Here are five thoughts on Day 1 of the 2021 Big 12 Basketball Tournament from T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
1. SOONERS TO THE SEMIFINALS?
Oklahoma put together a solid game in defeating Iowa State on Wednesday night (even though the Sooners had to sweat out a game effort by the Cyclones). Now, the Sooners get the opportunity to face Kansas for the third time this season in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. The new variable is that Kansas will be without its starting forward, David McCormack, who is out due to COVID-19 protocols. The Sooners were already a good match for Kansas to begin with. The two teams split their season series, with the home team winning each game. Now, Oklahoma has a big opportunity to burnish its NCAA Tournament credentials by beating Kansas on Thursday. Why? If you look at the Bracketology of Jerry Palm at CBSSports.com and Joe Lunardi at ESPN.com, Oklahoma is the one team where they have a bit of a disparity in terms of seeding. Palm has the Sooners as a No. 8 seed, while Lunardi has Oklahoma as a No. 6 seed. A trip to the Big 12 tournament semifinals for the Sooners could well solidify them as a No. 6 seed, or higher, going into Indiana.
2. THERE’S REASON FOR OPTIMISM IN MANHATTAN
Some Kansas State fans may not agree, but I believe that head coach Bruce Weber has built a solid foundation for the future in Manhattan. You saw that on display Wednesday night as Kansas State dismantled TCU. Nijel Pack had one of his best games of the season, hitting five 3-pointers and scoring 23 points. Selton Miguel (seven points, five rebounds) and Davion Bradford (eight points, six rebounds) also had solid games. DaJuan Gordon was able to pitch in six points and six rebounds. Gordon, of course, is the Wildcat that thinks K-State can win the Big 12 Tournament. Good luck with Baylor on Thursday. But I like the optimism, and if you’re Weber, that’s the kind of optimism you want going into next season. Just about this entire roster will be back, and senior guard Mike McGuirl can come back if he wants. I’m not saying every piece is going to work out, but given the mass exodus from the program after last year, a nine-win season in a COVID-19 environment is nothing to complain about. It could have been worse (and you know what I mean).
McGuirl said after the game that Wednesday’s result was a culmination of where the team has been heading all season.
“I’ve been telling you guys all year we were falling short a lot and we’re improving,” McGuirl said. “We had to go through a tough journey to get to this point. Along the way, we felt — we started to feel it more and more through every game. We’ve gotten better in every game. So to this point, we’ve gotten better, and we’re going to try to continue to get better in this tournament.”
3. JAMIE DIXON HAS A TO-DO LIST AT TCU
This season should have worked out better for Jamie Dixon and the Horned Frogs, if we’re being honest. They had a solid returning duo in RJ Nembhard and Kevin Samuel. They had an exciting young player in Mike Miles, and a group of young, talented players. But it never came together. TCU started strong in Big 12 play, but like last season the Horned Frogs wilted. This year COVID-19 played a role, as Dixon caught it, the team had a COVID pause, and the team was caught in the crosshairs of other teams’ COVID pauses. On Wednesday, they couldn’t keep up with Kansas State. Where do the Horned Frogs go from here? Well, first, continue to develop Miles, who has star potential. But after that, it’s about taking players like PJ Fuller, Kevin Easley, Taryn Todd, and Jaedon LeDee to the next level. That’s the only way the Horned Frogs are going to get better, because most of their roster will be back next year.
“We have a young group,” Dixon said on Wednesday. “Obviously everybody knows how young the team is. Probably not the right year to do it in the Big 12, but that’s where we are. We’ve got to be better. Whatever you want to call it, we’ve got to get better.”
Dixon said he isn’t quite sure what the offseason looks like because he’s not sure when COVID-19 protocols might end. He said this won’t be a “typical offseason.”
4. LET THE PROHM WATCH BEGIN
Iowa State put forth a terrific effort against Oklahoma on Wednesday night, but we are now left with the question of whether that was head coach Steve Prohm’s final game as head coach. As late as last weekend Prohm said “I don’t know” when it came to his job status. I’m not sure the Cyclones’ effort on Wednesday tipped the scale one way or the other. If athletic director Jamie Pollard has already made his decision, he should go ahead and make it quickly. If it’s keeping Prohm, that allows Prohm to start recruiting immediately, because this program needs more talent. If it’s letting Prohm go, then that allows Pollard to jump-start a coaching search that should leave no stone unturned to find its next leader. And there are plenty of good candidates.
5. THE BEST THURSDAY IN BIG 12 TOURNAMENT HISTORY?
Perhaps in the 10-team, double round-robin era of the Big 12? I can make a great case. Thursday will be filled with four games, seven ranked teams, and three matchups that pit ranked teams against each other. Baylor faces Kansas State, and that should be a walk for the Bears. But the morning starts with West Virginia and Oklahoma State playing for the second time in five days. Then, the evening session features a short-handed Kansas facing Oklahoma, and the evening wraps up with Texas facing Texas Tech. It’s basically a ‘lead-pipe lock’ that we’ll have four Top 25 teams in the semifinals on Friday, unless you think Kansas State can shock the world. And one Wildcat does.
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