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March Madness 2017: Big 12 Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Big 12 Player of the Year: Frank Mason III, Kansas

Mason’s play this season makes him the no-brainer conference player of the year and perhaps the frontrunner for the national award. He’s averaging 20.5 points, 5.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 48.8 percent from the field and a sizzling 49.3 percent from 3-point range for the potential No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

Big 12 Coach of the Year: Bill Self, Kansas

There was a temptation to reward Brad Underwood for Oklahoma State’s turnaround, but it’s impossible not to recognize Self leading his program not only to a 13th-straight conference title, but doing it by four games in the country’s toughest league. Kansas may have the top talent in the league year in and year out, but Self’s presence on the sideline guarantees it comes together year in and year out. This season was no exception.

First-Team All-Big 12:

  • Frank Mason III, Kansas (POY)
  • Monte Morris, Iowa State: The nation’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio is as consistent an elite presence on the floor as there is in the country.
  • Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: The most dynamic and important piece of the country’s best offense, Evans averaged 18.7 points per game.
  • Josh Jackson, Kansas: Mason is Kansas’ MVP, but Jackson is the Jayhawks’ most difficult matchup and is a likely top-five NBA draft pick.
  • Johnathan Motley, Baylor: The big man doubled his rebounding output this season to average a double-double of 17.5 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Second Team All-Big 12:

  • Jevon Carter, West Virginia
  • Jeffrey Carroll, Oklahoma State
  • Devonte Graham, Kansas
  • Deonte Burton, Iowa State
  • Jo Lual-Acuil, Baylor

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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The thought was coming into the year that the Big 12 would be down this season, but for the fourth-straight year it ranked as the country’s best conference by KenPom. Another thing that didn’t change was Kansas winning the league, making it 13 in a row for the Jayhawks. The league isn’t going to send a huge number to the NCAA tournament this season, but make no mistake, the conference’s round-robin schedule was a grind, making it all the more impressive Kansas cleared the league by four games.

The Bracket

When: March 8-11

Where: Sprint Center; Kansas City, Mo.

Final: Saturday, March 11, 6 p.m.

Favorite: Kansas

The Jayhawks are clearly the class of the Big 12, winning the conference by its largest margin since 2010. Kansas isn’t invulnerable at the Sprint Center, as the rest of the league has more than enough firepower to threaten them, but there’s no argument that makes anyone else the favorite.

And if they lose?: West Virginia

The Mountaineers should have swept Kansas this year. They rocked them in Morgantown, but blew a late lead in spectacular fashion in Lawrence later in the season. Their Press Virginia style seems to seriously bother the Jayhawks, and it could make for a raucous title game.

MORGANTOWN, WV - JANUARY 24: Head coach Bob Huggins of the West Virginia Mountaineers reacts to a call in the second half during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at WVU Coliseum on January 24, 2017 in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
Bob Huggins (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Baylor: The Bears went 2-4 against the top-four of the conference, but their length and the talent of Johnathan Motley makes them an intriguing matchup
  • Iowa State: The Cyclones have won six of their last seven and three members of their core — Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas — who have won two Big 12 tournament titles in their career. They’ve also have claimed wins against each of the other top teams in the league this year.

Sleeper: Oklahoma State

The Cowboys opened the Big 12 slate with six-straight losses, but then won nine of 10 before ending the season with losses to Iowa State and Kansas. Their defense is porous, but their top-ranked KenPom offense, led by point guard Jawun Evans, makes them a legitimate threat to reel off three wins in three days.

The Bubble Dwellers: One

  • Kansas State: Most projections have the Wildcats just on the bad side of the field of 68 line, which means they’ll probably have to score a win against Baylor in the quarterfinals to move the needle. Depending on what happens around the rest of the country, that one more win could be enough to earn a berth.

Defining moment of the season: Kansas erasing a 14-point deficit in the final three minutes at home against West Virginia. This is Peak Phog Allen.

CBT Prediction: Kansas

Ending perfection: Team that nearly beat both Gonzaga and Baylor gives their thoughts

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And then there were two.

Baylor and Gonzaga stand as the last two undefeated teams of the 2016-17 season with matching 15-0 records. The Bears have ascended to No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 while the ‘Zags are fifth. Together, they’ve played a combined eight games that have been decided by single digits as they’ve run to their perfect records.

One team nearly gave both their first L of the season, playing them to a one-possession game with an opportunity to take the final shot of the game.

Iowa State has come as close as anyone at topping the nation’s last blemish-free programs. The Cyclones lost to Gonzaga, 73-71, in November, and to Baylor, 65-63, last week.

