Baylor Bears

How Can Each Big 12 Team Make a Deep NCAA Tournament Run?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Greenville Practice

The Big 12 conference punched seven tickets to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Here’s a look at what each team needs to do for a deep tournament run.   

Baylor: No. 1 Seed 

First Round Opponent: Hartford (16) 

Going into the Big 12 tournament, it looked like Baylor had overcome the rust from a three-week COVID-19 pause. A three-game winning streak over ranked opponents to end the regular season made the national title-level expectations feel like a reality again. After watching the Bears lose in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament, the excitement faded a bit. Baylor scored just 74 points in each tournament game after putting up 85 points per game in the regular season. Junior guard Jared Butler and senior guard MaCio Teague continued their dominant scoring performances, but the Bears had too many other problems on offense. Sophomore guard Adam Flagler and junior forward Matthew Mayer fell short of their usual scoring production off the bench. Baylor shot 38.7% from the field (29-of-75), including 21.4% from three, in the semifinal loss against Oklahoma State. The Bears need a quick offensive reboot to avoid an early exit.   

 

Kansas: No. 3 Seed  

First Round Opponent: Eastern Washington (14)  

COVID-19 already forced Kansas to leave the Big 12 Tournament early. Will it do the same thing in the NCAA tournament? The Jayhawks left for Indianapolis without three players due to COVID-19 protocols, including junior forward David McCormack, sophomore guard Tristan Enaruan, and freshman forward Jalen Wilson. McCormack and Enaruan missed the Big 12 tournament, but McCormack should rejoin the team before Saturday’s first round game. With Wilson out until at least the Round of 32, the Jayhawks will rely on McCormack’s scoring, rebounding, and defense even more than usual. However, McCormack has not practiced with the team in over two weeks, which could impact his effectiveness. Kansas avoided COVID-19 pauses during the season. Now, the Jayhawks’ postseason success could be defined by their ability to outlast this disruption and play elite basketball in a less-than-ideal setting.  

Texas: No. 3 Seed 

First Round Opponent: Abilene Christian (14) 

Texas won its first Big 12 tournament title by finding a balance between guard and post play and getting key contributions from bench players. Senior forward Jericho Sims controlled the paint with 31 points, 25 rebounds, six blocks and six steals in two tournament games. Senior guard Matt Coleman scored a career-high 30 points in the championship game and had 19 points and six assists in the quarterfinals. Reserve freshman forward Brock Cunningham provided a spark during the title game with seven points, eight rebounds and three steals. Now that the Longhorns have found a formula for championship-level success, they must execute it in the NCAA tournament. Texas has not played in the second round since the 2010-11 season. Head coach Shaka Smart’s last first-round win came at VCU in 2012-13. The Longhorns shook off a few demons at the Big 12 tournament and have the ingredients to do the same thing in Indianapolis.  

 

West Virginia: No. 3 Seed 

First Round Opponent: Morehead State (14) 

West Virginia is inches away from playing its best basketball. Back-to-back losses against Oklahoma State gave the season a rough finish, but the Mountaineers fell short by a combined eight points. Poor three-point shooting, including 20.8% (5-of-24) in the first game, stopped West Virginia from taking off. The defense, though, forced 20 turnovers each game and created nostalgia for the “Press Virginia” days. This West Virginia team has found success through offensive depth. Sophomore guard Miles McBride leads the charge with 15.5 points per game while junior forward Derek Culvers dominates inside with 14.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Junior guard Sean McNeil (11.8 points) and senior guard Taz Sherman (13.6 points) can light it up from the three-point line. The Mountaineers have the tools to reach their full potential and should hit their stride at the right time.    

Oklahoma State: No. 4 seed 

First Round Opponent: Liberty

Cade Cunningham demands a lot of attention from opponents. The freshman led Oklahoma State to its first NCAA tournament appearance since the 2016-17 season and became the first AP First-Team All-America honoree in program history. Cunningham will probably add a couple NCAA tournament wins on that resume as long as his teammates continue playing at a high level. Sophomore forward Kalib Boone has developed into a solid low-post defender and scorer. Boone racked up 14 total blocks in three Big 12 tournament games along with 9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Avery Anderson scored 15.6 points and grabbed 4 rebounds per game in the Big 12 tournament and took control when Cunningham needed a break or dealt with double-teams. Junior guard Isaac Likele’s return also relieved pressure off Cunningham. Cunningham has set up Oklahoma State for a deep tournament run. It’s up to the teammates how long the run lasts.   

 

Texas Tech: No. 6 Seed 

First Round Opponent: Utah State  

Texas Tech will rely on defense, defense, and more defense. The Red Raiders rank No. 23 nationally in defensive efficiency and No. 28 in scoring defense (63.4 per game). A strong defense should benefit a team with little experience in the tournament. Only junior guard Kyler Edwards and backup junior guard Avery Benson remain from the 2019 national runner-up team. Graduate transfer forward Marcus Santos-Silva played in one tournament game with VCU. Texas Tech’s offense has also been inconsistent this season, which could also cause problems. Junior guard Mac McClung leads the Red Raiders with 15.7 points per game. The last two games, though, he shot 35% from the field and scored 14 total points. If Edwards and Santos-Silva provide leadership and McClung gets the offense rolling, the defense could open the door for some wins.  

Oklahoma: No. 8 seed 

First Round Opponent: Missouri (9)  

Oklahoma landed arguably the toughest first-round match up of any Big 12 team. And it just got a little harder. Sophomore guard De’Vion Harmon tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss at least the first two rounds. That really hurts. The Sooners enter the NCAA tournament on a 1-5 skid and lack an identity. Losing the team’s second leading scorer (12.9 points per game) just days before the first round makes getting back on track much harder. Senior guard Austin Reaves (17.7 points) and senior forward Brady Manek (10.8 points) can score, but they might feel pressure to do more than usual. The Sooners will replace Harmon with a committee approach, which means the bench must be productive. Oklahoma has won games during previous COVID-19 disruptions. That experience could be the difference between moving on or going home.  

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