This March Madness Big 12 Rewind for 2019 takes you back to how the Big 12 Conference did in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
THE BIG 12 IN 2019
Entering the 2018-19 season, sustained dominance by Kansas had been the storyline in the Big 12, and it was defined by one number — 14. At that point, the Jayhawks had won 14 straight Big 12 regular-season crowns. Sure, they had to share a few times. But the Jayhawks had won or shared the league crown for 14 straight seasons. There was no streak like it in college basketball at the time.
Kansas was used to having the target on its back and most of the time everyone else missed. But by the time the Big 12 Tournament rolled around in early March, someone finally hit the bulls-eye and ended Kansas’ streak. Or, ‘someones’, we should say.
Everyone knew Kansas State would be good going into the season. The Wildcats had, perhaps, the best senior class in the conference, highlighted by Dean Wade (12.9 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game), Barry Brown Jr. (14.6 ppg, 2.8 assists per game) and Kamau Stokes (11.0 ppg, 3.3 apg). By the end of the season all three would pass the 1,000-point mark for their respective careers, joining elite company at KSU. Xavier Sneed (10.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg) continued his fine play from a year ago, while Cartier Diarra (6.8 ppg) and Makol Mawien (7.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg) had solid seasons. It wasn’t a deep team, but with the ‘Big Three’ in tow the Wildcats had a chance to break through the dominance and win their first Big 12 regular-season title since 2013. And the Wildcats did, splitting with the Jayhawks on their home floors and going 14-4 in league action. By season’s end the Wildcats had a two-game lead on the Jayhawks in the conference and a No. 18 national ranking.
But Kansas State did have company in the form of Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders were coming off their run to the Elite Eight a year ago, but some thought it might have been lightning in a bottle, considering both Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith left the program. But Chris Beard had far more in the tank in Lubbock, as the Red Raiders started the season unranked, rose all the way to No. 7 and settled at No. 9 to end the season, all the while going 14-4 in league play and tying for the conference title with Kansas State. It would be the Red Raiders’ first league crown in men’s basketball since the 1995-96 team that won the Southwest Conference.
Jarrett Culver (18.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.7 apg) grew into a do-everything guard, while Davide Moretti (11.5 ppg) became one of the best 3-point shooters in the Big 12. Transfers Matt Mooney (11.3 ppg, 3.3 apg) and Tariq Owens (8.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg) made quality contributions, while Norense Odiase gave the Red Raiders some muscle inside. Brandone Francis and Kyler Edwards gave the Red Raiders quality play off the bench.
Yes, Kansas would have to look up at the Wildcats and Red Raiders in the standings, and on paper it just looked weird. Kansas started the season as the nation’s No. 1 team, but the departure of players like Devonte Graham and Malik Newman left some gaping holes for the Jayhawks to fill. Plus, injury issues, mainly to center Udoka Azubuike, caused the Jayhawks to lose 10 games in a season for the first time since 2013-14. Kansas also fell to No. 17 in the nation by season’s end. Transfer Dedric Lawson (19.4 ppg, 10.3 rpg) averaged a double-double, while freshman point guard Devon Dotson (12.3 ppg, 3.5 apg) got better as the season went on. Lagerald Vick (14.1 ppg) was the team’s primary threat from outside. Marcus Garrett grew into a quality defender and freshmen like Ochai Agbaji and Quentin Grimes had to grow up fast. Kansas finished with a 10-6 record in the Big 12.
Baylor finished fourth at 10-8 and the Bears had to work hard for that fourth-place finish. At midseason the Bears lost their best player, Tristan Clark (14.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg) to an injury and had to figure out ways to make it work. Head coach Scott Drew leaned hard to Yale transfer guard Makai Mason (14.9 ppg, 3.4 apg) and freshman guard Jared Butler (10.2 ppg), while guard Mario Kegler (10.5 ppg) had a fine season too. From the bench players like Devonte Bandoo emerged as a sharpshooter and Freddie Gillespie, a former Division III player, emerged as the Bears’ go-to player inside.
Iowa State bounced back from its under-.500 season a year ago to finish 9-9 in league play and won 23 games. The return to help of Nick Weiler-Babb (9.1 ppg) helped tremendously, as the Cyclones returned to the Top 25, at one point rising as high as No. 17. But ISU’s success this season was built around transfers Marial Shayok (18.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Michael Jacobson (11.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and freshmen Talen Horton-Tucker (11.1 ppg). Sophomore Lindell Wigginton (13.5 ppg), who was a starter the year before, missed most of the non-conference slate and slid into a sixth man role.
Texas (8-10), Oklahoma (7-11) and TCU (7-11) would all find themselves under .500 in Big 12 play and end up winning 20 or more games for the season, complicating their fates for the NCAA Tournament.
