Starting tonight, the Big 12 Tournament tips off in Kansas City for the 9th straight season. There’s been some recent debate/complaints about the Big 12 Tournament being in Kansas City, considering the clear distance advantage for Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State. I’ve been in the camp that Kansas City is a great spot for the tournament, despite the advantage for those three schools. It’s resulted in a great atmospheres in games involving any one of those three schools, especially when they play each other. The way Iowa State fans have traveled to Kansas City in the last four seasons has been ridiculously fun.
With Iowa State struggling this season to a 10th place conference finish, I’m curious if I’ll view the Kansas City location the same this season. There are already reports of the Sprint Center having difficulty selling tickets — it looks like Iowa State fans have wisely chosen to take a break from the Power & Light District this season.
I’m curious how well the southern fanbases like Texas Tech and TCU will travel. Those two schools are having their most successful seasons in a long time — will they make the trek to Kansas City? If not, we could have a muted atmosphere or one in which Kansas has a significant crowd advantage all weekend. If the final consists of TCU facing Texas Tech in a half-empty arena, we might start to see more clamoring for the tournament to move to a more central location like Oklahoma City. We’ll see.
The season-ending tournament is still set to be in Kansas City through 2020, so no rash decisions will be made. That’s a good thing — the Big 12 shouldn’t overreact if attendance is slightly down just due to Iowa State having a down year. The Sprint Center has been a great atmosphere the last nine seasons.
Let’s get to my predictions now. Here’s this year’s bracket.
Oklahoma (-1) vs. Oklahoma State:
Give me Oklahoma in this one. I know Oklahoma State is desperate for another win to try to make their way into the NCAA Tournament, but I just can’t go against the Sooners here for some reason. Oklahoma State’s high-pressure defense will trap and try to corral Trae Young on all of Oklahoma’s ballscreen actions. I’m trusting that Young will play under control and not force things against that action. Make the easy pass, and the Sooners will get a lot of advantageous 4-on-3 opportunities. Can Christian James and Kameron McGusty make shots in those situations? If they do, the Sooners should win.
It’s worth mentioning that Young did not always make the right play the last time these two teams played. That was the game where Young had 39 field goal attempts and 12 more attempts from the FT line. It feels like it was the game that started the whole “is Trae Young playing the right way?” narrative. Oklahoma is just 4-8 since that game.
On the other end of the court, monitor the offensive glass. Oklahoma State is 40th in the nation in offensive rebounding, grabbing 34% of their own misses. Oklahoma is 218th in the nation at preventing offensive rebounds, allowing opponents to grab 30% of their own misses. When Oklahoma State plays well, they crash the offensive glass. In their wins at Kansas, at West Virginia, and vs. Texas Tech, they grabbed 47%, 40%, and 40% of their misses. Those three games were three of Oklahoma State’s best six offensive rebounding games of the season. If Oklahoma can’t keep the Cowboys off the glass, Oklahoma State could pick up this very important win for their resume.
Iowa State (+6) vs. Texas:
This is the game of missing players. There is no Nick Weiler-Babb or Solomon Young for Iowa State, who are both out for the season. For Texas, it looks like there will be no Mohamed Bamba, who is struggling with a toe injury, and no Eric Davis, who is still being held out as a precaution after the Yahoo report on the FBI investigation.
There is no reason for me to have faith in Iowa State in this game. They’ve lost six straight games, including three which were at home. They’ve been blown out in their last three second halves by West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma. It seems like the lack of depth (and talent) due to injuries is just too much of a detriment currently. Still, I like them to cover here. There’s something about last place teams getting one last shot during conference tournaments that gives them hope. You saw it with Rutgers, who won two games in the Big 10 Tournament before bowing out gracefully to Purdue. Yesterday, 0-18 in the ACC Pittsburgh played their best game in weeks, losing by just three points to NCAA Tournament hopeful Notre Dame. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Iowa State have that burst of hope as well.
Ultimately, I think Texas will win a close one. Without Solomon Young, I’m not sure Iowa State has anyone who can guard Dylan Osetkowski. Jeff Beverly is too slow and short, and Zoran Talley has too light of a frame. Osetkowski should be able to handle both of them in the post. If Texas plays through him late, they should come out ahead. There’s a lot of responsibility on Cam Lard in this one to battle the frontcourt of Jericho Sims and Osetkowski. He must stay out of foul trouble. If he doesn’t, Texas could really pull away in this one.
I’m not going to write individual writeups for these matchups, as we’re not sure what each will look like yet (other than the 4/5 and 3/6 matchups). I will have another post up tomorrow morning with the lengthier blurbs for the quarterfinal matchups. Here are my predictions for the entire tournament though, before it officially starts.
• 9 Oklahoma over 8 Oklahoma State
• 7 Texas over 10 Iowa State
• 1 Kansas over 9 Oklahoma
• 5 TCU over 4 Kansas State
• 3 West Virginia over 6 Baylor
• 2 Texas Tech over 7 Texas
• 1 Kansas over 5 TCU
• 3 West Virginia over 2 Texas Texas
• 3 West Virginia over 1 Kansas
I’m taking the Mountaineers to capture their first Big 12 Tournament title. You could make an argument West Virginia has been the best team in the Big 12 this season. They have the best point differential in Big 12 play. They finished two games back of Kansas, but they blew both of their matchups vs. Kansas. They also lost close games at Texas Tech, vs. Oklahoma State, and at Texas. This conference title could have very easily have been West Virginia’s to claim this season. Instead, the tournament title will have to do.
West Virginia has been the runner-up in each of the last two Big 12 tournaments, losing to Kansas two seasons ago and to Iowa State last season. I think the third time will be the charm for the Mountaineers. They’ll have to overcome the Kansas City crowd which will be primarily the shade of Kansas blue, but I think they can do it. Add another career achievement to Bob Huggins’ resume.