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2014 Big 12 Conference Tournament Preview
The Sports Network

By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Basketball Editor

 
FACTS & STATS: Site: Sprint Center (18,972) -- Kansas City, Missouri. DATES: Wednesday, March 12th through Saturday, March 15th. Television: Big 12  Network, ESPN3.com, ESPN2, ESPN U (Opening Round, Quarterfinals, Semifinals),  ESPN (Championship). Annual: 18th. Defending Champion: Kansas. 
 
OUTLOOK: The Sprint Center will the house the 2014 Big 12 Conference Tournament, which tips off on Wednesday, March 12th and concludes with the championship bout on Saturday, March 15th.
 
Kansas was the class of the conference during the regular season once again, as it finished 14-4 in league play to earn the outright league championship, the No. 1 seed and a bye into the quarterfinals. The Jayhawks, who are 23-8 overall, have earned at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title in 10 straight seasons under head coach Bill Self, coming out as the tournament champion six times in that span, including last season. The squad has stumbled a bit coming into tournament play, however, having lost two of its last three.
 
The Jayhawks have enjoyed great offensive production this season, scoring 79.6 ppg while ranking tied for fifth in the nation in field goal percentage (.497), and their defensive effort has been solid as well, yielding 69.7 ppg on just 41.3 percent shooting. The catalyst has been Big 12 Freshman of the Year Andrew Wiggins, who tallies 16.8 ppg and 5.9 rpg and exploded for 41 points in the regular-season finale at West Virginia. Fellow first-year player Joel Embiid (11.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg) earned the conference's defensive player of the year honors, while Perry Ellis (13.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Wayne Selden Jr. (10.1 ppg) and Naadir Tharpe (8.9 ppg, 5.0 apg) round out one of the nation's best starting lineups.
 
Oklahoma (23-8) made claim to the No. 2 seed by finishing 12-6 in league action as it catapulted up the standings by closing out the regular season with wins in three straight and five of six, and it is in the midst of its best season since finishing the 2008-09 campaign 30-6. The Sooners fit right in to the high-scoring Big 12, as they shoot 45.1 percent from the field for 82.5 ppg, which has been strong enough to support a lackluster effort on the defensive end of the court (75.8 ppg). Buddy Hield nets a team-high 16.8 ppg and has drained 86 3-pointers at 40.2 percent efficiency. Cameron Clark (15.2 ppg), Isaiah Cousins (11.0 ppg), Jordan Woodard (10.3 ppg) and Ryan Spangler (9.9 ppg, 9.4 rpg) round out a lineup that has started all 31 games together.
 
Texas (No. 3 seed), Iowa State (4), Kansas State (5) and West Virginia (6) will all begin play in the quarterfinals as well, while Baylor (7), Oklahoma State (8), Texas Tech (9) and TCU (10) will partake in the opening round.
 
Opening-round action will begin on Wednesday night when the Oklahoma State Cowboys take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders, with the winner advancing to play Kansas in the quarterfinals. Oklahoma State (20-11, 8-10 Big 12) was once among the likes of the nationally ranked before being plagued by a seven-game losing streak a few weeks back, but it rebounded with four straight wins prior to a loss in the regular-season finale at Iowa State (85-81 in OT). The Cowboys outshoot their opponents from the field, 46.7 percent to 40.4 percent, and own a +11.6 scoring margin. Marcus Smart chips in across the board with 17.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.7 apg and 2.7 spg, while Markel Brown (17.2 rpg) is an outstanding second option. Le'Bryan Nash (14.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and Phil Forte (13.2 ppg) are stellar scorers as well.
 
As for Texas Tech (14-17, 5-13), it had been reeling with six straight losses before earning a 59-53 win over Texas in the regular-season finale. Although the Red Raiders boast a strong field goal percentage (.456), they score just 68.6 ppg, which is barely enough to support a solid defense (68.1 ppg). The team's strength comes in the frontcourt, with Jaye Crockett (13.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Jordan Tolbert (10.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg) both shooting greater than 52 percent from the field.
 
Oklahoma State and Texas Tech split the regular-season series, with each side winning at home. An incident with a fan in the Cowboys' 65-61 loss at Texas Tech on Feb. 8 resulted in a three-game suspension for Marcus Smart.
 
