The 2018 Big 12 tournament tips off Wednesday, March 7 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Here is an in-depth look at the tournament including a complete bracket, TV information, analysis and predictions.
WHO IS THE FAVORITE?
Kansas. Of course Kansas. Always Kansas. Forever Kansas. The Jayhawks aren’t head and shoulders above the rest of the league, and they’re not above a conference tourney upset, but they are Big 12 champs for the 14th straight year. They’re therefore the obvious pick to follow up regular-season success with postseason success – especially in Kansas City, which is about to temporarily turn into Lawrence East.
WHO ELSE CAN WIN?
Texas Tech won at Allen Fieldhouse this year. West Virginia would have if not for a late collapse. Both are legitimate contenders, and one of the two should emerge from the bottom half of the bracket and into the final. Don’t rule out TCU, either. The Horned Frogs shocked Kansas in the quarters last year, and are capable of a repeat in the semis this time around.
Heck, even Baylor or Texas could make a run to Saturday. And we haven’t even mentioned Oklahoma State, which blasted Kansas on Saturday, beat the Jayhawks in Lawrence a month ago, and also won in Morgantown. As many as eight teams could realistically win this thing – such is the depth of the Big 12.
Oklahoma (18-12, 8-10, KenPom 44, RPI 37): Cut their season off at the end of January, and the Sooners’ résumé looks like that of a 4-seed. Tack on February, and it’s shrouded in doubt. An ugly six-game losing streak has Oklahoma on the bubble, and facing a potential landmine in the form of Oklahoma State on Wednesday. It should be safe, but a loss to the Cowboys would lead to frantic discussion of an odd, front-loaded résumé.
Kansas State (21-10, 10-8, KenPom 45, RPI 63): The Wildcats don’t have one standout win. What they do have, though, is season sweeps of fellow bubblers Baylor and Texas. They also have just one loss against a non-NCAA tournament team. A quarterfinal victory over TCU would secure their ticket to the Dance, but they should be able to nab one even with a loss.
Texas (18-13, 8-10, KenPom 40, RPI 58): An overtime upset of West Virginia on Saturday was just what the doctor ordered. But it didn’t bring the Longhorns an opening-round bye. That’s crucial, because the only true doomsday scenario in the Big 12 is a loss to Iowa State, and that’s exactly what Shaka Smart’s crew will need to avoid on Wednesday. Provided they do, though, they’ll feel good about their chances on Selection Sunday.
Baylor (18-13, 8-10, KenPom 34, RPI 55): The Bears closed strong with a 6-2 February, but needed a win over Kansas State on Saturday to cement themselves on the right side of the bubble. They didn’t get it, and therefore go to Kansas City facing what is likely a win-and-in quarterfinal matchup with West Virginia. If the Bears lose? They’re at the mercy of the committee.
Oklahoma State (18-13, 8-10, KenPom 61, RPI 96): The Cowboys weren’t even in the bubble picture entering the final Saturday of the regular season. Then they beat Kansas for a second time. They’ve also upset West Virginia and Texas Tech. That has to at least put them on the fringes of it, right? They’d likely need at least two tournament wins to be seriously considered, and maybe three. But they’re still alive.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Trae Young, G, Oklahoma: You’ve heard the name. You’ve seen plenty of him already. And you might be aware that he’s struggled lately, just as his team has. But he’s still a player of the year contender, and still a captivating watch every time he steps on the floor.
2. Jevon Carter, G, West Virginia: Carter and the Mountaineers have come up short in the conference tournament final twice in a row now. Given what we know about the reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year and his unrelenting drive, it’s tough to see him letting a third and final opportunity slip away.
3. Dean Wade, F, Kansas State: How many other players rank in the top 15 in their conference in effective field goal percentage (2), true shooting percentage (2), 3-point field goal percentage (5), 2-point field goal percentage (7), offensive rating (3), usage rate (6), defensive rebound percentage (12), assist rate (15), turnover rate (12), block percentage (12), steal percentage (13) and minutes played (3)? Wade’s Big 12 ranks – conference play only – are in parentheses above. A former guard in high school, he can do it all.
ONE BIG STORYLINE
Can the Big 12 send eight teams to the Big Dance? Wait, let’s amend that: Can the Big 12 send NINE teams to the Big Dance?
The answer is yes, it could. And that’s remarkable. Things will have to break right, of course, both in Kansas City and elsewhere. But let’s say Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State; Texas beats Iowa State; Kansas State beats TCU; and Baylor beats West Virginia. That right there would surely be good enough for eight. And if Oklahoma State wins the Bedlam rubber match, then upsets Kansas for a third time? Nine is in play.
The 10-team league has been renowned for its depth in recent years, and rightly so, but it has maxed out at seven NCAA tournament bids. Eight has looked like a possibility on one or two occasions, only for things to go awry at the conference tourney. This could finally be the year.
All times Eastern
Wednesday, March 7 | First round
No. 8 Oklahoma State vs. No. 9 Oklahoma — 7 p.m., ESPNU
No. 7 Texas vs. No. 10 Iowa State — 9:30 p.m., ESPNU
Thursday, March 8 | Quarterfinal
No. 4 Kansas State vs. No. 5 TCU — 12:30 p.m., ESPN2
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 8 Oklahoma State/No. 9 Oklahoma — 3 p.m., ESPN2
No. 2 Texas Tech vs. No. 7 Texas/No. 10 Iowa State — 7 p.m., ESPNU
No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 6 Baylor — 9:30 p.m., ESPNU
Saturday March 9 | Semifinals
Winners of quarterfinals 1 and 2 — 7 p.m., ESPN2
Winners of quarterfinals 3 and 4 — 9:30 p.m., ESPN2
Saturday, March 10 | Final
Semifinal winners — 6 p.m., ESPN
No. 8 Oklahoma State over No. 9 Oklahoma
No. 7 Texas over No. 10 Iowa State
No. 5 TCU over No. 4 Kansas State
No. 1 Kansas over No. 8 Oklahoma State
No. 2 Texas Tech vs. No. 7 Texas
No. 3 West Virginia over No. 6 Baylor
No. 1 Kansas over No. 5 TCU
No. 3 West Virginia over No. 2 Texas Tech
No. 3 West Virginia over No. 1 Kansas
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