Bryce Dejean-Jones, Kelly Oubre Jr.

Big 12 Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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source: AP
(AP)

It was another year in which the Big 12 clobbered each other in conference play and we can’t really get a feel for how good this league is going into the postseason. When you also consider that conference champion Kansas ended the regular season without Cliff Alexander (eligibility concerns), Perry Ellis (sprained knee) and Brannen Greene (suspended) and this Tournament looks wide-open.

That notion is aided by the fact that each team in the tournament has to win at least three games to win the championship. The Big 12 Conference Tournament doesn’t feature double and triple byes like some conference tournaments. Only the bottom four teams have play-in games for the right to play in the quarterfinals.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

Coming off of the win over Kansas, Oklahoma is riding high and the Sooners are the No. 3 seed with the conference’s Player of the Year in Buddy Hield. The junior guard is one of the best two-way players in the country and Oklahoma has Final Four ability if they get rolling. No. 2 seed Iowa State will also be a team to track, but they could get a tough game against Texas in the quarterfinals.

And you can’t forget about Baylor and West Virginia, who matched up in the quarterfinals and are both ranked in the top 20. Even teams like Oklahoma State and Kansas State could string together a few games and make a run in this tournament.

Bracket

source:

MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

When: March 11-14

Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City

Final: March 14, 5 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: Kansas

The Jayhawks managed to win the Big 12 for the 11th consecutive season and they stayed closed with Oklahoma despite missing Cliff Alexander, Perry Ellis and Brannen Greene. Kansas likely gets Greene back for the Big 12 Tournament and point guard Frank Mason III will be key for the Jayhawks.

And if they lose?: Iowa State

The Cyclones have a high-octane offense, led by Georges Niang and can put up points in a hurry against nearly any team in the country. The question becomes how the Cyclones play away from Hilton Coliseum? Iowa State was mediocre on the road this season and also lost neutral-court games to Maryland (in Kansas City) and South Carolina. Can they stay consistent enough on the defensive end to win three tough games?

Other Contenders

  • Oklahoma: A darkhorse Final Four candidate before the year, the Sooners are led by NBCSports.com All-American Buddy Hield and have plenty of scoring punch in their own right.
  • Baylor: The Bears are one of the biggest surprises in the Big 12 and have so many versatile players that matchups that they can throw on the floor.

Sleeper: Texas

The Longhorns finished 8-10 in the conference but have enough talent to win the tournament if they can continue the mini two-game winning streak they’re riding. While many of the Big 12’s other teams are comfortably in, the Longhorns could really use some more wins for some more breathing room.

Deeper Sleeper: Kansas State

Bruce Weber’s team might be below .500 but they swept Oklahoma and own wins over Kansas and Iowa State and sophomore guard Marcus Foster can still get hot and carry an offense.

Big 12 Player of the Year: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

One of the best two-way wings in the country, Hield coupled good scoring numbers (17.4 ppg, 42% FG, 38% 3PT) and a solid presence on the defensive end. A second-team NBCSports.com All-American, Hield also averaged 5.5 rebounds per game and 1.4 steals per contest.

Big 12 Coach of the Year: Scott Drew, Baylor

You can also make a strong case for Bob Huggins at West Virginia, but he was returning a Player of the Year candidate in Juwan Staten. Baylor’s ascension into the top-25 this season seemed even more surprising than West Virginia’s and the Bears did a great job of finding new go-to players and rebuilding a talented frontcourt.

First-Team All-Big 12:

  • Hield
  • Rico Gathers, Baylor – A second-team NBCSports.com All-American, Gathers averaged 11.6 points and 11.7 rebounds per game on 45 percent shooting. The forward also contributed 1.2 steals and 1 block a game.
  • Georges Niang, Iowa State – Another tough and efficient season for the junior forward as he averaged 15.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game while shooting tremendous splits (47% FG, 41% 3PT, 79% FT).
  • Perry Ellis, Kansas – The junior could miss the Big 12 Tournament with a sprained knee but he averaged 14.2 points and 7 rebounds per game on 47 percent shooting during a great season.
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia – Battling some injury this season, the senior was still great, averaging 14.5 points, 4.6 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game.

Second Team All-Big 12:

  • LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State
  • Taurean Prince, Baylor
  • Monte Morris, Iowa State
  • Kenny Chery, Baylor
  • Frank Mason III

CBT Prediction: Oklahoma rides the momentum of the win over Kansas and wins the Big 12 Tournament.