Texas played the season without Andrew Jones, who was still recovering from leukemia. Kerwin Roach Jr. led the way with 14.6 ppg, while Dylan Osetkowski averaged 11.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Jaxson Hayes (10.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) would grow into an NBA talent that season and would leave for the NBA after his freshman year. Guards Matt Coleman (9.8 ppg), Jase Febres (8.9 ppg) and Courtney Ramey (8.1 ppg) all had solid seasons.
Without Trae Young the Sooners struggled at times, but guard Christian James (14.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg) had the chance to take a starring role. Brady Manek (12.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg) had another fine season, while Kristian Doolittle (11.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg) came into his own as a player.
TCU lost players like Kenrich Williams from the previous season’s NCAA team, but that allowed Desmond Bane (15.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg) to emerge as the team’s full-fledged scoring leader. Alex Robinson (12.5 ppg, 6.9 apg) became one of the best passers in the country, while Kouat Noi (13.9 ppg) and JD Miller (10.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg) had fine seasons.
Oklahoma State (5-13) and West Virginia (4-14) both took a tumble.
Without the senior experience, Mike Boynton and his Cowboys struggled to find their way all season. Cameron McGriff (12.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Lindy Waters III (12.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Thomas Dziagwa (11.7 ppg) had fine season, and freshman Isaac Likekele (8.7 ppg, 3.9 apg) was a starter from Day 1. But the Cowboys had little depth, Boynton dismissed three players before Big 12 play began and the Cowboys had to have open tryouts to fill the roster.
It was worse for West Virginia. Without Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr., the Mountaineers were rudderless for much of the season. At one point, head coach Bob Huggins said he had players that hadn’t “bought into” the program. As the season went on, and as players migrated from the program, the Mountaineers’ play improved. The future was players like Derek Culver (11.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg), Jermaine Haley (7.1 ppg) and Emmitt Matthews Jr. Forward Sagaba Konate missed most of the season with an injury and left for the NBA after the season. Several other players transferred away.
The regular-season award winners included Culver (player of the year), Brown (defensive player of the year), Lawson (newcomer of the year), Hayes (freshman of the year), Wigginton (sixth man) and Beard (co-coaches of the year). The All-Big 12 First Team included Shayok, Lawson, Brown, Wade and Culver.
At the Sprint Center in Kansas City, the Big 12 Tournament was tons of fun. West Virginia, the tournament’s worst seed, upset Texas Tech in the quarterfinals and pushed Kansas in the semifinals before losing. Iowa State upended Baylor in the quarterfinals and slipped by Kansas State in the semifinals. In the championship game, Iowa State took care of Kansas, 78-66, to win the Big 12 Tournament for the fourth time in six years. Shayok was the tournament’s most outstanding player, while Jacobson, Wigginton, Dotson and Lawson made the all-tournament team.
On Selection Sunday the Big 12 received six invitations to the NCAA Tournament — Texas Tech (No. 3), Kansas State (No. 4), Kansas (No. 4), Iowa State (No. 6), Baylor (No. 9) and Oklahoma (No. 9).
After the Big 12’s banner year in the 2018 Tournament — four teams reaching the Sweet 16 and three reaching the Elite 8 — the conference was hoping for a repeat. It became clear by the end of the tournament’s first weekend that wasn’t going to happen.
Sure, Texas Tech defeated Northern Kentucky, 72-57. Baylor slid by Syracuse, 78-69. Kansas pounded Northeastern, 87-53. And Oklahoma held a high-scoring affair with Ole Miss, winning 95-72.
But Kansas State and Iowa State both headed home early. The Wildcats, who had gone to the Elite Eight the previous year, faced UC Irvine in the first round and fell, 70-64. The careers of Barry Brown Jr., Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade, three of the best players in program history, saw their careers end prematurely, given that K-State was a No. 4 seed.
Iowa State drew Ohio State in the first round and the Buckeyes pulled off the upset, 62-59. The Cyclones had bounced back from the previous season’s losing record, only to fall in the first round to a Buckeyes team that had to squeeze into the tournament.
Texas Tech played like it had unfinished business in the NCAA Tournament, opening the second round with a dominant 78-58 win over Buffalo. The Red Raiders, with the win, secured their second straight trip to the Sweet 16, and their first back-to-back trips to the regional semifinals since 1961 and 1962.
But Texas Tech would be the only Big 12 team in the Sweet 16.
Kansas had been to three straight Elite Eights (and a Final Four in 2018) before Auburn snapped that streak with an 89-75 win over the Jayhawks. Auburn did not horse around, as the Tigers had a 51-25 lead at halftime behind Bryce Brown’s 25 points. Dedric Lawson wrapped up his Kansas career with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Quentin Grimes scored 15 points, Devon Dotson scored 13 points and David McCormack scored 11 points.
