Iowa State tops Kansas, advances to Big 12 Championship, more
Iowa State 94 Kansas 83: A lot of the talk this week has been focused on the bubble. Neither Kansas nor Iowa State were anywhere near that discussion, but there was still plenty at stake in their Big 12 semifinal on Friday. For the Jayhawks, a win would preserve their hopes for the final No. 1 seed. For the Cyclones, a triumph over the conference's regular season champ would give them a chance to improve their seeding for the tournament.
In one of the most exciting games of Championship Week thus far, five Cyclones scored in double-figures to erase a slim halftime deficit and upend Kansas 94-83. Georges Niang led the Cyclones with 25 points and seven assists, DeAndre Kane had 20 and six rebounds, and Melvin Ejim poured in 19.
The win was Iowa State's biggest of the year, and has them primed to improve the No. 4 seed attached to its name at the start of the day. Moreover, it hearkened back to the offensive juggernaut it was while winning its first 14 games of the season. The Cyclones are now 10th in RPI and have 10 top-50 wins. If they win the Big 12 tourney championship on Saturday, that will give them 11 against six losses.
Kansas, meanwhile, is likely locked into a No. 2 seed after the loss. Perry Ellis did everything for the Jayhawks against Iowa State, scoring 30 points on 11-of-12 from the floor and pulling down seven rebounds. Andrew Wiggins had 22 points, but it took him 21 shots to get there.
Perhaps the biggest question for the Jayhawks moving forward is their inside play without the injured Joel Embiid. Without the big man in the paint, Iowa State's starting frontcourt combined for 56 points and 16 rebounds. The Jayhawks should be able to easily get past a No. 15 seed in their opening game, but the wrong matchup against the winner of a 7/10 game could present the Embiid-less Jayhawks with issues. No matter what, they'll almost certainly need him healthy by the second weekend of the tourney to make a run to Dallas.
Baylor 86, Texas 69: By the time Brady Heslip made his third three-pointer of the first half, Baylor had grown its lead over Texas in the Big 12 semifinals to 14 points. They would end up holding a double-digit lead the rest of the way, cruising to an easy 17-point victory over the Longhorns to advance to the conference championship game.
Heslip would end up drilling three more triples in the second half, and his 24 points led the way for the Bears. Cory Jefferson had 20 points and 13 rebounds, and Kenny Chery and Isaiah Austin had 10 points apiece.
Midway through the conference season, the Bears were anything but a lock for the NCAA championship. They lost six of their first seven games in the Big 12, with their only win coming over TCU. They've only lost three games since, and now boast a 10-8 record against the RPI top 50. Now that they're safely in the field, the Bears can set their sights even higher. They'll likely end up as a No. 8 seed, at worst, in the dance, and could end up pushing even higher if they knock off Iowa State in the Big 12 championship on Saturday. No matter where the Bears end up being seeded, it's clear they will be a tough out once the tournament begins next week. They have the No. 5 offense in adjusted efficiency according to KenPom, thanks in large part to the third-best offensive rebounding percentage in the country. They also shoot it well from behind the arc, draining 38.6 percent of their three-point attempts this season, good for 32nd in the nation. Just one month ago, it seemed unlikely that the Bears would be do much damage in the tourney. With the way they have turned their season around, however, they loom as a real threat to make it to the second weekend of the dance.