This was supposed to be the year where someone could come out of nowhere and knock the Jayhawks off of their pedestal, but that didn’t happen. In fact, if Kansas hadn’t been blown out by Baylor on the last day of the regular season, the Jayhawks would have been the outright Big 12 champs despite losing three games in a row earlier this year.
But the Jayhawks did get blown out by Baylor. And they did lose three games in a row earlier this year, which is why this year’s Big 12 tournament — much like college hoops as a whole — should be as fun and exciting as any tournament in recent memory.
There is no dominant team. There is no team without flaws. And frankly, if TCU can beat Kansas soundly, if Baylor can blow Kansas out when the Jayhawks have an outright regular season title on the line, than anything can happen.
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Where: Kansas City, MO (Sprint Center)
When: March 13 – March 16
Final: March 16, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Until someone knocks Kansas down a peg or two, they will forever be the favorite to win any and every title in the Big 12 while Bill Self in their head coach. The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the last nine Big 12 regular season titles, including this season. If they win the Big 12 tournament title this week, it will be the sixth time in the last eight seasons that they have done so. As you can tell, the Jayhawks are owned the Big 12.
Things may actually be a bit more open this season than usual, as the Jayhawks are as good as anyone in the country but they have some exploitable flaws. Jeff Withey’s defense can be nullified with a jump-shooting big man. Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe can be flustered with oppressive on-ball defense. Ben McLemore can struggle when he’s forced to be nothing but a jumpshooter. And despite all of those issues, the Jayhawks are still 26-2 outside of that three-game losing streak where they lost all sense of confidence. Pretty impressive.
And if they lose?: Kansas State
The Wildcats are an intriguing team this season. They still have that toughness and that defense mindset that was ingrained in their heads when Frank Martin was their head coach, but with Bruce Weber running the show, the Wildcat offense has been better. It helps that Angel Rodriguez has blossomed into one of the more underrated playmakers in the Big 12, and Rodney McGruder is still one of the best players in the conference. If Kansas State can avoid getting beaten on the offensive glass and get consistent perimeter shooting out of McGruder and Rodriguez, they’ll have a chance to make a run.
Other contenders: Oklahoma State is probably the most talented team outside of the state of Kansas in the Big 12 this season, as the trio of Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and LeBryan Nash have become one of the most dangerous three-headed monsters in the country. Oklahoma should have a chance to win this thing as well. The Sooners are a tough team to matchup with given the versatility of their bigs, Amath M’Baye and Romero Osby. Plus, Buddy Hield is back. If only the Sooners can erase the pain of an embarrassing loss to TCU out of their minds.
Sleeper: Iowa State
The Cyclones are a very dangerous basketball team thanks to their ability to spread the floor and shoot the ball. Fred Hoiberg’s club is never going to be much defensively and they are going to struggle on the nights their threes aren’t going down, but when they’re hot, they will be able to play with anyone in the country. They are also entertaining to watch, as they push the ball and have athletes up and down their roster.
Deeper sleeper: Baylor
The Bears have the talent to be a top 15 team. That’s inarguable. Pierre Jackson, Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson. Their performance this season was disappointing, but that’s what makes them a threat to win this tournament. Look at what happened on Saturday: Baylor beat the Jayhawks by 23 after losing eight of their last 11 games. What happens if the Bears actually try hard this week?
– Ben McLemore, Kansas: He could end up being the first pick in the draft, and he’s got a gorgeous jumpshot complimented by the athletic ability to dunk on anyone. Fun player to watch.
– Pierre Jackson, Baylor: Jackson can get out of control at times, but when he’s playing well, the 5-foot-9 Jackson is dominant. He’s as quick as anyone in the country, he can soar, and he’s an excellent playmaker off the dribble.
– Tyrus McGee, Iowa State: ISU’s sixth-man, when he gets in a rhythm, everything he throws up goes in.
CBT Prediction: Like I said, I’m rolling with Kansas until proven otherwise.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.