Picking the 2019 Big 12 tournament bracket
The time has come to tip things off in the Big 12 tournament and although only four of the 10 teams in the conference are playing tonight, we might as well dive in and take a stab at predicting the entire 9-game tournament that will take place in Kansas City, Mo., the rest of the week.
As the 3 seed, Kansas, as you surely know, enters the Big 12 tournament as something other than the 1 seed for the first time in 11 years.
That fact certainly changes KU’s path in a number of ways. Not only are the Jayhawks facing a slightly stiffer challenge in the quarterfinals than they have in the past decade — a fully rested No. 6 seed Texas at 8 p.m. on Thursday night instead of a No. 8 or No. 9 seed on short rest — but the Jayhawks also will be playing in the latest game in the night session, which likely only matters on paper but still makes things different.
In Texas, Kansas is facing a team that beat the Jayhawks fairly handily at their place and also was a missed-3-pointer away from knocking off the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse.
There’s no doubt that those two results have KU’s full attention, but it remains to be seen whether that’s a good thing for this particular Kansas team.
On paper, it should be. These Jayhawks should be ultra-motivated by the end of their Big 12 title streak and the opportunity to improve their seed for the NCAA Tournament with a strong showing in KCMO.
But do they have the maturity, consistency and toughness to capitalize on those things and make their opportunity count?
That is the biggest question surrounding the 23-8 Jayhawks as they enter the postseason and we should learn a lot with every minute that ticks off the clock against Texas and whatever comes after that.
Enough about the Jayhawks for now, though. Let’s take a quick look at the entire bracket and provide some predictions for what’s ahead for the entire Big 12 tournament.
Wednesday, March 13
No. 8 TCU vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State
This is a terrific game between two teams in very different situations. With their win at Texas in the regular season finale, the Horned Frogs may have put themselves back in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth. But they won’t get one without winning this game. Truth be told, they probably need this one and an upset of K-State in the quarterfinals to have a chance. But I don’t see it happening. Oklahoma State is so tough, Mike Boynton does such a good job of inspiring his guys to play hard no matter what is — or isn’t — at stake and the Cowboys can shoot it and have nothing to lose. I think that freedom along with all the pressure in the world being on TCU’s shoulders makes this a tough game for TCU. The pick: Oklahoma State.
No. 7 Oklahoma vs. No. 10 West Virginia
The Sooners are likely in the NCAA Tournament and probably don’t need a great showing in KC to make sure of that, but why risk it? A veteran OU team against a bunch of WVU freshmen who actually have started to play much better and more together down the stretch makes for an intersting matchup, but I’m going with Christian James, Kristian Doolittle, Brady Manek and the versatile Sooners in this one, and probably fairly comfortably. The pick: Oklahoma.
Thursday, March 14
No. 4 Baylor vs. No. 5 Iowa State
Something happened to the Cyclones down the stretch and they enter the tournament looking to regain their mojo. Team chemistry has been a bit of an issue and the Cyclones haven’t shot it well on a consistent basis in losing five of their last six games to close the regular season. Baylor didn’t exactly end on a hot streak either, losing at home to Oklahoma State and at Kansas late in the regular season, but both teams have a shot to make a little run in KC. With Kansas State likely playing without Dean Wade and also with a less-than-full-strength Kamau Stokes, the opportunity is there for a lower seed to make a run to the title game on the top half of the bracket. I think the winner of this game does just that. The pick: Iowa State.
No. 1 Kansas State vs. No. 9 Oklahoma State
As tempting as it is to pick the Cowboys in this one, simply for the chaos and craziness that could unfold in KC this week, I’ll take K-State’s defense and desire to prove that winning the Big 12 regular season title wasn’t a fluke as enough to hold off a scare from OSU. The Wildcats aren’t in the best shape entering the postseason, in terms of health and depth. And, truth be told, a quick exit here might be the best thing for their NCAA Tournament hopes because of the rest they’d get as a result. But pride’s a funny thing. K-State no doubt has plenty of it. And the Wildcats could also be playing for a chance to be place as a Top 4 seed in the Midwest Region, which would return them to Kansas City for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 if they make it that far. That’s a lot to play for. The pick: K-State.
No. 2 Texas Tech vs. No. 7 Oklahoma
I like the Sooners’ pieces and I think they’re physical and athletic enough to hang with anybody. But they’re not hanging with Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are too hot right now and have been crushing teams. The beat goes on in this one and the Red Raiders rumble into the semis, where a date with Kansas looms. The pick: Texas Tech.
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 6 Texas
There’s no doubt in my mind that Texas can beat Kansas again. And there’s even less doubt that the Jayhawks are going to have to play incredibly well in this one to advance. But I think they will. Having nearly a week to prepare for the matchup is big, but beyond the scouting and gameplanning of it is the fact that KU has had time to catch its breath and really lock in on what this postseason needs to be about. Toughness. Defense. Smart basketball. And all-out effort. All of those things, and more, must be permanently present for the Jayhawks to make any kind of run in KC and beyond. And I think KU is set up well to use the Big 12 tournament as a nice primer to prove it understands exactly what’s on the line. The pick: Kansas.
Friday, March 15
No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 1 Kansas State
These two split the regular season series, which each winning on the other team’s home floor. K-State’s win in Ames, Iowa, was a 58-57 grinder. In Manhattan, the Cyclones clobbered K-State with some hot outside shooting in a 78-64 victory. I think we see something that more closely resembles that second meeting than the first in this matchup and I think the free-firing Cyclones stay hot and take down the ‘Cats with a game in the high-60s to low-70s. The pick: Iowa State.
No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 2 Texas Tech
Like the two teams in the other semifinal matchup, these two split their regular season series and neither team put up much of a fight on the other team’s home floor, with KU winning by 16 in Lawrence and Tech winning by 29 in Lubbock. So here we get the rubber match and I think this one will be fun. With both teams having a ton to play for and a trip to the Big 12 title game on the line, we’ll get a back-and-forth, hard-rocking kind of game in which Kansas will be fueled by the pro-KU Sprint Center crowd to hang tough and battle a red hot Red Raiders team for 40 mintues. In the end, though, I think Tech’s balance, defense and recent hot streak proves to be too much. Texas Tech is playing as well as any team in the country and could be charging its way toward a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance. Taking them down is a tall order and I don’t think KU will get it done. The game will be close. Both teams will compete. But Tech’s D and outside shooting prevail. The pick: Texas Tech.
Saturday, March 16
No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 2 Texas Tech
I’ve said all week that I don’t see anyone beating Texas Tech in this thing and I’m sticking to it. The Cyclones have potential to get red hot from the outside and could make things interesting if they do. But Tech’s defense rarely lets teams get what they want and Chris Beard’s club would love nothing more than to win the Big 12 tournament title in a year they shared for the league title as a sort of way of showing the world who the true champion in the Big 12 was this season. If Tech runs through this thing, I’m not sure anyone will argue that. Iowa State fans will show up for this one and Sprint Center will be rocking, but it won’t be enough for the Cyclones to pull off the upset. The pick: Texas Tech.
Enjoy the mini-madness, everyone. It’s finally here!