Baylor was out for another trip to the Sweet 16, but the Bears ran into No. 1-seeded Gonzaga, and the Bulldogs won, 83-71. Gonzaga had a huge lead at the break, 39-23, and never looked back. Brandon Clarke had a huge game for Gonzaga with 36 points. The Bears, meanwhile, had Makai Mason and Mark Vital with 17 points each, while King McClure had 15 points and Jared Butler added 11 points.
Oklahoma had its own matchup with a No. 1 seed, Virginia, and the Cavaliers were on a redemption tour after their loss in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed. The Sooners couldn’t pull off the upset, as Virginia won, 63-51. Mamadi Diakite led the Cavs with 14 points. Oklahoma’s Christian James and Brady Manek led the Sooners with 13 points each.
Texas Tech had the spotlight to itself entering the second weekend of the tournament. If the Big 12 was going to have a Final Four team, it had to be the Red Raiders. The next roadblock to Minneapolis was Michigan. And the first half was a struggle for both teams, but the Red Raiders were up, 24-16. Texas Tech maintained the lead and the Wolverines simply couldn’t overcome the deficit, as Texas Tech won, 63-44. Ignas Brazdeikis led Michigan with 17 points and the Wolverines shot only 32.7 percent from the floor.
Jarrett Culver scored 22 points, David Moretti had 15 points and Matt Mooney added 10 points as the Red Raiders would go to the Elite Eight for the second straight season.
Let’s stop for a second. Texas Tech had a date with Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. The game was Texas Tech’s second straight trip to the Elite Eight. But the idea that Tech could have gotten to back-to-back Elite Eights in Chris Beard’s first three seasons seems ludicrous in comparison to Tech’s basketball history. This tournament was just the 17th in Tech’s history. The Red Raiders had never been to back-to-back Elite Eights, and had never been to a Final Four.
The Red Raiders also had to face an NCAA Tournament in Gonzaga, as the Bulldogs had been to 21 straight NCAA Tournaments and were two years removed from reaching the national championship game. Gonzaga was actually more experienced at this than Texas Tech, as evidenced by the program’s No. 1 seeding.
But, by game’s end, it was Texas Tech heading to its first Final Four. The Red Raiders won, 75-69, led by the tremendous play of Jarrett Culver, who had 19 points; Matt Mooney, who had 17 points; and Davide Moretti, who had 12 points. Gonzaga had four players in double figures, led by Rui Hachimura’s 22 points, but the Red Raiders held on to punch their ticket for the Final Four.
FINAL FOUR (NATIONAL SEMIFINAL)
Texas Tech was the fifth Big 12 team to make it to the Final Four during the Big 12 era — Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma and Texas were the others. But Kansas was the only Big 12 team to win a national championship game during that time, coming in 2008. Texas Tech was out to become the second team to win a national title.
Up first was Michigan State, a Final Four veteran. Under Tom Izzo the Spartans had won a national championship, and their appearance in the 2019 Final Four would be the program’s eighth under Izzo. If any team was equipped to overcome the Red Raiders in this Final Four, it was Michigan State.
But the Red Raiders were like a freight train at this point, and Texas Tech defeated Michigan State, 61-51.
Matt Mooney had a great game for Texas Tech, scoring 22 points, while Jarrett Culver scored a hard-fought 10 points. Brandone Francis had a great game off the bench, scoring 9 points, while Kyler Edwards had 6 points off the bench. Michigan State’s Cassius Winston led the Spartans with 16 points.
And with the win, the Red Raiders were on their way to their first Final Four.
FINAL FOUR (NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME)
Texas Tech found itself in rarefied air — a national championship game. It was the first time for men’s basketball, and the Red Raiders were hoping to match the women’s program, which claimed its national title in 1993 under Marsha Sharp. The Red Raiders’ opponent, Virginia, was fighting its own history.
The Cavaliers had never won a national title before, but they had gotten close. The Cavs reached the Final Four in 1981 with Ralph Sampson in the pivot, but they failed to win the crown. The Cavs got there again in 1984, without Sampson, but couldn’t break through then, either. But in 2019, the Cavaliers were on a mission after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose in the first round, which happened in the 2018 Tournament.
Both teams possessed tremendous storylines and tremendous teams. And the game lived up to the hype.
Both teams played the defense you would expect from Texas Tech and Virginia. The Red Raiders had a lead late in regulation, but the Cavaliers hit a basket late to send the game to overtime. In overtime the Cavaliers got the upper hand and never let up, as Virginia won the game, 85-77, to claim its first national title.
Jarrett Culver had to work hard to get his 15 points that night, but Brandone Francis came off the bench for a team-leading 17 points. Davide Moretti also scored 15 points, while Kyler Edwards had 12 points and Matt Mooney scored 10 points. Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter led all scorers with 27 points, while Kyle Guy hit some big shots to score 24 points for the Cavs.
Tech fans were proud of the run, but disappointed that they had fallen just short of the prize.