It’s time for the busiest day of the Big 12 Tournament — the Quarterfinals round. As a reminder, here were my picks for the tourney before the whole thing started.
• 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.
Let’s get to today’s games.
TCU (-2.5) vs. Kansas State:
These two teams played just over a week ago in Fort Worth, with TCU pulling ahead in the final moments to win by 7. I like the Horned Frogs again here.
No team in the country is playing better offense than TCU right now. They are currently 6th nationally in Adjusted Offense in Kenpom. They’re shooting 40% from 3 (14th nationally) and 55% from 2 (28th nationally). It’s just really hard to stop this team from scoring. I’m not sure Kansas State is equipped to do so either. Makol Mawien can’t really guard Brodziansky in the post so if Alex Robinson and Brodziansky are able to get their 2-man game going in the pick and roll, it could really rip up the Wildcats defense.
On the other end, the key matchup to watch is Dean Wade vs. Kenrich Williams. Like every Kansas State game, the question is whether the opponent has anyone who can handle Wade’s versatility. Kenrich Williams is probably one of the better equipped guys in the league. He gives up 3 inches to Wade, but he’s strong enough to battle with him in the post and can handle him on the perimeter. If Williams gets in foul trouble, this game would tilt to Kansas State’s favor. He must stay on the floor to guard Wade, and to also make Wade guard him on the other end. If TCU has to turn to JD Miller for heavy minutes, Wade will get a bit of a breather on defense. They have to make him expend energy on the defensive side of the court as well.
Oklahoma State vs. Kansas (-4):
This is another rematch of a game that just took place in the last week. I’m taking Kansas -4 despite the injury to Udoka Azubuike. I’ve (stupidly) doubted Oklahoma State all season so I might as well continue it here.
Without Azubuike, I assume Kansas will start Mitch Lightfoot at the 5. On the defensive side of the court, I’m not sure if this is a major dropoff. Lightfoot is a good shot blocker and has better lateral quickness. That ability to move laterally will be important in defending Oklahoma State’s pinwheel offense, which features ballscreens on nearly every possession at the elbow. Lightfoot may be better equipped to defend that specific action.
On the offensive end of the court is where Kansas will miss Azubuike. Without Dok, Kansas will rely on their perimeter shooting even more than usual. One bad shooting game, and they could be headed home in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tourney for the 2nd straight season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bill Self give Silvio De Sousa more playing time today. De Sousa is better on the offensive glass than Lightfoot and could get the Jayhawks important extra possessions.
When Oklahoma State is on offense, I’ll repeat what I wrote yesterday before their game vs. Oklahoma — monitor the offensive glass. Oklahoma State grabbed 45% of their own misses vs. Oklahoma. They scored only 1.02 PPP vs. the Sooners. Without those offensive rebounds, they simply wouldn’t have been efficient enough on offense to win the game. The Cowboys are at their best when they crash the offensive glass. If they’re not grabbing offensive rebounds midway through the first half, don’t be surprised to see Kansas already up by double figures.
Texas at Texas Tech (-6.5):
This game feels impossible to predict, simply because we don’t know how healthy each team is. Is Mo Bamba going to play? How is Keenan Evans’ toe? Does Zach Smith feel healthy again? I don’t know those answers, but I’m going to assume Bamba does not play again so I’ll pick Texas Tech to win and cover.
This will not be a high-scoring affair. Texas Tech’s defense is currently 3rd nationally in Kenpom’s Adjusted Defense metric. Texas is currently 8th nationally in that same metric. Combine those defense with offenses that can struggle to score, and you’ve got a recipe for a grind-it-out game.
Without Bamba, Texas isn’t nearly as good at defending the interior. In last night’s victory over Iowa State, Lindell Wigginton was able to get into the paint and finish at the rim in a way that just wouldn’t have been possible if Bamba was playing. The same was true for forwards Cam Lard and Zoran Talley. Jericho Sims just does not give the same rim protection that Bamba does. That’s not ideal when you’re facing Keenan Evans, Zhaire Smith, and Jarrett Culver. Those three guys all do a good job of getting into the paint and finding themselves around the bucket often. That’s something to monitor in this one.
Texas fired up 31 3-pointers vs. Iowa State last night, shooting just 26% on those attempts. That won’t fly (pun intended) vs. Texas Tech’s defense. They’ve got to find a way to get some easy 2-point attempts, whether that’s through Kerwin Roach penetrating or playing through Dylan Osetkowski in the post. I’m not sure they can find enough easy looks, which is why I’m taking Texas Tech in this one.
Baylor vs. West Virginia (-5.5):
Yep, I’m taking all four favorite today (boring!). I think this is just an awful matchup for Baylor. Baylor recorded two of their three worst offensive performances in Big 12 play vs. West Virginia. They scored just 0.84 PPP and 0.88 PPP in their two games vs. the Mountaineers.
The issue? So much of Baylor’s offense depends on Manu Lecomte creating shots for himself in the halfcourt. When Jevon Carter is all over him, it’s really tough for Lecomte to do so. Lecomte went 3-11 from the field in their first matchup and went 3-12 in their second game. If Carter is able to stay out of foul trouble and harass Lecomte all game, I’m not sure Baylor can score efficiently enough to win this one.
Against West Virginia’s full-court pressure, Baylor also has a tendency to slow it down and set up their halfcourt offense once they break the pressure. I’m not sure that’s the best way to effectively play against that pressure. Once you break the press, you now have an opportunity to play with an advantage as the defense might be low on numbers and is out of position. Watch for this early in this game. If Baylor is attacking the West Virginia’s defense once they’ve broken pressure, I think they’ll have a better chance of winning this one.
On the other end, similar to Oklahoma State, monitor the offensive glass. West Virginia is 4th in the nation in Offensive Rebounding Rate, grabbing 37% of their own misses. Baylor isn’t great at defensive rebounding. They allow opponents to grab their own misses 29% of the time, which ranks 211th nationally. If Baylor’s frontcourt can’t keep Sagaba Konate, Esa Ahmad, and others off the glass, West Virginia could pull away early here.