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Big 12 Contenders
by Jim Feist - 03/07/2017
The Big 12 is loaded with rebounders, fast-pace attacks and teams capable of making runs to the Final Four. However, there has only been two national championships out of the conference in the last 40 years: Kansas (1988, 2008). Several will be knocking on the door again, though.
Kansas: Bill Self's team is loaded with balance and experience behind 5-11 senior Frank Mason (20 ppg, 4 rpg, 5 apg), 6-8 freshman Josh Jackson (16.5 ppg, 7 rpg) and junior G Deonte Graham (13 ppg, 4.5 apg). They've already taken down Duke (77-75) as a dog and has run away with the Big 12 regular season title.
Kansas is third in the Big 12 in scoring, tops in field goal shooting and second in field goal defense. The Jayhawks are 11-5 over the total against winning teams, capable of running with anyone with their depth. They are in the spotlight, coming down the stretch on a money-burning 6-12-1 spread run.
Baylor: Don't mess with the Bears under the glass, with 6-10 junior Jon Motley (16.9 ppg, 9.7 rpg), 7-foot junior Jo Lual-Acuil (9 ppg, 7 rpg) and 6-8 junior Terry Maston (7 ppg, 4 rpg). Baylor is tops in the conference in points allowed and field goal defense. They shut down explosive Oregon in an impressive 66-49 rout, along with a 66-63 win over Louisville.
A pair of junior guards provide experience in Al Freeman (9 ppg), and Manu Lecomte (12.6 ppg). Do they have enough defense and depth to survive the March grind? They haven't the last two years, getting bounced twice by Kansas (62-52, 70-66) in the Big 12 tourney, then one-and-done in the Dance, a 57-56 loss to Georgia State and a 79-75 loss to Yale a year ago.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers have a powerhouse defensive team for Bob Huggins again, tops in the Big 12 in scoring margin by a whopping +19 per game. He has never been shy about wanting physical players in the frontcourt, led by 6-9 senior Nathan Adrian, a Morgantown local, and 6-8 sophomore Esa Ahmad.
They can put up points, too, behind junior guard Devon Carter , leading a helter-skelter full-court press that causes turnovers, as in an 89-68 rout of Baylor. If you're looking for a weak spot with this group it comes from the free throw line at 66% in Big 12 play (#8). That could hurt come tourney time.
Iowa State: Second-year coach Steve Prohm has taken teams to five Sweet 16s. This Iowa State squad is powered by a four-guard attack behind senior Point guard Monte Morris (16 ppg, 6 apg), a second-team All-Big 12 selection last year who decided to pass on the NBA Draft. He is aided by Matt Thomas (11.5 ppg), 6-4 senior Nazareth Mitrou-Long (15.9 ppg) and 6-5 senior G Deonte Burton (14 ppg, 6.7 rpg).
This group lost 73-71 Gonzaga as +4.5 dog, beat Miami (73-56) as a dog, and had 92-89 OT win at Kansas as a +10 puppy. Iowa State is about an attacking offense and bombing away from long range, No. 3 in the conference shooting 38% beyond the arc. It's not a big team and they are last in the Big 12 in defensive rebounding, which will be a concern in March.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are not shy about running, tops in the Big 12 in scoring. Sophomore Juwan Evans (18 ppg), 6-6 junior Jaeffrey Carroll (17.7 ppg) and senior Phil Forte power this backcourt oriented offense. They live by the three, last in the Big 12 in shooting, but second in three-point shooting behind Kansas.
The dealt with a mid-season slump before clicking on a late season 8-1 SU, 7-2 ATS tear. But can they step up? Ok-State has losses to North Carolina (107-75), Maryland (71-70) and West Virginia (92-75). Still, this team should be fun to watch in March -- unless you happen to be trying to play defense against them.