Big 12 tournament hoops preview: Storylines, observations and a prediction
A glance at this year's Big 12 tournament bracket triggered the following thoughts regarding the path to the championship at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo:
• If I'm a Kansas fan, I'm looking at the bracket thinking Texas has an easier path to the title game. Which team would you rather face in the semifinals, No. 3 Texas A&M or No. 4 Kansas State?
Kansas would beat Texas A&M in Kansas City nine out of 10 times. That's plain reality. A&M coach Mark Turgeon has never beaten KU and the Jayhawks are 17-1 in the Big 12 era against the Aggies.
K-State, conversely, is on a rampage right now, winners of eight of their last nine games and six straight. The Wildcats, after struggling early in the season, jumped to a No. 4 seed and would face the Jayhawks in the semifinals if both teams take care of business (KU against Nebraska/Oklahoma State; K-State against Colorado/Iowa State).
Jacob Pullen continues to play like an All-American. His point totals (19.6 ppg) are aided by his unrelenting ability to get to the rim and draw fouls. The last time Pullen attempted fewer than eight free throws in a game was Feb. 12. And he's making his trips to the line count. Since Feb. 12, he's converted 55 of 64 charities (85.9 percent).
Kansas and Kansas State can't meet for the Big 12 tournament championship like last year, but a semifinals matchup would be a heck of a game. Last year's final was the most electric I've ever seen the Power & Light District.
• It could be argued that Texas has the more difficult second-round game, likely against a potentially dangerous No. 7 Baylor seed. Sure, the Bears have lost four of their past five games, but at 7-9 in the league, they're not heading to the Big Dance unless they win the Big 12 tournament. They have the talent, and they have a history of rallying in the Big 12 tournament in a last-ditch effort to make the NCAAs. In 2009, as a No. 9 seed, Baylor knocked out Kansas in the second round of the Big 12 tourney and nearly won it all. Eventually, BU fell to Missouri in the championship game.
• Who could surprise: I'm going with No. 6 seed Missouri, of the teams that don't have byes in Round 1. The Tigers should beat Texas Tech. After that, they would have a winnable game against Texas A&M in front of a pro-MU crowd in K.C. In the semifinals, the Tigers would draw either Texas or Baylor, most likely. Texas, despite a victory over Baylor on Saturday in Waco, isn't playing nearly as well as it was earlier in the season.
Bold tournament prediction: Missouri makes it to the Big 12 tournament finals.
• Who needs to get on track the most in K.C.: UT's Jordan Hamilton. Josh Selby could also be an understandable answer, but KU's depth provides various back-up plans for the Baltimore native's struggles. Texas does not have a back-up plan for Hamilton. In UT's past six games, Hamilton is 32-for-102 (31.2 percent) from the field. Texas is a mere 3-3 in that time. Tristan Thompson is carrying the Longhorns offensively of late, but UT plays considerably better when Hamilton is that guy.
• Predicted champion: Here's what went through my head when predicting a winner:
First, the winner has to be one of the top 4 seeds. In the previous 14 years, no 5-12 seed has ever won the Big 12 tournament. To pull it off, the lower seeds would have to play four straight days. It just doesn't happen. This year, in particular, the top 4 seeds will be better and fresher.
Second, who's playing the best basketball right now? Many would say Kansas State, winners of eight of nine and six straight. It's not that simple, though.
One quick look at Kansas reveals the Jayhawks are just as hot. The Wildcats may have won eight of nine, but the Jayhawks have won 11 of 12. K-State cannot say that. Yeah, sure, K-State beat KU in Manhattan, so KU has the more recent loss. K-State hasn't lost since Feb. 12. But KU's most recent loss was just two days later, on Feb. 14. Big deal.
Third, a glance at Big 12 tournament history suggests recent Jayhawk dominance. Kansas has won four of the past five Big 12 tournaments, including the only two years at Sprint Center (2010, 2008). The Jayhawks are playing much better defense lately. And with UT's recent tailspin, Kansas is in a class of its own (again) atop the Big 12.
Final answer: Kansas.
That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.
You can follow the Big 12 tournament each day on KUsports.com. Starting Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., we'll be posting a live blog from Sprint Center. Be sure to join the discussion.
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