Big 12 Tournament 2022: Preview, Predictions and Players to Watch

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2022

Big 12 Tournament 2022: Preview, Predictions and Players to Watch

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    Kansas and Baylor shared the regular-season Big 12 championship and split their two games this season. They will have to navigate a strong field of contenders to set up a third matchup with the conference title on the line.

    The men's Big 12 basketball tournament is set to tip-off Wednesday with a field that includes several teams that are expected to be dancing. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports projects that six of the nine teams that are eligible to play in the postseason will make March Madness.

    That obviously includes Kansas and Baylor, both of whom will be auditioning for a No. 1 seed. Texas Tech, Texas, Iowa State and TCU can be dangerous on any given night.

    Last year, the third and fifth seeds met in the final, with the Texas Longhorns becoming the first team not named Iowa State or Kansas to win the tournament since 2012.

    This year's tournament could have a similar feel, with even Baylor and Kansas losing four conference games this season.

Tournament Schedule

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    Wednesday, March 9

    No. 8 Kansas State vs. No. 9 West Virginia (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

             

    Thursday, March 10

    No. 1 Kansas vs. Kansas State/West Virginia winner (12:30 p.m. ET)

    No. 4 Texas vs. No. 5 TCU (3 p.m. ET)

    No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 7 Oklahoma (7 p.m. ET)  

    No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 6 Iowa State (9:30 p.m. ET)

               

    Friday, March 11

    Semifinal No. 1 (7 p.m. ET)

    Semifinal No. 2 (9:30 p.m. ET) 

             

    Saturday, March 12

    Championship Game (6 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Preview and Predictions

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    Baylor and Kansas head into the tournament as favorites, but both have their vulnerabilities.

    The Bears have dealt with injuries well but haven't been able to beat Texas Tech this season. The Red Raiders have had their number and are the only team in the Big 12 that Baylor hasn't defeated. Most recently, the Red Raiders beat them by 10 at home, which is the last time Baylor lost.

    Things haven't gone as well for Texas Tech since, though. They finished the season by losing two of their last three games. That being said, the Red Raiders' nasty defense will give them a chance in any tournament game. They are second in the nation in KenPom's defensive efficiency rankings.

    On Kansas' side of the bracket, the biggest threats to the Jayhawks are TCU and Texas. The Horned Frogs are the most recent team to beat the Jayhawks, winning 74-64 at home Tuesday before losing a 72-68 game at Kansas on Thursday.

    However, the Longhorns took Kansas to the wire in their regular-season finale. The Jayhawks won 70-63 in overtime.

    This is not a tournament that has played out chalk very often. The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds haven't played for the Big 12 title since Kansas and West Virginia met in 2016.

                      

    Predicted Final: Baylor 75, Texas 68

    Kansas has shown that it's a difficult team to trust, even against inferior competition. If one of the top two seeds is going to get upset, it's Kansas based on recent play. Meanwhile, Baylor is on the longest win streak in the conference and has all the ingredients to make a run at the championship.

    The Bears have never won this tournament, and while last year was their best chance and they blew it, this year it feels like they have got their dud performances out of the way. As the only team in the conference who is in the top 15 in KenPom's offensive and defensive efficiencies, it's tough to pick against them.

Players to Watch

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    G Ochai Agbaji, Kansas

    There's a reason Kansas head coach Bill Self has already declared his senior guard the Big 12 Player of the Year. Ochai Agbaji is the conference's most explosive scorer. His ability to hit from downtown (42.2 percent from three-point range), move without the ball and get to the rim have helped him lead the conference in scoring.

    Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report's latest NBA mock draft has Agbaji as a late-lottery selection. He can cement that status with a strong postseason. He didn't come back for his senior season to not show out in the conference and NCAA tournaments.

                   

    PG James Akinjo, Baylor

    Point guard play can be huge when it comes to making a tournament run, and Baylor has one of the best in the country in James Akinjo. The senior has proved to be a clutch playmaker for the Big 12 co-champs and leads the conference in assists and second in steals.

    The offense is facilitated by Akinjo, but he can take over as a scorer as well. The regular-season finale, in which he put up 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting against Iowa State, was a great example. He's likely going to have to have a similar game if he wants to deliver the first Big 12 tournament title to Waco.

                     

    PG Mike Miles, TCU

    If there's a player who could single-handedly make an underdog dangerous, it's Mike Miles. The TCU guard is capable of taking over a game and making the Horned Frogs a tough out.

    Jamie Dixon's squad likely stamped their ticket to the Big Dance on the back of their two late-season wins over Texas Tech and Kansas. Against the Red Raiders, Miles put up 26 points and five assists on 10-of-15 shooting.

    He followed it up with 19 points and six assists against Kansas. He's shone against some of the best competition this season. If he gets hot, TCU could make a surprise run.

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