Thursday, March 13, 2008

Conference Tournament Preview: Big 12

Big 12 Tournament - Kansas City - Thursday-Sunday

Storylines: At the top, you've got Kansas and Texas who both have an outside shot at a #1 seed if either wins the Big 12 title. They tied for the regular season crown at 13-3, with Texas getting the #1 seed thanks to their head to head win in Austin. You've got six teams that look like locks for the NCAA Tournament and will be playing for seeds, including Baylor, who hasn't been to the tournament since the mid-80's. This is the first year the tournament is back in Kansas City since it's brand new Sprint Center was built. It should be a fun week.

Thursday's opener is the #8/#9 game between Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. These are two interesting teams. Tech is Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. They lost to Texas A&M by 44 on a Wednesday, beat Texas on a Saturday, then got smoked by 58 at Kansas two days later. Pat Knight has taken over the reigns from his father and has had mixed results. They do have solid guards in Senior Martin Zeno and Junior Alan Voskuil. They get very little out of their post players. The Cowboys on the other hand seemed to have played their best basketball down the stretch. They knocked off Kansas, played Texas to the wire, and went 7-3 in their last 10. Their leading scorer is Freshman Wing James Anderson, but PG Byron Eaton is their leader. During the 10 game stretch, he really stepped up his play, including 26 against Kansas and 25 against Baylor. Marcus Dove is one of the best defenders in the country and Terrel Harris is a deadly three-point shooter. This should be an entertaining game.

The winner gets #1 Texas. The Longhorns have the deep shooters that can cause any defense serious problems. D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams are maybe the best backcourt in the nation. Augustin's penetrating ability opens everything up for guys like Abrams, Connor Atchley (a five man with deep range) and Justin Mason. PF Damion James has been playing like an All-American over the last month of the season, and Gary Johnson continues to improve. You will see them in the finals barring something strange.

#5 Baylor has to be one of the best stories of the year in college basketball. Scott Drew has turned this program around in a hurry and has them primed for an NCAA Tournament bid. You will see a lot of four guard looks, with any combination of Curtis Jerrells, Aaron Bruce, Tweety Carter, Ladarius Dunn, and Henry Dugat. They have a rebounding beast in Kevin Rogers and a decent shot blocker in Mamadou Diene, but their scoring comes for the most part on the perimeter. They should have no problem with #12 Colorado. For the fifth or so year in a row, the Buffs were bottom feeders. They do have talented Wing Richard Roby, but this is a young team that new coach Jeff Bzdelik struggled with.

The game to watch on Friday could be Baylor against #4 Oklahoma. In their last meeting, Baylor controlled the tempo in Norman, before choking two big leads away. One in regulation, the other in OT on a four point play by Tony Crocker. The Sooners has perservered through injuries to star PF Blake Griffin to put themselves in the four hole in a good Big 12 conference. Longar Longar is playing with a broken bone in his leg and Griffin had his knee scoped less than two weeks ago. Credit coach Jeff Capel for keeping things together. Watch out for role players Austin Johnson and David Godbold.

#7 Nebraska faces #10 Missouri for the right to face Kansas in the quarterfinals. The Huskers have a quality big man in Aleks Maric who scores 16 a game. Like Baylor, they don't have much size, and play 6'4 Ryan Anderson playing the four. Steve Harley, Ade Dagundoro, and Cookie Miller all can chip in from the outside, but there isn't much to love coming out of Lincoln. Mike Anderson's Missouri Tigers had a trying year of their own. Leading scorer Steffon Hannah was kicked off the team after a fight an an on-campus club. Five others were suspended. Leo Lyons, Keon Lawrence and J.T. Tiller took over as the team leading scorers once Hannah was let go, and DeMarre Carroll did his best to man the post. They love to play pressure D and force the tempo.

Luckily for #2 Kansas, these are two teams hey had no problem handling twice each this season. Bill Self brings his team the short 45 minutes to Kansas City on a role and playing their best Basketball. It starts with the healthy return of PG Sherron Collins. Since he has been himself again, KU is crushing opponents. Feeding the beast that is Darrell Arthur inside is a must for the Jayhawks. When "Shady" is on, the perimeter opens up for Collins, Mario Chalmers, and Brandon Rush. The key for KU is keeping Arthur out of foul trouble. They want a rematch with Texas in the final badly. We think you will see a hungry Jayhawk team this weekend, especially with the home crowd behind them.

If there is a team that has a must win game in this tournament to make sure they are safe, its #6 Texas A&M. They catch #11 Iowa State in the night cap Thursday. They don't want to lose this one and have to sweat out selection Sunday. Their post depth is solid with tough guy Bryan Davis, Senior Joseph Jones, and Freshman DeAndre Jordan. SG Josh Carter must hit shots for the Aggies to do damage. When he is cold, their game is severely limited due to their lack of deep shooters. #11 Iowa State doesn't have much to write home about. A&M smoked them by 18 in their only meeting this season, and the Cyclones have trouble scoring. Not a great recipe against a good defensive team like Texas A&M. Wesley Johnson and Jiri Hubalik are a decent tandem, but really, they have no shot here.

The #3 seed Kansas State Wildcats should get the Aggies in the quarters. Should we throw more bouquets at PF Michael Beasley? Sure. The guy is a scoring machine and can do it all. If he had anything besides the head case that is SF Bill Walker next to him, the 'Cats could be scary good. PG Jacob Pullen played well for half of the season, but seemed to wear down of late. We do like hard-working role player Dominque Sutton and his energy, as well as Clent Stewart for proposing to his girlfriend on Senior Night last week. One thing to watch is the sideline antics of coach Frank Martin. The guy is flat out nuts and looks like he belongs on Gotti's crew.

Best Potential Quarterfinal Matchup

#5 Baylor vs. #4 Oklahoma - The first two matchups were great, both won by OU. You know the Bears want a third crack at the Sooners, especially with the way Oklahoma stole the game in Norman.

Juiciest Potential Matchup

#1 Texas vs. #2 Kansas - Like Duke/UNC in the ACC, there really is no other game that holds a candle to this one in conference. The two have created quite the rivalry over the past ten years. Texas won this year's battle, but KU has won the last two Big 12 Tournament titles knocking off the Longhorns both times. It's only fitting that they meet one more time.

Players to Watch

Blake Griffin, Oklahoma - When he is healthy, he is an absolute dominator. The problem is he had his knee scoped less than two weeks ago and won't be full strength. Half of Griffin is better than 100% of most guys.

Sherron Collins, Kansas - The KU X-factor. He makes them go and when his penetrating game is going, the Jayhawks are tough to beat.

Connor Atchley, Texas - He may play Center for ther Longhorns, but when he steps out to the three point line and hits, he gives Texas a whole new dimension.

Bill Walker, Kansas State - The talented sidekick to Michael Beasley has to keep his head on straight for K-State to make a deep run.

DeAndre Jordan, Texas A&M - The people in College Station expected way more from this over-hyped 7-footer. He has to play more like a man and less like a project.


First Round

#9 Oklahoma State 65 #8 Texas Tech 60
#5 Baylor 89 #12 Colorado 70
#10 Missouri 80 #7 Nebraska 75
#6 Texas A&M 89 #11 Iowa State 72


#1 Texas 72 #9 Oklahoma State 58
#5 Baylor 83 #4 Oklahoma 78
#2 Kansas 90 #10 Missouri 65
#3 Kansas State 75 #6 Texas A&M 72


#1 Texas 89 #5 Baylor 82
#2 Kansas 82 #3 Kansas State 72


#2 Kansas 75 #1 Texas 71

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