Big 12 Mailbag: Forecasting NCAA Tourney outcomes

You asked, and I’ll answer. In this week’s Mailbag, we forecast each Big 12 team’s best-case NCAA Tournament scenario, peer inside OSU’s freefall, peg the Big 12’s surprise team and more.

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Andrew Hadley asks: Bigger surprise: upswing of WVU or downswing of OK State?

David Ubben: With the amount of talent Oklahoma State fields, you have to go with the Cowboys, despite knowing that losing Michael Cobbins was naturally going to cause somewhat of a slide. Travis Ford’s deservedly come under fire this season, and when you look at all the off-court problems, you know some of that translates to what’s transpired on the court.

Ford left himself no choice but to remove Stevie Clark from the team, but when a player gets arrested twice after being suspended and sent home from Florida during the season, that failure ultimately falls on Ford. Without Marcus Smart now, the loss of Clark is even more glaring and leaves OSU in an even tougher spot. Where’s the team leadership to rein him in and get him in line and not peeing out the window of a moving car? Considering he’d already run into trouble, it would have been reasonable for Ford to come down hard on Clark after the January marijuana arrest. He didn’t. And now here we are.

As for Smart, I feel for him because this season has been so frustrating, but it’s the same deal after Smart’s outburst against West Virginia. He’s a competitive guy, but when your team leader and best player is leaving the bench in frustration and kicks a chair hard enough to break it, that’s reason to sit him down for awhile. Suspending him a half sends a much clearer message than whatever talk Ford says he gave after the incident.

If that happens, perhaps Smart has that in his head after a fan heckles him late in a loss. Maybe not, but in some ways, at least Ford’s hands are clean if he exercised more discipline than he did. Hindsight’s always 20/20, but when the team has these kinds of issues and looks so directionless on the floor, that’s a direct reflection on Ford.

This team has plenty of NBA talent in guys like Smart and Markel Brown. They’re too good to be slumming it at the bottom of the Big 12 standings. That’s way more surprising than a WVU team with good talent making a run toward being a tourney team on Juwan Staten’s back in the middle of the season.

Brad Pleima asks: Where do you think the ceiling is for each MBB team in the NCAA tournament?

David Ubben: Fun question here. I think the Big 12 ultimately puts seven teams in the 68-team field, but I’ll offer up a ceiling for all eight teams who could make it.

From top to bottom, here’s how I’d forecast it:

Kansas: Joel Embiid gets back to 100 percent, Andrew Wiggins continues to develop and Naadir Tharpe breaks out on a national stage in March on the way to a national title run as a 1 seed.

Texas: The two-seed Longhorns challenge the Rick Barnes coaching narrative and make a fun Elite Eight run before going down to Arizona. Not bad for a year when you’re picked eighth in the Big 12.

Iowa State: You’ve got to love the Cyclones’ inside-outside combo with Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane in the frontcourt and Georges Niang alongside Dustin Hogue inside. That balance carries Iowa State all the way to Arlington as a three-seed, but they’re eliminated in the national semifinal by Syracuse.

Kansas State: The Wildcats enjoy life as a four-seed for the first weekend, but meet a bitter end to in-state foe and No. 1 seed Wichita State in the round of 16.

Oklahoma: The Sooners can be a little streaky, but Lon Kruger’s team gets hot at the right time to make a Sweet 16 run as a five-seed before falling to No. 1 seed Florida, who Kruger took to the Final Four back in 1994.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys limp into the tournament as a 9-seed, but manage to grab a win in the first round before being bounced by No. 1 seed Florida in the round of 32.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers continue their late-season run and climb all the way to a No. 10 seed, winning an opening round game before being sent home in Round 2 to No. 2 seed Michigan.

Baylor: The Bears come alive late and make it all the way to the Big 12 Championship Game to assure themselves a spot in the field of 68. They win a game in the play-in round, and spring an upset as a 12-seed in the round of 64, reminding us why this team was considered a Big 12 title contender early in the season. The Bears play Cinderella with another upset to make it to the second weekend of the tournament, but No. 1 seed Syracuse beats Baylor for a second time this season.

James Nunn writes: What’s your % chance there is a coaching change for Oklahoma State?

David Ubben: The buyout is significant, but it’s within reason that OSU could negotiate it down. As much as OSU fans don’t want to hear it, there’s still a lot of basketball left to be played here. Oklahoma State can keep its head above water and make the tourney, and if they win a game (which would be Ford’s second NCAA win as a head coach), I think he stays. If OSU continues to flounder and gets bounced early in the NIT, the fan unrest is going to be hard to quiet. I’d say 30 percent chance right now OSU makes a change. Maybe ask me again the first week of March.

Justin writes: What is the highest/lowest seed you could see Texas getting?

David Ubben: I referenced above that Texas may climb as high as a two. The Longhorns are playing great basketball, but they’re not talented enough to coast. Cameron Ridley gives them nice consistency inside, and they’ve got nice weapons in the front court with Isaiah Taylor and streaky Javan Felix alongside Jonathan Holmes. A late-season slide could push Texas all the way down to an 8 or a 9, especially if they get bounced on Day 1 in Kansas City.

JLR writes: Does Texas basketball have a legitimate chance to win the big 12 if Joel Embiid misses time with his injuries?

David Ubben: I really don’t buy it, but don’t get your hopes up on Embiid, either. He may play Saturday, and there’s no indication that his back or knee injury is serious. The problem for Texas is Kansas’ schedule, as well as their own. KU doesn’t go on the road against a top 25 team again this season. It faces only Texas Tech, WVU and Oklahoma State away from Allen Fieldhouse, and hosts Texas. So, even if Texas somehow wins that game, the Longhorns would have to run the table with trips to Oklahoma and Iowa State as well as Saturday’s home game against red-hot WVU to win the league.

Good luck with that.

Scott Felton writes: Is TTU basketball the surprise team of the big 12 this year?

David Ubben: You could really hand this to a number of teams, for good and bad reasons. Personally, I’d go with Texas or Baylor. Texas Tech has exceeded expectations, but you’re still talking about a borderline .500 team. Baylor was supposed to contend for a league title, and the Bears are ahead of only TCU in the Big 12 standings. Meanwhile, Texas is the closest thing to a challenger that Kansas has for the league title when everybody left the so-called talentless Longhorns for dead to begin the season.