Thursday, March 8, 2007

Big 12 Conference Tournament Preview

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The Big 12 Conference did not have one of their more memorable years on paper. Their conference RPI was seventh, behind the Missouri Valley. However, overall, the league wasn’t as bad as it looked. They have two national title contenders, the best player in college basketball, and a couple of bubble teams. The Big 12 title race came down to the final day, as Kansas knocked off Texas to win the title outright. Texas A&M finished in second at 13-3, while the Longhorns were 12-4.

Kansas has been one of the most impressive teams over the latter part of the season, and they are in the mix for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They are extremely talented, and can beat anyone in the country. The Jayhawks are balanced—maybe too balanced, as their lack of a go-to-guy has been a trouble spot. Julian Wright is a versatile forward who can do it all up front. Brandon Rush is a good shooter and a terrific defender. The backcourt of Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers is very good defensively, and Chalmers has developed into more of a scorer. Sherron Collins has been the best player on the team at times. Darrell Arthur and Sasha Kaun lead the way down low. Texas A&M is another Final Four threat, and could win the automatic bid for the Big 12. Acie Law IV has gained attention across the country as the most clutch player in college basketball, and it’s hard to argue against it. He’s an All-American. On the wing, Josh Carter shoots over 50% from behind the arc, and Dominique Kirk is one of the best defenders in the country. Inside, Joseph Jones is a load to stop, but he has a tendency to foul out of games quickly. Antanas Kavaliauskas has developed into a dependable option for the Aggies. He can shoot the ball, and is also good on the glass and down low. If A&M gets production from their wings, they are tough to beat.

Contenders: Texas can beat anyone it steps on the floor against because of one reason—Kevin Durant. The clear-cut Player of the Year, Durant is a nearly unstoppable force offensively. He can shoot the ball with outstanding range, and is also tough to defend in the post and driving to the basket. D.J. Augustin is extremely quick at the point, and is a good distributor. A.J. Abrams provides shooting and scoring from the wing. Damion James is undersized but solid down low, and Justin Mason does a little of everything. Texas Tech swept Texas A&M and knocked off Kansas, so they can beat the big boys. Jarrius Jackson is one of the best guards in the country, and has the ability to score in a variety of ways. Martin Zeno is a strong guard who is deadly in the mid-range and when driving to the goal. Charlie Burgess is a quick point guard who distributes. Jon Plefka and Darryl Dora are servicable up front. Kansas State has one of the better forward duos in the league in Cartier Martin and David Hoskins. Both are tough to guard. Lance Harris is a double-figure scorer in the backcourt.

Sleeper: Missouri is not a fun team to play due to their “40 Minutes of Hell” style that Mike Anderson introduced, and they could pull an upset or two. The deep Tigers are led by Stefhon Hannah. He can do a variety of things at the point guard spot, and his backcourt partner, Keon Lawrence, can score. Forwards Marshall Brown and Matt Lawrence are versatile scoring options in the frontcourt. They have won four of their last six heading into the Big 12 Tournament.

Prediction: The Big 12 Tournament should be an interesting tournament to watch. It is a top-heavy league, meaning that there is little chance for early-round upsets. Kansas should coast to the finals without much of a test, although Texas Tech won’t just roll over. The other semi-final will likely feature Texas A&M and Texas. It should be one of the best match-ups of the week. I’ll give the edge to A&M due to their balance and defense. The finals will be a rematch of the last-second win by A&M in Lawrence. If A&M can win on the road, they can win at a neutral-site, right? Not this time. Kansas is playing extremely well right now, and probably should have won the first meeting. They’ll get the auto bid.

First Round
#9 Oklahoma 67, #8 Iowa State 61
#5 Texas Tech 75, #12 Colorado 57
#6 Missouri 73, #11 Baylor 64
#7 Oklahoma State 70, #10 Nebraska 60

#1 Kansas 76, #9 Oklahoma 63
#5 Texas Tech 71, #4 Kansas State 65
#3 Texas 81, #6 Missouri 71
#2 Texas A&M 74, #7 Oklahoma State 67

#1 Kansas 75, #5 Texas Tech 68
#2 Texas A&M 85, #3 Texas 79

#1 Kansas 71, #2 Texas A&M 68

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