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VIDEO: Jevon Carter drills half-courter before halftime

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Jevon Carter is known for his defense, but the West Virginia senior delivered a serious highlight from the other end of the floor against Baylor.

Like, literally from the other end of the floor.

Carter, the Big 12 defensive player of the year, connected on a 60-foot heave right before halftime to put West Virginia up 29-23 over the Bears after 20 minutes.

Trae Young may have been bounced from the Big 12 tournament, but there are still some guys in Kansas City with serious range.

Big 12 Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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While the final standings of the Big 12 may have been predictable, the conference’s tournament is going to be anything but. When a league is projected to get up to 80 percent of its members into the NCAA tournament, “anything is possible” isn’t a cliche or tired slogan, it’s honestly a reality.

Kansas won its 14th-straight Big 12 regular season title, setting the standard for dominance in this recent era, but the Jayhawks did it this season without an overwhelming talent or athletic advantage that has so often been the mark of Bill Self’s teams. In fact, there was a fleeting moment when it looked like the Jayhawks’ streak may come to an end. It was a moment, albeit a silly one.

The story of the Big 12 tournament is that there are legitimately nine teams that conceivably could be the last one standing at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, and the 10th-place team, Iowa State, has been beset by injuries but the Cyclones have won three of the last four Big 12 tournaments, boast a fanbase that invades Kansas City and have three wins over ranked teams themselves.

So the question becomes not only who will win the Big 12 tournament, but how many teams will the league get into the Big Dance? If it’s eight, that will set a record for highest percentage of a conference’s teams earning bids ever. Things may have to break just right – and if they break perfectly maybe we’re talking about nine – that might be the most likely scenario, not just a long-shot one.

It’s the Big 12. Who knows what’s going to happen?

 

THE FAVORITE

Despite having perhaps his weakest and most ill-fitting roster, Bill Self got the Jayhawks on top of the heap once again, even giving them enough leeway that dropping a second game to Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale didn’t hurt them. Kansas may not look like one of heavy national title contenders – despite being in line for a one-seed – in the eyes of most, but there’s pretty convincing argument that this is the most impressive of the Jayhawks’ 14 titles, especially when you consider the strength of the rest of the league

Still, the Jayhawks are vulnerable on a number of fronts. The defense can be beat, they’re 3-point dependent and Self has struggled to motivate some of his players at different times this season, complaining about effort and focus.

They’re the favorite, but not an overwhelming one.

THE CONTENDERS

If Keenan Evans doesn’t get hurt, we very well could be talking about Texas Tech as the team that finally ended Kansas’ reign. After looking like a potential Big 12 player of the year, a toe injury sapped Evans’ ability to the point where a player who was routinely putting up 30 a night suddenly couldn’t even crack double-digits. It’s not surprising the Red Raiders lost four-straight – and a potential conference crown – with Evans on the mend.

Evans, after missing a game against West Virginia, returned over the weekend and got 23 against TCU, signalling he may be ready to go this week and keep Kansas from winning another Big 12 title this season.

The other frontrunner here has to be Bob Huggins and West Virginia. The Mountaineers had a late-January lull, but have otherwise been solid. They don’t make a ton of shots, but here’s betting their style of play can wear down opponents in a game-a-day format.

WHO NEEDS A WIN THE MOST?

It’s easily Oklahoma. Sure, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State could all use a dub, but the Sooners would be toying with an epic and embarrassing collapse if they lose in the first round and somehow find themselves outside the Field of 68. This is a team that spent much of the season’s first two months looking like a Final Four contender while Trae Young carved up the country.

Now the Sooners are hanging on for dear life having lost seven of their last nine and Young looking completely human. They could lose to Oklahoma State on Wednesday and still sneak in, but they’ve got the most to lose should they falter.

WHO IS ON THE BUBBLE?

The Sooners’ spot is tenuous while Kansas State and Baylor both have to be thinking that one win in Kansas City ought to get them in the field. Oklahoma State probably will need a couple wins to counteract a non-conference schedule that features a win over Florida State and not a whole lot else. The good news for the Cowboys is it looks like they just might have the Jayhawks’ number should the two teams meet in Thursday’s quarterfinal.

