Thursday, March 13, 2008

Big 12 Conference Tournament Preview

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The Big 12 Conference was an extremely interesting conference this season. It featured plenty of Jekyll-and-Hyde sort of teams, with many squads going on extended winning streaks only to turn around and lose a couple in a row. The only two constants all year were Kansas and Texas – the co-champions at 13-3. The Longhorns won the only meeting between the two teams, so they received the No. 1 seed in the conference tourney. Kansas State was the only other team to finish with double-digit wins in conference play, while six teams finished between 7-9 and 9-7.

Favorites: Since it was pretty much Texas and Kansas and then everyone else all season, it makes sense that the Longhorns and Jayhawks are the clear-cut favorites heading into the conference tournament. Texas surprised many this season by excelling, and even improving, without Kevin Durant from last season. D.J. Augustin developed into the best point guard in the country, while Damion James stepped into Durant’s spot in the frontcourt and began producing very well. A.J. Abrams is a prolific shooter, and center Connor Atchley might be the best role player in the country. Justin Mason is a very solid two-way player. Kansas might be the most complete team in the country, and could be a favorite to reach the Final Four come the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks have one of the deepest perimeter groups in the country, led by Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers. Chalmers is a terrific two-way player. Russell Robinson is a tremendous defender and does all the little things, while Sherron Collins might be the most explosive offensive player they have. Up front, Darrell Arthur has developed into the team’s leading scorer and Darnell Jackson is a physical rebounder and finisher.

Contenders: After Texas and Kansas, there’s a large group of teams that are fairly unpredictable, which makes it difficult to project. Kansas State started out 7-1 in the Big 12 before losing five of six to fall out of the conference race. The Wildcats are led by the best player in the country, Michael Beasley, who can single-handedly carry them to victory. Bill Walker is another supremely talented forward who is tough to stop when he gets going. Jacob Pullen is a streaky point guard that will be the key to this team’s success. Oklahoma has had three separate multiple-game losing streaks in Big 12 play – yet still finished 9-7 in the league play. The Sooners have one of the best frontcourt duos in the league in freshman star Blake Griffin, who seems to play his best in big games, and veteran Longar Longar, a solid scorer and rebounder. Tony Crocker has become the go-to option on the perimeter with his clutch play, while Austin Johnson is a decent point guard. Baylor has one of the best and most productive perimeter groups in the country; when the Bears’ guards are on, they are tough. Curtis Jerrells is a very good all-around player who can do-it-all, while LaceDarius Dunn and Henry Dugat are also double-figure scorers in the backcourt. Tweety Carter can really shoot it, while Aaron Bruce has regressed since his freshman season. Kevin Rogers is the go-to-guy up front; he provides very good scoring and rebounding, giving the perimeter-based Bears balance.

Sleeper: Oklahoma State has been extremely inconsistent all season, but it had won five in a row before dropping its last two games of the season. They have the perimeter talent and versatility to play with anyone in the conference. The top five scorers for OSU are perimeter players, but they all average at least 9.9 points per game. James Anderson is one of the best freshmen in the conference, while Marcus Dove is an outstanding defender. The key is point guard Byron Eaton. If he doesn’t make too many mistakes, the Cowboys are solid.

Prediction: With the majority of the conference too streaky and inconsistent to really trust making a run in the conference tournament, the league title game is going to come down to Texas and Kansas – just like the regular-season. Kansas has better inside-outside balance, but Texas has better go-to-options and D.J. Augustin. In the first match-up, Connor Atchley and Damion James were the catalysts. I don’t think they will be able to repeat their performances, and Texas won’t be able to win again if Augustin is slowed won. Kansas gets revenge and the league title.

First Round
#9 Oklahoma State over #8 Texas Tech
#5 Baylor over #12 Colorado
#6 Texas A&M over #11 Iowa State
#7 Nebraska over #10 Missouri

#1 Texas over #9 Oklahoma State
#4 Oklahoma over #5 Baylor
#6 Texas A&M over #3 Kansas State
#2 Kansas over #7 Nebraska

#1 Texas over #4 Oklahoma
#2 Kansas over #6 Texas A&M

#2 Kansas over #1 Texas

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