Big Ten Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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source: AP
(AP)

Since the beginning of the season, everyone knew that the Big Ten was Wisconsin’s to lose after returning four starters from last season’s Final Four team. Now that senior center Frank Kaminsky has emerged as the Player of the Year, the Badgers solidified themselves as a top-ten team all season and won the league by two full games over Maryland.

Speaking of Maryland, the Terps have been one of the biggest surprises in college basketball this season and they’ve emerged as a top-ten team and the Badgers’ biggest threat in the tournament. Mark Turgeon’s team is the only team in the Big Ten to beat Wisconsin with Frank Kaminsky this season and they know how to win in tight ball games thanks to their tremendous 75 percent free-throw shooting.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology

From there, the Big Ten gets a little muddy in the middle. Michigan State, Purdue, Iowa and Ohio State all finished within a game of each other in the league and Indiana and Illinois finished at .500 by faltering a bit down the stretch. Michigan also somehow finished 8-10 in the league despite significant injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton.

Just as we saw to start the season, Wisconsin is the the heavy favorite to win in Chicago. Let’s see if the Badgers can hold true on that like in the regular season and build some momentum towards the NCAA Tournament and a potential No. 1 seed.

Bracket

source:

 

MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

When: March 11-15

Where: United Center, Chicago

Final: March 15, 3:30 p.m. (CBS)

Favorite: Wisconsin

With a record of 16-2, the Badgers won the league by two full games. Senior center Frank Kaminsky is the leader for Player of the Year and along Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes, the trio forms a tremendously versatile and talented frontcourt. Sophomore Bronson Koenig has emerged as a steady replacement for injured senior Traevon Jackson and senior Josh Gasser can hit 3-pointers and also makes free throws at an 85 percent clip. As a team, Wisconsin is 13th in the country at 75 percent from the charity stripe. When the get ahead, they know how to close.

And if they lose?: Maryland

The Terps have ascended to No. 8 in the country and recently defeated the Badgers at home. Like Wisconsin, Maryland is great from the free-throw line, where they actually are better than the Badgers and rank No. 12 in the country. Freshman guard Melo Trimble is an NBCSports.com All-American this season as he leads a trio of talented scorers along with senior guard Dez Wells and junior forward Jake Layman. It’s the first time Maryland will play in the Big Ten Tournament and it’ll be interesting to see how they handle it. They’ve been one of the pleasant surprises of college basketball this season.

Other Contenders

  • Michigan State: The Spartans seem to always peak in March and Tom Izzo’s team has played better down the stretch with some minor exceptions. Senior Branden Dawson is a warrior and junior Denzel Valentine is a jack-of-all-trades wing.
  • Purdue: The Boilers sport some of the most talented big men in the Big Ten with junior center A.J. Hammons and his 7-foot-2 backup in freshman Isaac Haas. It also helps they get an additional bye over Iowa

Sleeper: Iowa

Winners of six games in a row, Iowa is playing with a lot of confidence heading into the Big Ten Tournament. Senior forward Aaron White has put up some stellar performances and he’s surrounded by an experienced and deep team.

Deeper Sleeper: Ohio State

The front court for the Buckeyes can be dreadful at times, but freshman guard and NBCSports.com first-team All-American D’Angelo Russell has been sensational this season. Russell is talented enough to take a game over and senior guard Shannon Scott can also set up others for easy baskets.

Big Ten Player of the Year: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

What can be said about Kaminsky that hasn’t already been said this season? He’s been remarkable in nearly every facet of the game and somehow exceeded expectations entering the year. The senior led Wisconsin in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks and shoots 41 percent from 3-point range.

Big Ten Coach of the Year: Mark Turgeon, Maryland

Before the season, Turgeon was a major candidate on the hot seat after losing five players to transfer. Now? He’s coaching a top-ten team in his first season in a brand-new league. Tremendous turnaround year for Turgeon and the Maryland program and the head coach deserves a lot of credit for melding a talented freshman class together with the returning pieces he had left.