THE SLEEPER

When Jaylen Fisher went down to injury, it was a major blow to TCU, but the Horned Frogs come to KC playing good ball. They fell to Texas Tech in the finale in Lubbock, but had won four-straight before that. Their offense is absolutely elite with plenty of shooters around Vlad Brodziansky, who can step out and stroke it himself. TCU’s defense may be suspect, but the way they can spread you out and fill it up makes them a sneaky pick to be hoisting a trophy Saturday night.

PLAYER TO WATCH

I know you’re probably tired of hearing and reading about him, but no player has more at stake at the Sprint Center than Trae Young. It wasn’t so long ago that you couldn’t mention his name without quickly comparing him to Steph Curry, and it was just a few weeks back when his lead in the national player of the year race looked insurmountable.

Young’s legacy as a college player will be decided in the next couple weeks. Well, it could be if the Sooners’ season doesn’t end Wednesday night. Whatever struggles Young has had the last few weeks – and he was right when he said he gets guarded like no other player in the country – he can quiet all his critics with one monster month of March.

X-FACTORS

– Teams are going to key on Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk and surround Udoka Azubuike, so Kansas is going to need to get contributions from Malik Newman. If Newman can provide some pop offensively, Kansas will be in good shape.

– How healthy is Mo Bamba? The Texas freshman is dealing with a toe injury that coach Shaka Smart said makes him questionable heading into play this week. The Longhorns may not need Bamba to get past Iowa State in their opener, but if they have designs on making a serious run this week, they’re going to need their man in the middle. When he’s on his game and playing at his best, he has the ability to completely change the dynamic of a game.

– Try making sense of Baylor. The Bears opened Big 12 play with 2-7 mark before reeling off five-straight to get back in to the NCAA tournament conversation. Now, though, Scott Drew’s team has lost three of its last four. The team that won five straight can win this thing. The team that started and finished the Big 12 slate could easily go out Thursday.

NBC SPORTS BIG 12 HONORS

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Devonte Graham, Kansas

COACH OF THE YEAR: Bill Self, Kansas

FIRST TEAM ALL-BIG 12

  • Devonte Graham, Kansas
  • Trae Young, Oklahoma
  • Keenan Evans, Texas Tech
  • Jevon Carter, West Virginia
  • Mohamed Bamba, Texas

SECOND TEAM ALL-BIG 12

  • Dean Wade, Kansas State
  • Sagaba Konate, West Virginia
  • Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas
  • Manu Lecomte, Baylor
  • Barry Brown, Kansas State

Monday’s Three Things To Know: Baylor keeps winning, Tar Heels stay surging and Bucknell caps a thriller

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1. BAYLOR BOLSTERS RESUME

It wasn’t even two weeks ago when Baylor was sitting in last place in the Big 12 with a 2-7 league record, the owners of a four-game losing streak and losers of six of their last seven. The Bears didn’t begin the season as Big 12 frontrunners or anything, but as January came to an end, they were undoubtedly the biggest disappointment in the conference.

That was then, though, and this is now, which happens to be a time when the Bears are squarely back in the NCAA tournament conversation after defeating Texas, 74-73 in double overtime, in Austin on Monday night to claim their-fourth straight win heading into a weekend matchup with No. 7 Texas Tech in Lubbock.

It’s been a stark turnaround for Scott Drew’s team, which look destined to languish at the bottom of the Big 12 standings and miss out on the Big Dance for the first time since 2013. Before February started, Baylor had zero road wins and only two top-50 KenPom victories to their name. Now? The Bears have wins at Texas and at Oklahoma State while doubling their KP top-50 wins. It’s a turnaround that borders on stunning given how quickly Baylor has played its way into tournament consideration. And West Virginia and Oklahoma still have to come to Waco, so the Bears will have ample opportunity to really build that resume without even leaving the Ferrell Center.

As big as the win was for Baylor, it’s equally distressing for Shaka Smart and the Longhorns, who have now lost three in a row and four of their last five. Now they’ve got back-to-back road games against Oklahoma and Kansas State on the docket, which threatens to turn this skid into a prolonged slide.

The Big 12 is a jumbled mess of parity right now. Rob Dauster does his best to parse the league in Monday night’s Bubble Banter.

2. TAR HEELS STAY SURGING

North Carolina has recovered nicely from the three-game losing streak it suffered to end January, and that resume rehabilitation continued Monday as the knocked off shorthanded Notre Dame, 83-66, with a late push that turned a tight game into a snooze.

