March 13-16, Sprint Center, Kansas City | Bracket
Every tournament is about figuring out reasons why one team or another will be beat, but there is no one team or another here, if we’re all being honest. The Big 12 tournament strictly is about who can beat Kansas, and not because Kansas hasn’t been beaten, but because the two times it lost in conference play seemed like accidents, and the other two times were by a total of 11 points. Somewhat ironically, it’s the Jayhawks defense (sixth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency) that seems to have them equipped to render all doubts moot. But we’re assuming they’ll start the tournament anyway.
Key Matchup: No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 6 Baylor
Is this the Who-Can-Beat-Kansas play-in game? For all the good done by Kansas State in Bruce Weber’s first season, any fear reverberating up to Kansas from the bottom of the bracket comes from this matchup. Both teams split with the Jayhawks, which means neither team will be awed or unsure should it see the top seed in the final. Meanwhile, the Cowboys barely escaped the Bears at home in overtime, while suffering a double-digit loss in Waco.
Team To Watch: No. 5 Iowa State
No. 5 Iowa State has won five of seven, and should have won six of seven had officials not lifted the velvet rope to usher Kansas into overtime and on to victory on Feb. 25. Though typically the ability to asphyxiate the other team’s attack is a March staple, the ability to obliterate the other team’s defense can be as demoralizing. Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones can score it, ranking eighth in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency (117.1). If Iowa State survives Oklahoma, it can put a scare in Kansas, especially if that bad taste has lingered since late February.
It’s a stretch to imagine much involving Bruce Weber as trendy or hot in any context, but here’s the thing: His minor miracle work with the Wildcats involved sharing a Big 12 championship while going 1-3 against the other heavyweights of the league, Kansas and Oklahoma State. A loss to Kansas, in fact, was Kansas State’s only blemish from Jan. 30 to March 9. The Wildcats proved a great deal during the course of this campaign. They have much left to prove over the course of three days.
The Pick: KansasAs long as Kansas avoids the occasional out-of-body, out-of-commission effort that pops up every now and again, it should win. But here’s saying Oklahoma State is that eternal burr in the side, a group now seasoned but still young enough to not know any better as it finds a way. The Cowboys won once and lost in two overtimes against Kansas. They seem to have answers most don’t.