“They’re 30-0,” Cyclones coach Steve Prohm told NBCSports.com, “and we were in a possession game with both of them.”

Baylor faces its toughest test of the season tonight at No. 10 West Virginia while Gonzaga has Loyola Marymount on Thursday before hosting No. 21 St. Mary’s on Saturday.

Here’s what Iowa State had to say about the two teams still hanging on to perfection.

What’s allowed them to remain undefeated?

Prohm: “The length, the size up front, the skill. When you’re building a team, that’s what you look at. You want a skilled four, you want a five with motor, back to the basket and then guards who can make plays off the dribble and make shots. I think Gonzaga’s guards are terrific. They shot it really well against us. We gave them too many threes.

“Both coaches do a great job. They both recruit really, really well. They’ve done a great job.”

How to beat Gonzaga

Prohm: “Gonzaga really, really wants to get that thing up and down the floor. The biggest thing against Gonzaga is you’ve got to slow them down and then you’ve got to decide how you want to guard (7-foot center Przemek) Karnowski. Do you want to play him one-on-one, double him? The one thing we had success is we were able to run them over some and slow them down with some three-quarter court pressure to slow the game down a little bit.

“The more you can slow them down, change defenses is big.”

Point guard Monte Morris: “It’s going to be a night where they’re not shooting it great.”

How to beat Baylor

Prohm: “They don’t attack all night. Gonzaga wants to be in the 90s. Baylor’s OK with 65-63 because they’re going to slow you down on their end of the floor defensively because they’re going to make you work against their zone.”

Morris: “Guys making shots out of the zone. It’s about guarding them well, slowing (Johnathan) Motley down and making other guys make plays, and your guys making plays.”

Baylor and Obi Enechionyia of Temple offer stand out performances

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Obi Enechionyia, Temple

Enechionyia led Temple to a pair of massive wins over ranked teams this week, as the Owls left New York with the Preseason NIT title. Against No. 25 Florida State in the semifinals, Enechionyia finished with 16 points, eight boards and six blocks and followed that up with 22 points, 12 boards and five blocks in a win over No. 19 West Virginia.

What made those performances even more impressive and important was the fact that the Owls had entered the tournament with two ugly losses already on their résumé. It’s never too early to start thinking about what needs to get done to win an at-large bid, and with the American looking like it won’t be stockpiled with quality wins and a loss to New Hampshire already hanging over their head, this was something Temple desperately needed.

They were good, too

  • Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: The Gamecocks sure were impressive this week, beating No. 25 Michigan and No. 18 Syracuse. Thornwell was the guy that led the way, averaging 18.5 points, 8.0 boards and 4.0 assists.
  • Johnathan Motley, Baylor: Motley was the best player on the floor for the Bears in their run to the Battle 4 Atlantis title. His best performance came against No. 24 Michigan State, when he had 26 points and 12 boards.
  • Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Berry outplayed Jawun Evans in a blowout win over Oklahoma State then put 22 points, three assists and three boards up on No. 16 Wisconsin.
  • Bryson Scott, Fort Wayne: Scott, native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, that started his career at Purdue, had 18 points, 12 boards, three assists and three steals as the Mastadons beat Indiana in Fort Wayne. That’s a good day.
  • Matt Farrell, Notre Dame: Farrell averaged 19.0 points and 6.0 assists as the Irish dispatched Northwestern and Colorado en route to the Legends Classic title.
PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Johnathan Motley #5 of the Baylor Bears looks on in the second half against the Yale Bulldogs during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Johnathan Motley (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Baylor Bears

The Bears entered the season as a team that no one was paying attention to and have since gone on to be arguably the most impressive team in the sport to date. After their performance winning the Battle 4 Atlantis, if the NCAA tournament were to start today, Baylor would be the No. 1 overall seed. That’s mostly because they’ve played a lot of good teams already and other teams haven’t yet, but to date, this is who Baylor has beaten: No. 13 Oregon, VCU, No. 24 Michigan State and No. 10 Louisville, the latter of which came after the Cardinals built a 22-point lead in the first half.

And here’s the best part: Scott Drew is doing all of this with a team full of over-achievers. Remember all that talk about how Drew couldn’t coach and all he could do was recruit? Well, this team is mostly made up of three-star prospects with a few four-star guys sprinkled in.

They were good, too

  • Gonzaga: The Zags won the Advocare Invitational and picked up wins over No. 21 Iowa State and Miami to make it happen.
  • Fort Wayne: How about the Mastadons, who knocked off No. 3 Indiana in Fort Wayne!
  • Butler: The Bulldogs landed an upset of their own this week, as they picked off No. 8 Arizona to win a tournament in Las Vegas.
  • UCLA: The Bruins finally faced a test and passed with flying colors, taking home the Wooden Legacy title.
  • Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish went 3-0 this week, which included the Legends Classic title.