The Tar Heels ended last month with losses at Virginia Tech and Clemson and a loss in Chapel Hill (in overtime) to NC State, but have since reeled off wins Pitt, Duke, the Wolfpack and now the Fighting Irish. No one is likely to catch Virginia in the ACC race, but North Carolina is doing its best to buoy its seed line in the regular season’s final month.

As for the close to the season for UNC, it’s, well, a bit of a killer. The Heels go to Louisville and Syracuse before hosting Miami and then hitting the road again to visit the Blue Devils in Durham to finish the regular season. It’s an absolute meat grinder.

3. BUCKNELL COMPLETES HUGE COMEBACK

A 10-point deficit with under 60 seconds ought to be an insurmountable obstacle. Don’t try telling that to Bucknell, though.

The Bison completed an amazing comeback in the game’s final seconds when Kimbal Mackenzie drilled a corner 3 as time expired to give Bucknell a one-point victory after staring defeat straight in the face just seconds earlier.

Click here for the blow-by-blow – and video of Mackenzie’s winner – of how the Bison mounted their comeback.

Baylor F Nuni Omot serves up vicious poster dunk

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The college basketball season isn’t even a week old and there’s already been a dunk that will likely make all of the end-of-season highlight montages come April. Baylor senior forward Nuni Omot was responsible for the dunk, which came with just over two minutes remaining in the Bears’ 70-46 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

Forward Elijah Schmidt did what he could to prevent the dunk, so he deserves some credit for not simply moving out of the way. That being said, he was overmatched on this one.

Yale’s Makai Mason will transfer to Baylor after next season

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Yale junior guard Makai Mason will transfer to Baylor … but not until the fall of 2018.

Sources confirmed to NBC Sports on Thursday evening that Mason will graduate from Yale next spring and will enroll at Baylor, eligible to play immediately for the 2018-19 season.

Andrew Slater of 247Sports first reported the news.

According to a source, he committed to Baylor after taking a visit in April.

Mason was the Ivy League Preseason Player of the Year but missed all of this past season due to a foot injury he suffered during a scrimmage. An archaic Ivy League rule prohibits student-athletes from redshirting due to athletic reasons. Student-athletes can apply for a fifth year but only if it’s based on academic reasons. It is the Ancient Eight’s way of emphasizing academics over athletics.

There’s a loophole, though. Withdrawing from the university and being readmitted for the following fall semester preserves that year of eligibility. Alex Rosenberg dropped out of Columbia in October 2014 when he suffered a fracture in his right foot only to return for his senior season next fall. Harvard point guard Siyani Chambers did the same thing, leaving school after tearing his ACL two summers ago. However, both of those injuries were at least conveniently timed. By the time Mason suffered his season-ending injury he was more than halfway through the semester.

The plan of finishing out the school year — and his undergraduate at Yale — and becoming an eventual graduate transfer was in his best interest. Mason, who declared for the NBA Draft in 2016 without hiring an agent, gets to earn a degree from an Ivy League school and then can use his final season of eligibility to prepare for the 2019 NBA Draft at a high-major school.

I’m sure any talks about Mason’s inevitable departure weren’t some of the best conversations the Yale coaching staff had but there doesn’t appear to be any sort of strained relationship. Two weeks ago, he was named the captain of this year’s team.

For Baylor, this is obviously a tremendous addition, especially with Manu Lecomte exhausting his eligibility at the end of the 2017-18 season.

Scott Drew and the Bears are very familiar with the type of offensive firepower Mason will bring to the program. He did hang 31 points on Baylor back in 2016 when the Bulldogs upset the Bears, 79-75, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Baylor’s Freeman to graduate and transfer

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Baylor is losing one of its contributors over the past three seasons.

Al Freeman, a 6-foot-3 guard, will graduate and transfer to another school, the Bears announced Tuesday.

“Al has been a tremendous student-athlete and made great contributions to our program over the last four years, and we’re thrilled that he’s going to complete his degree at Baylor,” Bears coach Scott Drew said in a statement. “He’ll always be part of the Baylor family, and we’ll be rooting for him as he continues his career.”

Freeman, who redshirted his freshman year due to a broken wrist, started 57 games during his career in Waco and averaged 8.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. He was a full-time starter as a sophomore, but made just 22 this past season and saw his minutes slashed.

As a graduate transfer, the Charlotte native will be immediately eligible at his next program for his final collegiate season.