(Compare to our preseason preview here)
Notable Storylines from the season:
1. Kansas Wins Again – On the court, that is. Possibly the bracket’s #1 overall seed, the Jayhawks’ brilliant back-court and fabulous freshman led them to a 13th-straight Big 12 regular season title (some of those were ties though!!!!!). Still, though, I soured somewhat on this program as Josh Jackson (somewhat), Carlton Bragg (some), and LaGerald Vick (a lot) all made the wrong kinds of new off the court. A University investigation concluded that Vick likely hit a female student, but…he’s still on the team? And missed zero games this season (he was “sick” for two games in 2015, when the incident happened. Riiiiight)? Pretty easy for me to cheer for this team to lose early.
2. The Under(wood)-taker Has Arrived – The Southland breathed a massive sigh of relief at being released from Brad Underwood’s iron-fisted reign of terror (including the conference tournament, he went 59-1 in league games at Stephen F. Austin). The Big 12, though, suffered the offsetting blow, as he flipped the team’s win total (12-20 to 20-11) in his first year. He’s one of the best coaches in the land, and it helped to have a maestro like Jawun Evans around to build the offense around.
3. Manu and Motley – Baylor overcame the losses of first-round pick Taurean Prince, Rico Gathers, and Lester Medford mainly through the development of Jonathan Motley and the eligibility of Miami (FL) transfer Manu Lecomte. The inside-out duo led Baylor to maybe the nation’s most impressive non-conference resume and a likely top 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Both are only juniors, too (Motley has gotten mild draft buzz) – could there actually be a challenger to KU next year?!
4. Oklahoma and Texas Flounder – Two extremely young squads just never found a rhythm this year; Oklahoma was 333rd in experience, while Texas was somehow even younger at 342nd. Oklahoma in particular had some nice victories (@ WV, most notably), but the two ended up combining for a dismal 9-27 league record.
The Big 12 Tournament enters its 8th straight year at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, a pretty awesome venue and solidly-located for most schools. Oh, and Kansas plays a game or two there every year (three this year, actually). Excellent!
Seeds 7-10 will have a play-in round on Wednesday night; fittingly, it’s the four schools that probably don’t have a chance at an at-large (sorry, Horny Frog fans). The mayhem really starts on Thursday, though, as theBig 12 (and almost every other big conference) gives us the glorious nectar of life: daytime hoops.
Best Team(s) and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed(s):
Seeds per bracketmatrix.com:
Kansas – 1 seed
Baylor – 2 seed
West Virginia – 4 seed
Iowa State – 6 seed
Oklahoma State – 7 seed
Kansas State – Second Team Out
Obviously, this tournament is absolutely massive for Kansas State. With only 5 top 100 wins, their resume just isn’t much to get excited about right now; Baylor in round 1 provides a massive opportunity for the Wildcats to win the season series (they won in Waco). The top 3 seem like the most likely winners, but Iowa State and Oklahoma State will be A) be a freaking delightful game at 11:30am on Thursday and B) provide a serious challenger to KU and the entire bracket.
Based on recent play, you could almost say Oklahoma here – they beat the living hell out of Kansas State and competed impressively at Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Kansas down the stretch. However, I’m gonna go with Texas Tech, who I’ve long had a soft spot for. The Red Raiders played a Downy-soft non-conference schedule and couldn’t win many close ones in Big 12 play (not to mention going 0-9 in road games), but they have a sharp coach in Chris Beard and one of the country’s most experienced rosters. If they properly re-focus on this final chance to salvage their season, I think they’re fully capable of making a run in KC.
(8) TCU defeats (9) Oklahoma
(7) Texas Tech defeats (10) Texas
(5) Oklahoma State defeats (4) Iowa State – THIS GAME RULES, SERIOUSLY
(1) Kansas defeats (8) TCU
(7) Texas Tech defeats (2) West Virginia
(3) Baylor defeats (6) Kansas state
(5) Oklahoma State defeats (1) Kansas
(3) Baylor defeats (7) Texas Tech
(3) Baylor defeats (5) Oklahoma State
The Bears put at least an ounce of doubt into the committee’s mind about who should be the #1 seed in the South (them or UNC), though if the Tar Heels win the ACC Tournament, it will still be an easy decision. Underwood pulls off the major upset over the Jayhawks in the semis, vaulting the Cowboys to a 5 seed, and Kansas loses out on the #1 overall seed to Villanova (they still get a Tulsa -> Kansas City path to the Final Four, though). Kansas State comes up short in its tournament bid, and the crowd calling for Bruce Weber’s head gets a little more bloodthirsty. Iowa State becomes a terrifying 6 or 7 seed. West Virginia settles in as a 4 seed and becomes a trendy Final Four pick, but again loses on the on the first weekend to a team that doesn’t crap its pants against pressure and competes on the board (Wilmington? Nevada? Or maybe a 5-seed in round 2).