This may go down as one of the poorest decisions I’ve ever made. I can’t recall a less predictable, more wide-open Big 12 Tournament. Kansas, who as anyone who has attended a tournament in Kansas City can attest, is the de facto home team and will once again be the favorite. However, with Perry Ellis’ status (knee) in flux and Cliff Alexander’s eligibility in question, it’s easy to see KU making an early exit. Three or four real contenders are waiting right behind the Jayhawks alongside three or four more teams capable of making a special run to Saturday night.
So how will the tournament play out? I dared to make a few educated guesses that could soon look very uneducated.
TCU over Kansas State. Conference tournaments are often like bowl games: The best bet is the team with the most motivation. Kansas State knocked off KU and Iowa State late in the conference season, but questions surfaced again after an ugly season-ending loss to Texas. I’m not a believer in K-State yet, but an NIT bid would mean the world to an ever-improving TCU team. Believe in the Frogs.
Texas over Texas Tech. You’d like to think Texas has the motivation edge in this one, but just by watching them, it’s hard to tell at times for the Longhorns. Still, talent should take Texas at least to Thursday and all but guarantee them a spot in the NCAA field.
"I think Texas is in the tournament," Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith said Monday.
I see what you’re doing, but Texas would like to make sure.
Baylor over West Virginia.
West Virginia couldn’t ask for a worse matchup in their tourney opener. WVU may already be without Gary Browne and Juwan Staten.
"We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to score," Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said.
Baylor won’t have trouble doing it with an experienced point guard in Kenny Chery and bigs like Rico Gathers who can score once the Bears break the press.
Kansas over TCU.
TCU might give KU a run for its money in Fort Worth, but in Kansas City with a Big 12 trophy on the line? Don’t bet on it.
This team needs to go play well in large part because of momentum," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "Our team is so different now compared to what it was three weeks ago."
Iowa State over Texas.
The Cyclones scored 85 and 89 points in their two meetings with the Longhorns this year, the two highest outputs of any Texas opponent all season long. I expect more of the same. Too many options to pour in points for Iowa State. Texas can protect the rim and has athleticism to defend the perimeter, but it won’t do both.
Oklahoma over Oklahoma State.
Tough pick here and a classic example of the idea that it’s hard to beat a team three times.
"Regardless of who you’re going to draw in the first game, you knew it was going to be a tough game and certainly a tough opponent," Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. "Oklahoma State fits that bill."
Still, it’s been over a month since these two met and Oklahoma is as hot as any team in the Big 12. OU’s only losses since Jan. 10 have come in difficult road atmospheres. The Sooners get it done in Bedlam Part Three.
Iowa State over Oklahoma.
The Cyclones scored 59 points in a half the last time they played Oklahoma. They needed almost every one of them to erase a 21-point deficit for the comeback win. Expect another tight shootout here, but Fred Hoiberg’s squad gets it done with well-designed execution and quality possessions late. Trust in Niang in the final minutes.
Baylor over Kansas.
Baylor’s trio of Kenny Chery, Taurean Prince and Royce O’Neale have been gunning from three over the last few weeks and I expect that to continue. However, if Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander are gone, Rico Gathers, O’Neale, Prince and Jonathan Motley should help the Bears dominate on the glass on both sides of the floor. That means extra possessions and enough to upset the Jayhawks and devastate the scalped ticket market for the rest of the weekend.
Baylor over Iowa State.
A rematch of last year’s title game? Why not? The Bears swept the Cyclones in the regular season with a one-point victory in Waco before ending Iowa State’s 21-game home winning streak. Odds suggest a third game favors the Cyclones, but the Bears are a difficult matchup for anyone and have the athletes to slow down Monte Morris, Georges Niang, Bryce DeJean-Jones and won’t let Jameel McKay dictate what goes on around the rim on both sides of the floor. The Bears’ length limits Iowa State’s gunners from three and they win the battle in the paint to capture a clean sweep in the men’s and women’s hoops tournaments.