The other opening-round bout between the Baylor Bears and the TCU Horned Frogs will tip off at the conclusion of OSU/Texas Tech, with Oklahoma awaiting the survivor. Baylor (21-10, 9-9) has played itself back into the NCAA Tournament conversation in recent weeks, as it is currently riding a three-game winning streak and has won seven of its last eight. The Bears' have displayed solid balance on the season, shooting 45.4 percent from the field for 75.1 ppg while allowing just 68.0 ppg on 42.2 percent shooting. The team's strength comes in the frontcourt, with Cory Jefferson (13.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.4) and Isaiah Austin (10.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.1 bpg) disrupting things on the inside. Kenny Chery scores11.7 ppg and hands out 5.0 apg and Brady Heslip (11.5 ppg) ranks 12th nationally in 3-pointers with 98.
 
TCU (9-21), on the other hand, has fallen flat during Big 12 play with losses in each of its 18 conference matchups. It is the only team in the nation this season to go winless in league play and has nine straight losses by double digits. The Horned Frogs have struggled both offensively (63.5 ppg) and defensively (72.4 ppg), with Kyan Anderson (17.0 ppg, 4.4 apg) and Amric Fields (13.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg) the only notable performers. Baylor beat TCU twice during the regular season by a combined 59 points.
 
Action continues in the quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon, as the Iowa State Cyclones and the Kansas State Wildcats square off. Iowa State has been excellent this season at 23-7 overall and 11-7 in league play, which includes a 4-0 mark at neutral sites. The team is tied with Oklahoma for first in the league and seventh in the nation with 82.5 ppg and are led by the Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim, who pours in a conference-best 18.2 ppg on 51.3 percent field goal shooting to go with 8.6 rpg. DeAndre Kane could have just as easily earned the honor, as he stuffs the stat sheet with 17.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.9 apg and 1.3 spg, while Georges Niang (16.2 ppg) and Dustin Hogue (10.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg) round out the balanced attack.
 
Kansas State (20-11) was stellar in its own right this season, going 10-8 in league play, but it comes into this event having lost two straight games. The Wildcats have been led by its stout defense, which gives up 64.9 ppg, and it's a good thing too considering their less-than-stellar offensive effort (69.2 ppg). Marcus Foster puts up a team-best 15.4 ppg and has stepped up down the stretch, scoring more than that average in eight of the last 12 games. Thomas Gipson (11.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg) mans the paint for K-State, which split with Iowa State this season.
 
The final predetermined matchup will take place between the Texas Longhorns and the West Virginia Mountaineers in the quarterfinal round on Thursday night. Texas (22-9) dismissed WVU in both previous meetings this season by a combined 28 points on its way to a 11-7 league campaign, earning the tiebreaker over Iowa State for the No. 3 seed. The Longhorns are able to successfully outpace their opponents this season, scoring 74.5 ppg while yielding 70.2 ppg despite shooting a mere 43.1 percent from the field. The team has an imposing frontcourt duo in Jonathan Holmes (13.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.8 bpg) and Cameron Ridley (11.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.2 bpg), who both shoot greater than 51 percent from the field. Isaiah Taylor (12.6 ppg, .392 FG percentage), and Javan Felix (12.0 ppg, .354) have not been so efficient from the backcourt.
 
WVU (17-14, 9-9) had been losers of four of five prior to ending the regular season on a high note with a 92-86 upset over Kansas. The Mountaineers have an outstanding offensive attack with 78.5 ppg, which has successfully masked a disappointing scoring defense (73.5 ppg). Juwan Staten is one of the nation's most well-rounded guards with 18.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg and 5.9 apg, while shooting 49.2 percent from the field. Eron Harris (17.9 ppg) is right on Staten's tail for the scoring lead and Terry Henderson pitches in 17.9 ppg.
 
With only a few exceptions at the bottom of the standings, the Big 12 is one of the nation's deepest conferences, and the parity the league has shown this season suggests that a number of teams have the ability to get hot and win the tournament. Iowa State, Oklahoma and WVU all have great offenses, Kansas State plays lights out defense, and Baylor and Texas have deep, balanced lineups. In the end though, Kansas is still the team to beat, especially given Self's track record in recent seasons.
 
Sports Network Predicted Champion: Kansas
 
 
 
03/10 08:46:05 ET
 

As of March 10, 2014, at 08:48 AM ET

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