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FIVE HOT #TAEKS FROM THE WEEK

1. North Carolina deserves to be mentioned with the best teams in the country: The Tar Heels improved to 7-0 on the season with four wins in Hawai’i this week, including a 15-point win over No. 16 Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational title game. Much was made of the departure of Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson this offseason, and while the Tar Heels found themselves in the national title game less than eight months ago, it’s not a stretch to say that this team has played as well as – if not better – than last year’s team did.

Joel Berry II has looked like North Carolina’s next great point guard. Justin Jackson is playing well on the wing while Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley have combined to average 39.0 points and 22.4 boards between them. The Tar Heels are hitting 39.2 percent from three. They’ve hit for 100 points twice, cracked 90 in three other games and have, just once, scored less than 83 points. That came in the Maui title game against the notoriously-slow Badgers.

“UNC is just too big and too fast,” said a coach who has scouted the Tar Heels. “They just kill you on the break and score in bunches.”

2. Melo Trimble is college basketball’s best closer: When Melo was a freshman, he developed a reputation for being a guy that always, always, always made the big shot or the big play in the critical moment. That’s why Maryland, who was not all that talented that year, was able to finish with a better seed in the NCAA tournament than the last year’s team, which was a preseason favorite to win the title.

It looks like this year is going to be a repeat of his freshman season. The Terps moved to 7-0 on the season with a 69-68 win over Kansas State on Saturday night. Five of those seven wins have come by single digits, and Trimble has made critical plays down the stretch in all five. On Saturday, he scored eight of Maryland’s last ten points, including two layups in the last 20 seconds to erase a three-point deficit. Against Richmond, he had nine points in the last 1:30 and overtime. Against Georgetown, he had 11 points in the last 3:31, including four points in the final 11 seconds. And against Towson, he had 12 points and two assists in the final ten minutes, as Maryland erased 13-point deficit.

In the wins over Towson, Georgetown and Kansas State, Trimble scored the winning points in the final minute.

Three game-winners in three weeks is pretty good.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Melo Trimble #2 of the Maryland Terrapins celebrates after hitting the game winning shot as they defeated the Kansas State Wildcats 69-68 during the championship game of the Barclays Center Classic at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Melo Trimble (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

3. Is this Virginia’s best defensive team?: We’ve long known that Tony Bennett’s teams are great on the defensive end of the floor, but has he ever had a team that has been defending this well? Through six games, they’ve yet to give up more than 52 points. Their opponents are averaging just 41.3 points and shooting just 31.7 percent from the floor, and that includes games against Iowa – who mustered just 41 points against the ‘Hoos – and Providence. Yale, who scored 98 points in a win at Washington, scored 38 points at Virginia.

“Best defense I have ever seen,” said a coach that played against UVA this season. “They are like boa constrictor, just make you work so damn hard for everything. They wear you out with their offense, too, so when you actually get an open shot, it doesn’t go in.”

Think about this stat for a second: In the 15 seasons that KenPom.com has been in existence, the lowest ever points-per-possession recorded by a defense had been 0.843 PPP, which was done by Stephen F. Austin in 2012. The record-low for a high-major team was 0.847 PPP by the 2015 Kentucky team that started out the year 38-0. Through six games this year, Virginia is allowing just 0.708 PPP.

4. Louisville isn’t winning much if they can’t figure out how to shoot: The Cardinals have one of the nation’s elite defenses this season, but that defense is only going to get them so far if they cannot find a way to score. Through five games, the Cardinals rank 287th in effective field goal percentage. They’re making just 32 percent of their threes and 65.2 percent of their free throws. The biggest culprits? Donovan Mitchell, Quentin Snider and Deng Adel. Snider and Adel are both shooting under 30 percent from the floor on the season; Mitchell is under 40 percent.

This team does everything else well. They don’t turn the ball over, they get to the offensive glass, they’re one of the nation’s best defensively, but until they can find a way to score consistently – and find a go-to guy – they’ll be very beatable once teams figure out how to beat their defense.

Just like Baylor did on Friday.

5. Deonte Burton showed his importance to Iowa State in Orlando: Burton averaged 25.0 points, 9.5 boards and 1.5 blocks in Iowa State’s 73-56 win over Miami and their 73-71 loss to No. 11 Gonzaga this week. The Cyclones have no size this season. The 6-foot-5 Burton is their starting power forward, and he spends time playing the five as well. If Iowa State is going to be as good as they expect to be this year, Burton is going to have to play the way that he did this week, taking advantage of mismatches against bigger defenders offensively while holding his own in the paint on the defensive end of the floor.

