The Big 12 tournament kicks off today, but really does not start in earnest until Thursday with the quarterfinals. The bottom four teams in the league are relegated to the opening round games, which pits Texas against Texas Tech, and Kansas State against TCU, with the Longhorns needing at least a win to feel good about an NCAA tournament berth and the Wildcats needing a win against the Horned Frogs to secure an NIT bid.
The real story of the Big 12 tournament could be injuries. Kansas has likely locked up a 2 seed in the NCAA tournament whether the Jayhawks lose to the TCU-Kansas State winner or win the whole thing, but Perry Ellis is dealing with a sprained knee, Wayne Selden is dealing with a bad ankle, Frank Mason is dealing with overuse, and Cliff Alexander is dealing with injury by NCAA, and might not be available to Bill Self for the rest of the season.
In that same half of the bracket, West Virginia was no doubt hoping to make a run to the title game thanks to those Jayhawk injuries, but senior guard Juwan Staten — still hurt — is doubtful for Thursday, which makes it unlikely the Mountaineers will even get by Baylor.
Speaking of Baylor, the Bears finished fourth in the league standings but finished second in the league in point differential, almost even with league champion Kansas. Baylor finished second in the league, and 12th in the country, in offense according to KenPom. However, there might be some fool’s gold in there. The Bears shot 40.3 percent on threes and grabbed 40.8 percent of their misses, both league highs, but shot just 44.1 percent from two-point range in league play. If they have a tough night from three-point range or go up against a team that can limit them on the glass even a bit, they could be an early upset victim in the NCAA tournament.
The most intriguing team in the league tournament is probably Texas. The Longhorns should get by Texas Tech in the first round and then face Iowa State in the quarterfinals. The Longhorns played the Cyclones close in both meetings this year before ultimately losing. Texas ranked third in the Big 12 in defense, and it was actually the Longhorns who blocked the highest percentage of their opponents’ shots this season, even more than Kentucky. Freshman Myles Turner ranks 8th nationally in block percentage among qualified players, but does not even rank first on his own team: Prince Ibeh owns a 13.5 block percentage, but has only played roughly 10 minutes per game this season. Still, the Longhorns can force the Cyclones to take a lot of jump shots, and if they have an off night, Texas could remove all doubt as to whether it belongs in the NCAA tournament.
All this intrigue exists, and we have not even touched on Oklahoma, which finished third in both the standings and point differential. The Sooners get a Bedlam rematch with Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals, and probably need a strong showing to forget about barely beating a dreadfully shorthanded Kansas team in the regular season finale. Buddy Hield nabbed both the coaches’ and AP player of the year awards, and had 42 points in the two games against Oklahoma State during the regular season.
When it is all said and done, I like Baylor to get by two injured teams and meet Oklahoma in the title game, and I think the Bears, who have a history of really caring about the Big 12 tournament, will take down the Sooners and win the Big 12 tournament. If the Big 12 gets lucky and Oklahoma State goes on a mini run (or if one of the longshots wins the whole thing) the Big 12 can leave the weekend with seven of its 10 teams in the NCAA tournament.