With more than half of its conference participating in the NCAA Tournament, the Big 12 has sky-high aspirations to have at least one of its members making it all the way to the Final Four. And two of them making it is not a foolish prospect either. Here is a preview of what to expect from all seven Big 12 participants in the Dance.
Kansas Jayhawks (32-2, 15-1 Big 12)
No. 1 seed, Midwest Region
Ranked No. 1 in the nation and having received the top overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Kansas is the Big 12’s — and NCAA’s — favorite to bring home the prize: the national championship.
Owners of 13- and 14-game winning streaks during the regular season, the Jayhawks come into the mid-March Madness having won every game they were supposed to win, their only losses coming on road games to No. 14 Tennessee and daunting Oklahoma State. Kansas won its conference’s regular-season title by a wide margin and also paced itself to a trouble-free Big 12 tournament championship.
The Jayhawks have already beaten a number of teams invited to this year’s field of 65. That includes road wins against a No. 5 seed, Temple, which Kansas thrashed 84-52 Jan. 2, and Kansas State, a conference rival and a No. 2 seed, which the Jayhawks defeated grittily, 81-79, in overtime Jan. 30.
Back spasms almost prevented Kansas’ star, point guard Sherron Collins from coming back in time to down the Wildcats during the Jayhawks’ overtime win, but very little stops the senior from leading his team to victory these days, especially in crunch time. The Jahawks’ leading scorer and assist man at 15.5 points and 4.6 assists per game, Collins is added insurance when a game gets too close for comfort. In the rest of the occasions, Kansas’ complete offense/defense combo does the trick alone.
The Midwest Region isn’t exactly the cakewalk section of the tournament, but Kansas should advance unchallenged through at least the first two rounds, downing 16th-seeded Lehigh in the first and UNLV/Northern Iowa in the second. Maryland, Georgetown or Ohio State might throw a scare into them into the Sweet Sixteen and beyond, but the Jayhawks are not only destined to get to the Final Four but also to win the tournament championship for the second time in the past three seasons.
Kansas State Wildcats (26-7, 11-5)
No. 2 seed, West Region
Feeling lucky to be in any region besides the one the Jayhawks are in — seeing how the Wildcats have lost 41 of the 43 past meetings — Kansas State is the No. 2 seed in the West, behind the monster Big East Conference’s Syracuse. The Wildcats have an exciting combo of guards in Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, who average a combined 35.1 points per game, and shouldn’t have problems advancing to the Sweet 16 by beating No. 15 North Texas and No. 7 BYU.
But that’s where they’ll likely encounter another Big East bully, Pittsburgh, and things could get complicated for the Wildcats. Pittsburgh’s defense could create a lot of problems for Kansas State, and in a match up of second-place teams in the top two conferences, the Panthers would show the Wildcats that the Big East is just a tidbit better than the Big 12 and end their best season in more than 20 years.
Baylor Bears (25-7, 11-5)
No. 3 seed, South Region
No team may have an easier path to the Final Four than Baylor, a No. 3 seed in the weakest region, the South. The No. 1 seed of that section is Duke, a team many believed could fall to a No. 2, followed by Villanova, a squad that has fallen from grace after losing five of its past seven games.
Not only do the Bears have a high-scoring backcourt duo in LaceDarius Dunn (19.4 ppg) and Tweety Carter (15.7 ppg), but they also play intensively on the defensive end. First, they get No. 14 Sam Houston State, a team that will see itself overmatched against the Bears. Then, likely, it will be No. 6 Notre Dame, a dangerous opponent that may upend them, but if the Bears can get past them, the Sweet 16 will await them in Houston, giving them a home court advantage they can ride into the Elite Eight and Final Four.
Texas A&M Aggies (23-9, 11-5)
No. 5 seed, South Region
With two wins, the Aggies get to play a virtual home game in the Sweet 16. That’s all the Aggies of Texas A&M need to do to get a match up in Houston against (likely) the South Region’s top seed, Duke. That’s easier said than done, though. The No. 5 Aggies need to get past the No. 12 Aggies of Utah State, the second-best three-point shooting team in the nation. This game is more even than people might realize because of that long-range shooting wild card.
Utah State won 17 games in a row at one point for a reason, and Texas A&M might see itself get upset in the first round. Utah State is scarier than either team Texas A&M would get in the second round: a No. 4 Purdue without Robbie Hummel or No. 13 Siena. But if the higher-seeded Aggies can get past that first-round hurdle, they could get themselves a dream game in the Sweet 16.
Missouri Tigers (22-10, 10-6)
No. 10 seed, East Region
Inconsistency is the name of Missouri, a No. 10 seed in the East Region. The Tigers opened the season by winning their first four games, then dropped three of their next four. They then ran out to a winning streak of nine games before losing three of their next five. The latest word on the Tigers is a stretch that could have seen them lose four consecutive games if they had not pulled out an overtime win at lowly Iowa State March 2.
No. 7 Clemson, Missouri’s first-round rival, isn’t riding high either after losing its last two games before the NCAA Tournament, but the battle of Tigers will probably go the more-experienced Clemson’s way. Missouri’s leading scorers are all second-year players. The best is yet to come for them, just not this year.
Texas Longhorns (24-9, 9-7)
No. 8 seed, East Region
Few understand what’s happened to Texas, a team that won its first 17 games, earned a No. 1 ranking and then lost nine times in 16 games. But when looking at the schedule, it’s not that difficult to find an answer: the Big 12 happened. The eighth-seeded Longhorns lost seven games against conference rivals and were unable to get any confidence-building wins. A big chunk of their Big 12 victories came at the expense of teams like Iowa State and Texas Tech, the conference’s little brothers.
The Longhorns, however, did get a break in drawing No. 9 Wake Forest as their first-round East Region match up. The Demon Deacons are more done than an overcooked turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Texas fans better enjoy those Damion James‘ first-round dunks. They will be some of his last, seeing how the second round will bring top-seeded Kentucky and the end of a season-gone-awry for Texas.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (22-10, 9-7)
No. 7 seed, Midwest Region
Just how good is shooting guard James Anderson? Good enough to carry Oklahoma State to at least one NCAA Tournament win, that’s how good he is. The No. 7 Cowboys get a date with No. 10 Georgia Tech in the first round of the Midwest Region, and Anderson and his 22.6 points per game look to be more than sufficient to get them past a Yellow Jackets squad that had a losing record (7-9) in the ACC.
Beating up on top teams has been the Cowboys’ trademark this season. They were one of two teams that handed Kansas a loss this season, a fact that should scare anyone who happens to be in their way. But they also beat Baylor and handled Kansas State in Manhattan. They are capable of upsetting No. 2 Ohio State in the second round, but we won’t predict that considering the Buckeyes’ Evan Turner will be awaiting. Out with a bang, that’s how the Cowboys will go in the second round.
Besides Missouri, all Big 12 teams in the NCAA Tournament look poised to win at least one game in the Dance, with a couple of them having the potential to reach the Final Four. That’ll make the conference very proud of all its children. In the end, though, it’s all about Kansas for the Big 12, and the Jayhawks will show why they always got the biggest piece of cake for dessert.