The Phillip’s 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship tips off tonight at 5:30pm between Kansas State and TCU. While Baylor is the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament, all 10 teams have something to gain – or lose – over the next few days. Here’s a look at what that might be for each team.
No. 2 Baylor
Record: 21-1 overall, 13-1 Big 12
NCAA Tournament Projection: 1 Seed
Baylor has regained its national title contender form after a three-week COVID-19 pause. The Bears looked shaky in the first game back against Iowa State and then suffered their only loss at Kansas. A 94-89 overtime win against West Virginia secured the Bears’ first regular season title since a 1950 and sparked the resurgence. Baylor finished the season ranked No. 2 nationally in offensive efficiency behind Gonzaga. The Bears also had five players earn All-Big 12 awards, headlined by junior guard Davion Mitchell as Defensive Player of the Year. Scott Drew was also named Coach of the Year. Baylor will likely win its first Big 12 tournament title this week and keep a historic season right on track.
No. 11 Kansas
Record: 19-8, 12-6
NCAA Tournament Projection: 3 Seed
Kansas finished the Big 12 season on a 6-1 run almost two weeks ago and to regain a spot in the top 25. The Jayhawks also avoided conference make-up games, which might not help entering the tournament. A 67-62 win over UTEP last Thursday raised some questions and now Junior forward David McCormack will miss the tournament due to COVID-19 protocols. McCormack, the Big 12’s Most Improved Player, played a major role in the late season surge through scoring, rebounding, and leadership. This means freshman forward Jalen Wilson, who has recorded eight double-doubles in this season, will take on more responsibilities. Senior guard Marcus Garrett and junior guard Ochai Agbaji can help take some pressure off Wilson. A lot has changed since Kansas ended the conference season. Once again, the Jayhawks will have to prove they belong in the top 25.
No. 13 Texas
Record: 17-7, 11-6
NCAA Tournament Projection: 3 Seed
Texas dealt with identity problems all season due to COVID-19 interruptions, but a three-game winning streak to end the season helped solve some of those issues. The Longhorns have a trio of All-Big 12 guards in senior Matt Coleman and juniors Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey who combine for almost 41 points per game. Senior forward Jericho Sims provides a much-needed presence inside the paint to balance out the guards. Sims shoots 67.8% from the field, which pulls defenses in and opens up perimeter scoring opportunities. Sophomore forward Kai Jones, the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year, can also spread the floor on offense. Head coach Shaka Smart finally has the pieces for a deep tournament run. It’s time to deliver.
No. 10 West Virginia
Record: 18-8, 11-6
NCAA Tournament Projection: 3 Seed
West Virginia finished the regular season on an emotional roller coaster with an overtime loss against Baylor, a win over TCU and then a loss to Oklahoma State. Prior to the Baylor game, the Mountaineers had won six of seven and were in position to take second place in the conference. With a roster featuring six All-Big 12 selections, West Virginia should easily get back on track. Junior forward Derek Culver and sophomore guard Miles McBride will set the tone for the entire tournament. McBride leads the Mountaineers with 15.4 points per game while Culver scores 14.8 points and tops the Big 12 with 9.8 rebounds per game. Head coach Bob Huggins needs one more win to reach 900 career victories. If West Virginia can reset after last week, Huggins could leave Kansas City with more than 900 wins.
No. 12 Oklahoma State
NCAA Tournament Projection: 4 Seed
Oklahoma State has hit peak form at the perfect moment. Big 12 Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year Cade Cunningham clearly leads this young, driven team. The Cowboys went 7-3 over the final 10 games and completed season sweeps of Texas Tech and in-state Rival Oklahoma. Probably the most impressive win during that stretch, though, was an 85-80 win at West Virginia without Cunningham. Sophomore guard Avery Anderson poured in a career-high 31 points while freshman forward Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe scored 18 points. Cunningham had rolled an ankle in a loss to Baylor a few days prior, and became the Cowboys’ biggest cheerleader against the Mountaineers. With Cunningham and junior guard Isaac Likele returning from injuries, Oklahoma State should make solid tournament runs.
No. 20 Texas Tech
Record: 17-9, 9-8
NCAA Tournament Projection: 5 Seed
Texas Tech avoided the conference tournament play-in game in large part due to Oklahoma’s inability to win a game the last two weeks. Texas Tech finished with wins over Texas, TCU, Iowa State and a loss to Baylor. Junior guard Mac McClung, an All-Big 12 First-team honoree, played inconsistently the last few games, which has given junior guard Kyler Edwards and sophomore guard Terrence Shannon Jr. a chance to shine. The Red Raiders struggled to find an offensive rhythm during the season due to COVID-19 delays and ended with a 3-6 record against ranked Big 12 teams. Having the conference’s best scoring defense (63.3 points per game) kept Texas Tech in games and should help in the conference tournament too. The Red Raiders need to create momentum this week for the NCAA tournament in order to reach their full potential.
No. 25 Oklahoma
Record: 14-9, 9-8
NCAA Tournament Projection: 6 Seed
Just over two weeks ago, Oklahoma sat in the No. 3 spot in the Big 12 standings and played like a team bound for the Sweet Sixteen. Now, the Sooners have dropped four straight games and will miss out on the first-round bye in the conference tournament. A puzzling defeat to Kansas State came on the heels of back-to-back losses against Oklahoma State. Considering how well the Cowboys have played recently, those are not bad losses. Oklahoma has the talent to win games in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. All-Big 12 honorees senior guard Austin Reaves and sophomore guard Da’vion Harmon lead the offense, but the key is senior forward Brady Manek. If Manek plays well, the Sooners will be an extremely tough out. Otherwise, Oklahoma’s season could end earlier than expected.
Record: 5-11, 12-13
TCU ended the conference season headed in the wrong direction. A 1-6 finish, including a loss to Kansas State, exposed the problems this young team has dealt with all season. TCU shot 31.8% from three during that seven-game stretch (44-of-138) and turned the ball over 15 times per game. Freshman guard Mike Miles and junior guard RJ Nembhard were named to All-Big 12 teams, which could provide a spark for next season. Miles averages 13.8 points per game while Nembhard scores 15.9 points and dishes out 4 assists per game. No other Horned Frog averages over 10 points per game, though. The conference tournament is not the ideal setting to work out the inconsistencies, but it’s another chance to gain experience and move things in the right direction.
Record: 8-19, 4-14
Kansas State went 3-1 in its final conference games and beat then-No.7 Oklahoma in the process. Guard Mike McGuirl, the lone senior, found a rhythm late in the season and earned an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention nod in the process. With multiple freshmen in the starting lineup every game, the Wildcats had obvious growing pains. Match-ups problems and turnovers (-1.89 margin) made it hard to see any improvement. Still, the Wildcats have stuck together and started playing well at the right time. Freshman guard Nijel Pack, in particular, provides a reason for optimism with 12 points and 3 assists per game. A win or two in the Big 12 tournament would provide another good building block for next season.
Record: 2-12, 0-18
Iowa State needs something, anything to take pride in. Junior guard Rasir Bolton and guard Jalen Coleman-Lands, a graduate transfer, did play well enough to land on All-Big 12 teams. However, the Cyclones have lost 21 consecutive conference games and failed to win a conference game for the first time since the 1936-37 season. Head coach Steve Prohm has not developed recruits in a conference stacked with top-25 teams. Prohm’s teams have won five or fewer conference games in three of the last four seasons. A 2019 conference tournament title seems like a distant, almost impossible, memory at this point. Iowa State faces many questions this offseason and a win against Oklahoma would make things a little more manageable.
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