, but not one was able to string together enough results to supplant the Jayhawks.

Just because Kansas goes into the Big 12 tournament as the No. 1 seed doesn't mean it is a lock to win the competition.

With NCAA tournament seeding and a few berths on the line, the Big 12 tournament is expected to be a free-for-all—just like it was throughout the regular season.

                   

Big 12 Tournament Preview

Although they possess the No. 1 seed, the Jayhawks shouldn't be seen as the overwhelming favorites to win the Big 12 tournament.

Challengers to their throne have come and gone, with Texas Tech and West Virginia coming closest, and every one of them had the same goal of trying to force Kansas to win by thriving in the paint.

The Red Raiders and Mountaineers are on course for a juicy semifinal clash in Kansas City, Missouri, with the winner most likely taking on Kansas in the championship game.

Kansas' path to the title game runs through either Oklahoma State or Oklahoma and the winner of the Kansas State vs. TCU quarterfinal.

The quarterfinal might be end up being Kansas' toughest test given the Cowboys and Sooners' desperate situations.

In addition to the focus on the top teams, the spotlight will be cast on both Oklahoma teams, Texas, Kansas State and Baylor as they all try to survive the bubble.

Baylor, Kansas State and Texas have some work to do, which means quarterfinal victories are imperative if they want to solidify their respective resumes.

Oklahoma State jumped into the bubble conversation Saturday with its win over Kansas, while Oklahoma has been one of the hardest teams to figure out because of its inconsistency.

A loss in the first round to their Bedlam rival doesn't eliminate the Sooners from the NCAA tournament, but it wouldn't be ideal. The Cowboys, meanwhile, could sneak into the Big Dance with a run to the semifinals, which would mean they record a win over Kansas.

Plenty of variables are in play at the Big 12 tournament, but it appears a minimum of six teams will qualify for the NCAA tournament—and as many as eight could make it if results fall the right way.

                   

Predictions

1st-Round Predictions

No. 9 Oklahoma def. No. 8 Oklahoma State

No. 7 Texas def. No. 10 Iowa State

               

Quarterfinals Predictions

No. 1 Kansas def. No. 9 Oklahoma

No. 5 TCU def. No. 4 Kansas State

No. 2 Texas Tech def. No. 7 Texas

No. 6 Baylor def. No. 3 West Virginia

                

Semifinals Predictions

No. 1 Kansas def. No. 5 TCU

No. 2 Texas Tech def. No. 6 Baylor

                

Final Prediction

No. 2 Texas Tech def. No. 1 Kansas

                 

Players to Watch

Trae Young, Oklahoma

No player has captured the nation's attention quite like Oklahoma freshman Trae Young.

The guard, who is expected to be a high pick in the 2018 NBA draft, leads the nation with 27.5 points and 8.9 assists per game.

Young registered a double-digit point total in each of his 30 regular-season games, but he's struggled by his standards over the past four contests, averaging 18 points.

NORMAN, OK - FEBRUARY 17: Trae Young #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners dribbles down court during the game against the Texas Longhorns at Lloyd Noble Center on February 24, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma. The Longhorns defeated the Sooners 77-66. (Photo by Brett Deer
Brett Deering/Getty Images

With the Sooners' March Madness hopes on the line, Young should dazzle in the opening game of the Big 12 tournament against Oklahoma State, a team he scored his season-high 48 points against January 20.

Young is going to need some help from his supporting cast to make a deep run into the postseason, but he is expected to carry the majority of the offensive load.

As long as he can live up to the pressure and shine in the Big 12 tournament, Oklahoma has a chance of knocking off Kansas in the quarterfinals.

                    

Udoka Azubuike, Kansas

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike may be the most important big man in men's college basketball.

The post player is the main weapon down low for a Kansas team that has strength in numbers in the backcourt.

In two of his past five regular-season games, Azubuike was close to perfect from the field while recording more than 20 points.

Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

Kansas needs the Azubuike from the February 17 West Virginia game and the contest against Texas February 26 to show up in order to thrive in Kansas City and beyond.

The major concern surrounding Azubuike is his free-throw shooting, as he is a 41.6 percent shooter at the foul line.

Don't be surprised if opponents purposely foul the big man in an attempt to deflate his confidence.

To his credit, Azubuike has worked on his stroke from the charity stripe, as he displayed against West Virginia, when he went 7-of-10. But he also missed his last seven free throws of the regular season.

               

Keenan Evans, Texas Tech

Texas Tech has a chance to surprise Kansas in the final and capture the Big 12 tournament title behind Keenan Evans' play.

Evans helped the Red Raiders get back on track and earn some much-needed momentum with a 23-point performance against TCU Saturday.

The win ended a four-game skid for Chris Beard's team, which dropped it away from Kansas and closer to the rest of the pack in the Big 12 standings.

LUBBOCK, TX - MARCH 3: Keenan Evans #12 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders goes to the basket against Alex Robinson #25 of the TCU Horned Frogs during the second half of the game on March 3, 2018 at United Supermarket Arena in Lubbock, Texas. Texas Tech defeat
John Weast/Getty Images

Evans, who averages 17.3 points per game, scored more than 20 points on six occasions in conference play to add his four 20-point outbursts from nonconference action.

If he produces at a high level throughout the tournament, he could end up earning Big 12 tournament MVP honors.

The senior won't be able to win the championship on his own, but he has a few key players around him in Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver who will help to engineer his success.

               

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

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