I know I dropped a Welcome to March article on March 1st, but on Wednesday the real show begins. The start of conference tournament season ushers in the official coming of March Madness, where college basketball games are played from early morning until midnight and the drama could not be higher.
As conference tournaments go, you couldn’t ask for a better one than the Big 12 Tournament. With eight teams currently projected to make the Big Dance and two of them barely teetering on the bubble (per ESPN), this will be a highly competitive tournament. Hell, even Oklahoma State and West Virginia, the two weakest teams of the conference, are capable of making a wild run and upsetting the order of things.
The Favorite: #1 Kansas State
Kansas State was one of two teams to do the impossible; win a Big 12 regular season basketball title as a non-Kansas team. Yes, the Big 12 finally changed, thanks to the combined efforts of the Red Raiders and Wildcats, however, Kansas State is the team I think is most likely to come out on top in Kansas City.
The K-State side of the bracket lines up fantastically. Their first opponent is the winner of Wednesday’s Oklahoma State/TCU matchup, two teams Kansas State handled with ease in the regular season. In the semis, K-State would play the winner of Baylor and Iowa State, who the Wildcats went a combined 3-1 against.
Not only does Kansas State have a highly favorable road to the finals, but they have strong motivation too. The Wildcats are currently projected as a four seed, bogged down by bad non-conference losses to Texas A&M and Tulsa. Winning the tournament could possibly boost the ‘Cats into a more favorable seed and potentially a better first/second round location in Des Moines or Tulsa (currently projected in San Jose by ESPN).
The Wildcats will be a highly motivated, highly talented team that no one will want to face. The senior duo of Barry Brown and Dean Wade are as good as any in the country and will be a massive problem for anyone in their way. Texas Tech will also be a tough out, but with a tougher side of the bracket and less upward mobility, the favorite edge goes to Kansas State.
The Dark Horse: #6 Texas
Sure, the Longhorns have faltered down the final Big 12 stretch and their non-conference was awful. However, with the return of leading scorer Kerwin Roach from suspension, Texas is poised for a much-needed conference run. While the ‘Horns are projected in the NCAA Tournament, they are without a doubt on the bubble. An opening win against Kansas (who the Longhorns have played very well this season) would solidify their case, but I see Texas as a team that could potentially get hot if things get weird elsewhere around the bracket.
The Team With the Most to Gain: #8 TCU
The Frogs desperately need a win over Oklahoma State to even stay alive in the tournament. Without that, it’s time for ol’ Jim Dixon to prep for another NIT run. They should beat Oklahoma State as they are coming off a big win in Austin over Texas and are playing desperate, but they’ll find no breaks in round two against Kansas State. I think they keep that one close, but I don’t see them pulling it off.
Fade ‘Em: #3 Kansas
Look, I know it’s a bad idea to bet against the Jayhawks. But Kansas is just not the same team they’ve been in the past. The losses of two stars in Udoka Azubuike and Legarald Vick have made KU merely mortal. The shooting has been mediocre at best in the back half of the season. Not only that, the Jayhawks are in a side of the bracket riddled with matchup issues, as they have looked abysmal against both Texas and Texas Tech.
If you believe in logos, go for it, pick Kansas. I dare you.
Be Afraid: #7 Oklahoma
I really do hate to say it, but I don’t know if I can trust this OU team in this tournament. In mind, the Sooners got an awful draw against West Virginia. Despite being the worst team in the conference, there is just something scary about Bob Huggins’ tiny stool, the full court press and, of course, Country Roads. Plus, last time we played in KC, the above video happened, which still makes me upset.
Other than superstition, I just think these Sooners don’t match up well against the Mountaineers. They’ve lost one game against West Virginia already in Morgantown and in their recent win against the ‘Neers they shot lights out from three. Shooting tends to die away from homecourt, which makes this neutral site game worrisome. A win here for Oklahoma would be big going into the NCAA Tournament, where momentum is key.