First-Team All-Big Ten:

  • Kaminsky
  • D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State – Russell averaged 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range. The smooth lefty also throws some of the prettiest assists in all of basketball.
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland – One of the best closers in college basketball, Trimble shoots 87 percent from the free-throw line and helped the Terps go 11-0 in games decided by six points or less this season.
  • Branden Dawson, Michigan State – In the final go-around for the senior forward, Dawson averaged 11.6 points and a conference-leading 9.3 rebounds per game. Dawson also shot 54 percent from the field.
  • Yogi Ferrell, Indiana – Although Indiana has struggled down the stretch, the electric junior guard is averaging 16 points, 5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game with efficient splits (44% FG, 42% 3PT, 84% FT) 

Second Team All-Big Ten:

  • Dez Wells, Maryland
  • D.J. Newbill, Penn State
  • Aaron White, Iowa
  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
  • A.J. Hammons, Purdue

CBT Prediction: Wisconsin takes down Maryland as the Big Ten’s two best square off in the title game.

Southland Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

(Stephen F. Austin's Thomas Walkup/Getty Images)
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(Stephen F. Austin’s Thomas Walkup/Getty Images)

 READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology | The updated top 25

The Southland may be a one-bid league, but they have one of the best mid-major teams in the country in Stephen F. Austin and plenty of star power throughout the league. The Lumberjacks will look to make the Big Dance for the second consecutive season, as they’ve only dropped one Southland game in the last two seasons while they had a 19-game winning streak at one point during the year. But Brad Underwood’s team will be challenged by a balanced and talented Sam Houston State team and a No. 3 seed in Texas A&M Corpus-Christi that beat both the Lumberjacks and Bearkats this season. And you can’t forget about No. 4 seed Northwestern State, who has one of the nation’s best set-up guys in Jalan West (tied for national lead with 7.5 apg) and the nation’s second-leading scorer in sophomore Zeek Woodley (22.4 ppg)

The Bracket

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When: March 11-14

Where: Leonard E. Merrell Center, Katy, Texas

Final: Saturday, March 14, 9:30 p.m., ESPN2

READ MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

Favorite: Stephen F. Austin

After going unbeaten in the Southland last season, Stephen F. Austin is once again a strong contender to take the auto bid for the conference. The Lumberjacks took home the Southland regular-season crown for the third consecutive season and they only have one conference loss in the last two years.

And if they lose?: Sam Houston State

The Bearkats went 15-3 in league play and only lost to Texas A&M Corpus-Christi outside of being swept by Stephen F. Austin. Southland Defensive Player of the Year Michael Holyfield is a force inside and he leads a balanced team that has a remarkable seven scorers averaging between 7.6 and 10.9 points per game this season.

Sleepers:

  • Texas A&M Corpus-Christi – Led by talented point guard John Jordan, the No. 3 seed in the Southland Tournament is the only team in the league to beat Stephen F. Austin in the last two years.
  • Northwestern State – The Demons have the league’s best one-two punch in point guard Jalan West, who is tied for first in the NCAA in assists per game, and sophomore guard Zeek Woodley, who was second in the nation in scoring at 22.4 points per game.

Player of the Year: Thomas Walkup, Stephen F. Austin

Assuming more of a leadership role in his junior season, Walkup became the leading scorer (15.5 ppg) and rebounder (6.5 rpg) at Stephen F. Austin while also leading the team in field-goal percentage (56 percent). Walkup has now been apart of three Southland regular-season titles in his three years with the program.

Coach of the Year: Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin

The second-year head coach of the Lumberjacks had another remarkable season, as he has Stephen F. Austin in position to potentially be in another NCAA Tournament. Underwood also has the most wins of any second-year coach in NCAA history, as his 59 wins in two seasons surpassed North Carolina’s Bill Guthridge.

All-Southland Team:

  • Walkup
  • Jalan West, Northwestern State – Tied for the national lead for assists per game (7.5 apg), the junior point guard was also third in the Southland in scoring (19.2 ppg) and steals (2.2 spg) and pulled down 4.1 rebounds per game.
  • Desharick Guidry, McNeese State -Sixth in the nation in rebounding at 11.2 boards per contest, the senior also averaged 17.4 points per game.
  • Denzel Livingston, Incarnate Word – The 6-foot-4 senior averaged 22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.5 steals a game for the Cardinals. Livingston’s low point total in a game this season was 11.
  • Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin – Walkup’s main running mate had ridiculous shooting splits (53% FG, 47% 3PT, 82% FT) and the senior forward averaged 14.2 points, 5.7 rebounds per game.

CBT PREDICTION: Stephen F. Austin over Sam Houston State