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Big 12 Tourney Preview
by Doc's Sports - 03/10/2016
Why not just crown Kansas the Big 12 champions and be done with it?
The Jayhawks have accomplished one of the greatest streaks in sports, winning 12 consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles over the past dozen years. They've done so despite the fact that the Big 12 is consistently one of the best two or three best conferences in the country. However, tourney time is a different animal. And if the Jayhawks want to pull the diesel double, winning the league and tourney crowns, they'll need to fight their way past a field that's stacked with talent and toughness.
The 2016 Big 12 Tournament begins on Wednesday, March 9, and will be held at the Spring Center in Kansas City, MO. Here is Doc's Sports Big 12 Tournament preview and predictions (odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag):
The Favorite: Kansas (+110)
The Jayhawks' championship run actually started in July. Kansas, along with a couple other add-ons, represented the United States in the World University Games in South Korea last summer, winning our nation's first medal in the tournament since 2009. They haven't stopped winning since. Kansas earned its 12 th consecutive regular-season Big 12 title, and they head to Missouri on an 11-game winning streak and as the No. 1 team in the country. The Jayhawks don't have a weakness. Fearless veteran point guard? Check. All-American frontcourt player? Check. NBA caliber wing? Check. A full compliment of scorers, rebounders, defenders and athletes filling out the rest of the rotation? Check. Kansas has won six of the past 16 Big 12 tournaments. Whether you think that number is high or low, the Jayhawks are the clear-cut favorites this week, and it will take a hell of an effort to take them out.
The Contender: Oklahoma (+350)
When you have the best player in the country you always have a chance. Buddy Hield is going to be the runaway player of the year in college basketball this year and is No. 2 in the country in scoring. Hield is an ace, but he is one of three senior starters that have done a lot of winning for Lon Kruger and OU. After ascending to No. 1 in the country, the Sooners slid down the stretch, going just 5-4 in their last nine games. What's the problem? Well, it's tough to pinpoint. But, frankly, I think that OU is becoming too dependent on Hield's heroics. The core of this Sooners team, including Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and Ryan Spangler, has played in and won a lot of games together. But if they are going to make their mark in March then that trio needs to rise to Hield's level and be aggressive while all eyes are on their POTY shooting guard. If they do that then Oklahoma can win this tournament. If they don't then their legacy as big game flops will be cemented.
The Sleeper: West Virginia (+300)
It is really tough to be the No. 2 seed and a Top 10 team and be overlooked heading into your conference tournament. But West Virginia is pulling it off. The Mountaineers aren't grabbing any headlines this week. Their tough, relentless, defensive-oriented approach isn't sexy - just effective. The Mountaineers proved that they could win at home and on the road in league play, and they are looking to bludgeon their way to a rare title this week. WVU relies on a demonic press and hardcore offensive rebounding to get the job done. Senior guard Jaysean Paige and junior forward Devin Williams provide a solid inside-out foundation. But West Virginia's strength is their depth and unwavering dedication to defense. Can they score enough to win three games and a title? That remains to be seen. But this isn't a team that will beat itself; you have to drive a stake through their heart to knock them out and advance.
The Spoiler: Iowa State (+1000)
This is Iowa State's time to shine. The Cyclones have won back-to-back Big 12 tournament titles. But those nets came down with former coach Fred Hoiberg holding the scissors. New headman Steve Prohm has done a good job handling a veteran Iowa State team this regular season. But he has a long way to go to match Hoiberg's chops. Iowa State spent most of the Big 12 campaign looking like a team that was just sandbagging for March. They overcame the loss of guard Naz Long, but they never dominated the way they were expected to. Still, the three-man senior frontcourt of Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay is one of the best in the nation, and they can do a lot of everything. Iowa State won't have the benefit of Hilton Magic to fall back on this week. But after two straight titles they should be the team that no one wants to play.
Early Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 3 Oklahoma (-4) vs. No. 6 Iowa State (7 p.m., Thursday, March 12)
Are you kidding me? Is this a Final Four game? No, sorry, it's just a quarterfinal matchup in the best conference in the country. Ho-hum. These teams met only once during the regular season, with Iowa State taking advantage of their home-court edge to steal an 82-77 win. They met last year in the Big 12 tourney and Iowa State won that one as well, 67-65, just like they did when they played in the 2013 tournament (73-66). In fact, the Cyclones have won six of the last nine meetings the past four years, and they have no fear entering this game. Look, I love Oklahoma. But they've never met a big game that they couldn't come up short in. If the swan song for Hield and Co. is going to be something special then they need to prove it by body slamming a Cyclones team that has been a nemesis the past few seasons.
Big 12 Conference Tournament Predictions: Kansas is clearly the best team in this conference. But they're not unbeatable. The Jayhawks don't have one pure scorer to go to when they need a basket. Perry Ellis is their best player. But there are better post players that can slow him down in a need-a-bucket situation. However, Kansas has a really favorable path to the championship game. They'll get the winner of the Texas-Baylor game, and neither of those teams matches up well with the Jayhawks. The winner of the bottom of the bracket, however, will have to be playing some outstanding basketball. WVU, OU and Iowa State aren't scared of Kansas. And if they survive into the finals they could have enough momentum to knock off the Jayhawks. But they won't. Kansas will either win the Big 12 championship or make the Final Four. And right now I am leaning toward the former rather than the latter. Rock, chalk.