1) So the Big 12 was able to land seven teams in the NCAA Tournament, tied for the most with the Big Ten. But, as a percentage of participants, the Big 12 had the highest rate at 70% of teams reaching the Big Dance. That’s great news for the Conference. But, at the same time, there’s a lot of pressure to prove that the Big 12 was all it was hyped up to be during the season. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t think there is a Final 4 team in the conference. That being said, the Big 12 needs three teams to reach the Sweet 16 for the conference to legitimize the hype. I definitely like their chances to make that happen.
2) But, if there is one team that can reach the Final 4, it’s the Baylor Bears. If you read this column weekly, then that’s nothing new to you. The bracket shakes out for Baylor as follows: Georgia State, then Xavier/Miss/BYU, followed by possibly Arizona, and then let’s guess Wisconsin or North Carolina. The West Region is actually the toughest of the four, but I like the match ups for Baylor. While I haven’t watched a ton of Pac 12 hoops, a potential game against Arizona seems to be the biggest hurdle. They seem comparable in that they both have a veteran back court, top defenses, and are good rebounding teams. But, the Wildcats have more Tournament experience, and a coach with a better NCAA Tourney track record in Sean Miller.
3) The first round game that I am most interested by is 11 seed Texas against 6 seed Butler. The two conferences I watch the most of are the Big 12 and the Big East, so I find this intriguing on many levels. Following a bounce back season, Butler has to be kicking themselves they drew a second round match up (still considered first round to many of us) with the Longhorns. Yes, Texas struggled in the second half, but they put together a good 5-game stretch to close the season. The Bulldogs do not have the front line size to compete with the Longhorns. Texas is a top-5 rebounding team in the country, and leads the nation in blocks per game. Plus, Rick Barnes could be coaching for his job.
4) The Kansas Jayhawks and their fan base have many reasons to be upset over the bracket breakdown. First off, they happen to be the 2 seed that gets to be in Kentucky’s bracket. Then, they have a potential game against 7 seed Wichita State awaiting them in the third round. The Shockers have been salivating for a chance to take on the Jayhawks in recent seasons, and now they are one game away from getting it, ironically, with everything on the line. It’s the classic example of a big brother-little brother match up, where KU has nothing to gain from a win, and everything to lose in a loss. The last time these two met in the NCAA Tournament? 1981.
5) West Virginia landed a 5 seed against 12 seed Buffalo. As many of you know, the 5-12 game is a classic upset, and one of the first things the talking heads do, is trying to figure out which 12 seed can beat a 5 seed. This season West Virginia appears to be that 5 seed. Honestly, outside of knowing Buffalo is coached by Bobby Hurley, son of legendary H.S. coach Bob Hurley, I can’t tell you much about the Bulls. But, I think most of the speculation is because of the left knee injury of WVU star Juwan Staten, which has caused him to miss the past 4 games. But, Staten has taken it easy, with the plan always being to rest for the NCAA’s. Bob Huggins is a season vet in tournament coaching, with a press style that is tough to prepare for if you haven’t seen it all season. Plus, it’s Hurley’s first appearance as a coach in the Big Dance.
6) So Iowa State is making a habit of this “come from behind” thing, huh? They’ve trailed by a combined 75 points in their past five games, and won all five. Yes, the fans love the underdog, comeback mentality. But, I really don’t like it as they prepare for the Big Dance. It’s one thing to make a huge comeback in Ames, or even Kansas City, where the Sprint Center was flooded with Cyclones fans. But, to do it at a neutral site, at an arena the players haven’t played it, and aren’t comfortable in? That’s a completely different animal.
7) Of the top seeds in the Big 12, the Oklahoma Sooners have the toughest road. After a tricky game against Albany, they will likely face Providence, which is a very underrated and overlooked team IMHO. Then they’re looking at a match up against either Virginia, which could have been a one seed, or Michigan State. Who wants to face a Tom Izzo team that has reached another Sweet 16? The Spartans looked great in regulation on Sunday when they took Wisconsin to overtime.
8) For whatever reason, it doesn’t appear Oklahoma State was ever in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. Despite losing 6 of their last 7, the committee did not list them as one of the “last four in”. So, the Cowboys get a repeat of their 2013 NCAA Tournament opening round match up against Oregon. That year Oklahoma State was a 5 seed, and lost to 12 seed Oregon 68-55. I’d love to see Oklahoma State win that game and get a shot at 1 seed Wisconsin. But, coach Travis Ford has never been good in the NCAA’s (one Tournament win since being hired in 2008), and his team is playing their most inconsistent basketball of the season.
9) Let’s get to our tweet of the week. A potential KU-Wichita State match up already has both fan bases worked up. Side note: so what you’re actually saying Mr. Hatchett, is that there are several teams that can be a “true top 5 team”?
10) Now to football, where it was a very tough week for the University of Oklahoma. The University was dealing with the racist video from the SAE Fraternity that was released and shown around the country. But, there was good news for the Sooners, as the Board of Regents approved the plan for the first phase of renovations to Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The renovations were temporarily on hold following the dramatic drop in oil prices, which OU President David Boren noted, “When half the net worth of our major donors was wiped out by fallen oil prices … we had to take that into account immediately.” Yes, the plans were scaled down. But, the plan includes closing in the south end zone, which I believe will improve the atmosphere even more (south end zone is where I have sat for games). Also, they will improve and triple the size of the weight room, and include a 70-yard indoor turfed surface. These are all great things for Bob Stoops’ program, and huge for continuing to recruit the top players in the country.
11) There was an interesting article in the Waco Tribune last week about Baylor Coach Art Briles meeting with Kevin Kelley, the head football coach of Pulaski Academy (Little Rock, Arkansas). Kelley does not punt in any games, and on-side kicks until his team is up at least 28 points. Kelley has won four State Titles in twelve years. Briles certainly isn’t a fan of punting (attempting 34 fourth downs last season), and the article noted some of the statistics used by Kelley that “prove” punting is bad for the game. Briles admitted he won’t take his offense to these kind of extremes. But, what Briles does offensively is, by far, one of the most intriguing follows in college football. I can’t wait to see how he continues to innovate the game, and I respect the fact that he is always looking to get better, be different, and never seems satisfied.
12) My plan is to do write ups for the first round Big 12 games of the NCAA Tournament (I despise calling Thursday/Friday the second round). Then, tweet out picks for Saturday/Sunday via @Heartland_CS. I’m 14-8-1 this season against the spread.