Burton was not great in the first two weeks of the season. When Iowa State looked their best this week, Burton was the best player on the floor. That’s not a coincidence.

SET YOUR DVR

No. 18 Syracuse at No. 16 Wisconsin, Tues. 7:00 p.m.
No. 24 Michigan State at No. 6 Duke, Tues. 9:30 p.m.
No. 17 Purdue at No. 10 Louisville, Weds. 7:15 p.m.
No. 4 North Carolina at No. 3 Indiana, Weds. 9:15 p.m.
No. 14 UCLA at No. 1 Kentucky, Sat. 12:30 p.m.
No. 19 West Virginia at No. 7 Virginia, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 9 Xavier at No. 20 Baylor, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
No. 11 Gonzaga at No. 8 Arizona, Sat. 5:30 p.m.

No. 11 Gonzaga survives comeback attempt from No. 21 Iowa State

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Nigel Williams-Goss had 18 points and No. 11 Gonzaga hit 13 threes to beat No. 21 Iowa State, 73-71, for the title in the Advocare Invitational.

Gonzaga took a 49-34 lead into the break as we saw just how good this Zags team can be on the offensive end of the floor.

They began the game on fire from beyond the arc, as Josh Perkins and Nigel Williams-Goss couldn’t miss.

When Iowa State was forced to try and run the shooters off the three-point line, it opened up the paint for Gonzaga’s massive front court to take advantage of Iowa State’s lack of size.

None of that should surprise you.

We knew how good this Gonzaga team could and should be this season.

They should have cruised through this tournament field relatively unscathed, but Iowa State gave them a fight in the second half on Sunday afternoon.

And that, to me, was the real story of the Advocare Invitational.

More than the 29 points, 12 boards and two blocks that Deonte Burton produced on Sunday – critical in its own right, which I’ll get to in a second – what was so impressive about this game was the fact that Iowa State was able to fight back from a huge hole based on the strength of their defense just a day after holding Miami to .789 points-per-possession in a semifinals win.

Iowa State held Gonzaga to just 24 second half points and 29.7 percent shooting from the floor. After the Zags torched them for 22 points in the paint in the first half, Iowa State held a team with four players taller than the tallest Cyclone to just four points in the paint in the final 20 minutes. At the same time, the Cyclones were able to get seven offensive rebounds and eight second-chance points, which matters because it proves that their attempts at playing small-ball can work against the biggest teams in the country.

That’s where Burton comes into the equation.

He had 21 of his 29 points in the second half. He was hitting jumpers when bigger Gonzaga defenders played off of him and beating them off the dribble when they came out to respect his stroke. He almost single-handedly forced Gonzaga to switch to a 2-3 zone, and then became the thorn in their side in the lane, getting to the offensive glass and routinely finding space along the baseline to score.

And he did all of that while holding his own in the paint defensively against the likes of Johnathan Williams III, Zach Collins and Killian Tillie.

He even blocked a layup attempt from Przemek Karnowski for good measure.

We cannot expect this kind of performance from Burton on a nightly basis. In fact, if he’s shown us anything throughout his career, it’s that inconsistency is about the only thing he does consistently.

But at least we know now what he can do when he’s playing well.

And Steve Prohm knows that this experiment with small-ball is something that should have success this season.

Deonte Burton, No. 21 Iowa State breeze past Miami

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A day after the Cyclones struggled to knock off Indiana State, No. 21 Iowa State pulled away late to knock off Miami is what was their best performance of the year to date.

Iowa State won 73-56, and in a vacuum, that score is promising. The question mark with this team is on the defensive end of the floor, and holding a team like Miami to 56 points is unquestionably a good performance.

But there’s more to this that we need to talk about.

For starters, Iowa State’s win came in a game where Monte’ Morris and Naz Long barely showed up. Morris had just six points and five assists while shooting 2-for-8 from the floor while Long was 4-for-13 from the floor and 2-for-9 from three. Entering the year, those were arguably Iowa State’s two best and most important players.

And then there is Deonte Burton. He’s the guy that can be called the x-factor for this team. A freak of an athlete, Burton is a versatile, 6-foot-5 forward that Iowa State needs to play something of a Draymond Green role is they are going to be as good as their fan base wants them to be. On Friday, he looked like he could be that guy. Playing by far his best game of the season, Burton finished with 21 points and seven boards, hitting his first two threes of the season and setting the tone early.

It’s a promising performance for the Cyclones, who will play the winner of No. 11 Gonzaga and Florida in the Advocare Invitational title game on Sunday.

Cyclones add big man for 2017

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Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.