2018 Big 12 Tournament: Kansas Wins the Tourney Crown
BIG 12 TOURNAMENT RESULTS, SCHEDULE
Wednesday, March 7
Game 1: No. 8 Oklahoma State 71, No. 9 Oklahoma 60
Game 2: No. 7 Texas 68, No. 10 Iowa State 64
Thursday, March 8
Game 3: Kansas State 66, TCU 64 (OT)
Game 4: Kansas 82, Oklahoma State 68
Game 5: Texas Tech 73, Texas 69
Game 6: West Virginia 78, Baylor 65
Friday, March 9
Game 7: Kansas 83, Kansas State 67
Game 8: West Virginia 66, Texas Tech 63
Saturday, March 10
Game 9: Kansas 81, West Virginia 70
Kansas 81, West Virginia 70: Death, Taxes, Kansas. You know the drill. It’s hard to keep a blue blood down, even when they’re not the blue blood they usually are.
This season has been filled with “Is this the year Kansas’ regular-season Big 12 championship streak comes to an end?” There was the regular conversation between ESPN’s Jay Williams and Seth Greenberg about whether you take Kansas or the Field in the Big 12. We all know this isn’t the Kansas team we’re used to seeing. They don’t have much depth. They’re haven’t been particularly imposing inside. Guard Devonte’ Graham had to play every minute of 10 games in a row in Big 12 action. This wasn’t an easy road for one of the game’s top programs.
Yet, Kansas found a way to win the regular season title. But then the Jayhawks made the short drive from Lawrence to Kansas City head coach Bill Self revealed that center Udoka Azubuike would not play in the Big 12 Tournament due to a knee injury. Self decided to sit Azubuike to get him ready for the NCAA Tournament, as the Jayhawks were going dancing either way. I admit — I thought that would be a one-way ticket to an early exit from the tournament, just like last year’s quarterfinal loss to TCU.
Yet, here we are. First, Kansas exorcised its demon for this season, Oklahoma State. The Cowboys became the first team in the Bill Self era to beat sweep Kansas in the regular season. The Jayhawks made that revenge win look relatively easy. Then, it was a third Sunflower State showdown with Kansas State. Dean Wade didn’t play for K-State and Barry Brown Jr. played one minute before leaving the game. Kansas made quick work of the Wildcats.
Then came West Virginia. The Mountaineers have quickly become the bridesmaid in this tournament, having lost the last two Big 12 Tournament title games (one of which was to Kansas). With West Virginia’s seniors leading the way — Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. — the Mountaineers felt they had a chance. And they did. In fact, West Virginia led by a point at halftime. At one point in the second half the Mountaineers pushed that lead to 8 points and then lost it. The Mountaineers got it back, pushed it back to seven points and lost it again.
With 6:43 left in the game Miles — who had a masterful contest, scoring 25 points — canned a 3-pointer to tie the game at 66. A little more than a minute later Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa — who has had a fine tournament for the Jayhawks off the bench — dropped in a layup to give Kansas the lead, this time for good. This is part of the reason Kansas has been so good for so long. They find ways to win these games late when it really matters. Kansas slowly tightened the vise, increased its lead and won its 11th Big 12 Tournament title.
West Virginia played a fine game. The Mountaineers have been on a nice run the past few weeks and I suspect they’re ready for the NCAA Tournament and a run to at least the Sweet 16. If Miles plays like he did on Saturday, the Mountaineers will be tough to beat. Jevon Carter scored 17 points and dished out 9 assists. Center Sagaba Konate had 18 points and 5 rebounds. But the Mountaineers cannot have the kind of outing they received from Esa Ahmad again this postseason. Kansas held him to no points. In fact, no one else on offense was particularly good for the Mountaineers on Saturday. It’s vital to West Virginia’s hopes of advancing in the NCAAs that Ahmad bounce back and at least one other player provide some instant scoring off the bench. James Bolden is usually good for some of that, but he only scored 2 points on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Kansas has five players in double figures and the Jayhawks are now the hottest team in the Big 12. Kansas has won eight of its last nine games. The Jayhawks are tournament-ready and should be a No. 1 seed on Sunday, which probably means a first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in Topeka, Kansas. Graham was his usual self, scoring 18 points and dishing out 13 assists. Svi Mykhailiuk added 16 and Lagerald Vick pitched in 10. But the really good news was the tournament performances of Malik Newman and De Sousa.
Newman was the Big 12 Tournament MVP and it was well-deserved. He capped the tournament with a 20-point game against the Mountaineers. He had scored 22 points against Kansas State and 30 against Oklahoma State. He fueled huge runs in all three games.
De Sousa, to me, is the most important player that emerged in this tournament for Kansas. With Azubuike down, Self started Mitch Lightfoot inside but brought in De Sousa off the bench. Remember — De Sousa enrolled at Kansas in January but had to wait a few weeks until his paperwork was straightened out. Even then, he played sparingly, even though Kansas could have used his size inside.
Without Azubuike, Self had to unleash De Sousa and the freshman proved he was worth the wait. Saturday was the capper. De Sousa was perfect from the floor (8-for-8), scored 16 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. De Sousa has now logged double-digit minutes in each of his last four games and his production has increased each game. He has now earned a permanent spot in this rotation, even when Azubuike returns. It couldn’t come at a better time.
I’m still not certain Kansas can get to the Final Four. But after this Big 12 Tournament the Jayhawks are as ready as they can be. They’re built for this, just not in the way we’re used to.
Previewing Sunday. The NCAA bids come down late in the afternoon and the Big 12 will wait to see how many teams get to the NCAA Tournament (I figure it will be seven). The remaining Big 12 teams with winning records will go to the NIT.