Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Big 12 Conference Tournament Preview

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The Big 12 Conference was supposed to have a two-team race between Oklahoma and Texas, but it ended up being a three-team foray with Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, with the defending champion Jayhawks coming out on top with a 14-2 record. Oklahoma and Missouri followed at 13-3 and 12-4, respectively. Texas was one of four teams to tie at 9-7, along with Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas A&M. KSU received the four seed and a bye. Nebraska finished .500.

Favorites: Despite finishing in second to Kansas, Oklahoma should be the favorite heading into the conference tournament. Blake Griffin is back and fully healthy and the tournament is being held in Oklahoma City. Griffin is a dominant force and can carry the Sooners, while Willie Warren is developing into a star on the perimeter. Taylor Griffin is an underappreciated option in the frontcourt. Austin Johnson runs the show and is a key for the Sooners. Even though they lost all five starters from their national championship team, Kansas won the conference title again, on the backs of the inside-outside duo of Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. Furthermore, head coach Bill Self might be the favorite for Coach of the Year. If Collins and Aldrich are on their games, this team can compete with anyone in the country. Tyshawn Taylor has developed into a bonafide third option offensively. Is this team too young for the postseason, though?

Contender: Missouri surprised many people this season, riding its pressure defense and helter-skelter style of play to a potential top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons are both very difficult players to match-up with in the frontcourt for the Tigers. On the perimeter, Zaire Taylor handles the point, while Matt Lawrence does the shooting and J.T. Tiller contributes in a variety of areas. The Tigers have not proven they can win consistently away from home, though.

Sleeper: Since the four 9-7 teams don’t really count as sleepers and Nebraska isn’t big enough or consistent enough offensively to knock off any of the top teams, there is just one team that can throw a wrench into the tournament: Baylor. This team has plenty of offensive talent – talent that can get hot and stay hot. Curtis Jerrells is a dynamic point guard who is tough to stay in front of, while Henry Dugat, Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn are all double-figure scorers on the perimeter that can shoot it. Kevin Rogers is a solid performer up front. The Bears are the worst defensive team in the Big 12, but they can score in a hurry. With all the talent they possess, it’s not hard to envision a couple of wins.

Prediction: This should be a conference tournament to keep an eye on, just to see how it sorts itself out. There is a clear separation between the top three teams, the middle three teams, Kansas State and Nebraska, and then the rest. Can Oklahoma State lock up a bid? Can Kansas State make a run at a bid? Can anyone play spoiler? What about Texas? Those are just a few of the questions that will be answered in Oklahoma City. The main question, though, is: who will win the tournament? The bottom half of the bracket is brutal, with Oklahoma State and Texas A&M both lurking along with Oklahoma and Missouri. OK State will be desperate for a win over the Sooners, and might pull the upset. If that is the case, watch the Cowboys make a run to the final. However, once they get there, the title is still Kansas’ to lose – and the Jayhawks won’t relinquish it.

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