- Ky McKeon
(Compare to our preseason preview here)
- That Whole Trae Young Thing - By now, you may have heard of this guy named Trae Young, a freshman phenom that took the college basketball world by storm and successfully wrenched ESPN's full and undivided attention away from LaVar Ball. In January, Young was as close to a sure thing as one can get to win National Player of the Year. But then, Young barfed all over himself in February (as most normal freshman do from time to time) and Oklahoma tumbled down the Big 12 standings, finishing the month 2-7. It speaks volumes about how good Young and OU were up until February that the guard is still a lock for an All-American spot and the Sooners a likely Tourney team.
- Who The Hell Is Dean Wade - That's what you may be asking yourself as you peer over the All-Conference teams above. Dean Wade, a 6'10" junior on Kansas State's basketball team, was the primary reason why Bruce Weber's squad currently sits in prime position to make an unexpected Tourney appearance. Wade was 5th in the Big 12 in scoring, 4th in 3P%, 2nd in eFG%, 2nd in TS%, 13th in blocks, 6th in steals, and 15th in assist rate. He impacts literally every part of the basketball game and is deserving of All-Conference honors.
- Kansas Wins Again - The Jayhawks took home their 14th consecutive Big 12 regular season championship this year, a pretty ridiculous streak when considering the level of competition the Big 12 has seen in recent years. Devonte' Graham took the mantle from Frank Mason and made this team his own, Svi actually looked competent playing basketball, Udoka Azubuike man-thinged people, and Miss State transfer Malik Newman added a punch of scoring to the lineup. Depth is a concern for the Big Dance, but Bill Self's squad should be a 1 or 2 seed come March 11th.
- Texas Tech - The Red Raiders looked to be a major threat to KU's aforementioned streak, sitting 10-3 in conference on February 13th. Texas Tech stumbled down the stretch, but the late tough losses don't negate a season to remember in Lubbock. Chris Beard took this squad to new heights in 2017-18 (it may be TT's best team ever???), making up for the disappointing 2016-17 finish. With All-American guard Keenan Evans leading the way and a healthy Zach Smith, the Raiders look to be a legitimate Final Four contender and threat to take home the Big 12 Tourney crown.
The Big 12 tips on Wednesday (3/7) from the Sprint Center in Kansas City, a place where Kansas doesn't love to play.
What to Watch:
Kansas has lost its last three games in the Sprint Center in Kansas City dating back to last season. The Beaks fell to TCU in the first round of the Big 12 Tourney, lost to Oregon in the Elite Eight, and then was stymied by none other than Washington on December 6th. Past performance does not necessarily predict the future, but this stat HAS to be in the KU players' heads. Whether that fuels the team to a Big 12 Tourney tear or causes them to falter once again remains to be seen.
The current bubble picture involves several Big 12 schools, primarily Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State. These teams' resumes are very similar with each having certain advantages and shortcomings. This means the conference tournament has giant implications for Big Dance berths; an early loss could send any of the above teams packing. The main tilt to watch is the OU/OSU game. It's fitting that a rivalry will likely decide who stays on the bubble and who goes to the NIT.
A follow-up to the point above: if I'm Kansas State and I lose in the first round to TCU, I'm nervous about my Tourney chances. This seems odd considering the Cats finished 4th in the toughest conference in the country, but that NCSOS number is brutal. Likewise, Texas needs to beat Iowa State to feel good and Baylor may need the West Virginia win. Oh the drama!
Who Will Win:
- Texas Tech - Yeah, that's right, I'm taking the Red Raiders. Reason A: Chris Beard is a fantastic coach, B: Keenan Evans is a superb leader, C: I bet Kansas chokes at the Sprint Center.
If Not Them, Then:
Kansas - Or Kansas could not choke and win the whole damn thing again; it's very possible. The Jayhawks certainly have the more favorable path to the championship as Tech will likely need to go through West Virginia to make it to the ship. If KU does take the title, expect them to clinch a 1-seed in the Dance.
West Virginia - As my buddy Jim so rightly points out - conference tournament games tend to be played at a slower tempo and have a more half-court focus about them. This isn't good news for a WVU team that relies on forcing turnovers and getting out in transition to hide its rather pedestrian half-court attack. However, like T Tech, WVU's defense and senior point guard gives them a chance to beat anybody in the country.
Anyone Else - It's not out of the question for the Big 12 to send 9 teams to the NCAA Tournament. That probably won't happen, but the possibility is a testament to the depth of this league. Any of the 10 teams (maybe not Iowa State) is capable of going on a Tourney run and snatching the trophy.