Oklahoma State Cowboys

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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

2 Comments

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

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

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

No. 6 Baylor wins at Oklahoma State, but near-collapse raises concerns

AP Photo/Brody Schmidt
Leave a comment

So much of this season has been about Baylor putting its reputation to rest. The Bears, under Scott Drew, have been the subject of so much ridicule over the years despite a high level of winning because they always seem to have a proclivity for doing some silly things on the court that costs them wins in inexplicable ways.

That’s mostly been a thing of the past this season as Baylor rose all the way to a No. 1 ranking and went into play Wednesday with a 20-3 record, though with some questions due to a two-game losing streak.

That skid was snapped in a 72-69 win at Oklahoma State, but the questions aren’t going anywhere after the Bears flirted with a meltdown of significant proportion.

After an up-to-that-point strong road performance, the final 4 minutes was a nightmare that the Bears woke up for just in time to secure a victory.

Manu Lecomte’s 3-pointer with just over four minutes to play seemingly sealed the game for Baylor when it put them up 14, but then the Bears just self destructed.

They went 0 of 3 from the floor with four turnovers in the last 4 minutes, allowing Oklahoma State to pull within one and actually have possession of the ball with a chance to take the lead with under a minute to play.

Baylor got a stop, two free throws from Lecomte and then survived a last-season heave from Phil Forte to finally close things out after needlessly turning a sure thing into almost-disaster. 

A road win is a road win, and Baylor has to be thrilled with the way it competed for 36 minutes. Johnathan Motley was unstoppable, scoring 24 points on 9 of 12 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds. Lecomte had 15 points and four assists Jo Lual-Acuil had three blocks. It was a gutty performance against a Cowboys squad that has been on a tear, winning five straight.

Those last four minutes, though, have to concern Baylor. They went from unflappable to skittish. Turnovers were an issue in their back-to-back losses to Kansas and Kansas State that preceded their trip to Stillwater and they certainly were a culprit in the shellacking they took at the hands of West Virginia earlier this season. Seeing how Baylor nearly folded against Oklahoma State’s pressure late only stokes fear that Baylor’s got a ballhandling problem. That’s not something you want in the NCAA tournament.

For the Cowboys, it’s a missed opportunity as they try to pull out of hole their 0-5 start to Big 12 play created. Baylor was the superior team for the vast majority of the game, but when you get a chance to steal a victory in the final minute at home against a top-10 team, it’s going to sting when you don’t capitalize. That pain will be especially acute if Oklahoma State finds itself on the wrong side of the bubble in a month.

For Baylor, the task will be to ramp back up to a high level of play and consistency over the next week-plus ahead of Kansas’ visit to Waco on Feb. 18. The last week has been shaky for the Bears, but if they can steady themselves, that No. 1 seed is still very much in play.

Team of the Week: Butler Bulldogs

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Butler put together a fairly dominating performance on Saturday, beating No. 9 Indiana 83-78 in a game they lead by 14 at halftime. Kelan Martin led the way with 28 points for the Bulldogs, who suddenly look like a team that we need to talk about at the top of the Big East this season.

They’re one of just two teams this season to beat the Hoosiers, who own wins over top ten teams North Carolina and Kansas. They’re one of just two teams to beat Arizona this season. They’ve beaten Cincinnati. They’ve beaten Vanderbilt and Northwestern. They won at Utah. Their lone loss on the season came on the road to an in-state rival that will likely finish in the top four of one of the best mid-major leagues in the country.

They have a star in Martin. They have a pair of talented point guards, Tyler Lewis and Kamar Baldwin, who compliment each other so well. Andrew Chrabacsz and Tyler Wideman makeup an underrated front court. Chris Holtmann has proven to be one of the best young coaches in the game.

Look, I don’t think anyone believes Butler is going to win the Big East barring some kind of season-altering injury to Villanova.

But is there really any reason to believe that the Bulldogs can’t finish second in the Big East?

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Takeaways

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

THEY WERE GOOD TOO

  • Purdue: The Boilermakers came back from 17 points down in the first half to knock off Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic on Saturday. Caleb Swanigan was the star, but credit has to be given to Vince Edwards as well. He played his best basketball of the season, finishing with 20 points and 10 boards.
  • Arizona: Give Sean Miller and Arizona credit. This team, with Ray Smith done for the year, Parker Jackson-Cartwright injured and Allonzo Trier out, just keeps winning. On Saturday, they handed Texas A&M a loss in Houston in the Lone Star Shootout, and while Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins all have continued to improve this season, it was Dusan Ristic who was the star on Saturday.
  • Seton Hall: The Pirates landed a key win in their push to get a bid to the NCAA tournament by handing South Carolina their first loss of the season. The Pirates may be without Isaiah Whitehead this season, but they still have a roster full of scrappy, athletic veterans that are not going to back down from anyone. I don’t know if anyone plays as hard as Angel Delgado.
  • Oklahoma State: The Cowboys picked up their biggest win of the season on Saturday, as they went into Wichita and knocked off the Shockers in a dominating performance. Brad Underwood has had this group playing better this season, but this was really the first time that the Pokes have landed a resulted that backs that up.
  • Northwestern: Is this going to be the year that the Wildcats finally make it to the NCAA tournament? They still have a ton of work left to do, but the job got a little bit easier on Saturday as Northwestern knocked off Dayton in the United Center in Chicago. Chris Collins has that team sitting at 9-2 on the season, with the losses coming by a total of six points against Butler and Notre Dame. They’ve beaten Texas, DePaul and Wake Forest already this year, but Dayton has a chance to be a top 25 win come Selection Sunday.

Jawun Evans sits out Oklahoma State win with shoulder injury

Darryl Oumi/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Oklahoma State’s star point guard Jawun Evans was unavailable in a 71-67 win at Tulsa on Saturday afternoon due to a shoulder injury he suffered in practice.

The injury is reportedly a sprained AC joint, which will be concerning to Cowboy fans considering that Evans missed the end of the 2015-16 season with a shoulder injury that required surgery.

The good news?

This injury is not only not serious, it’s to the other shoulder.

Evans has been in the top ten of the NBC Sports Player of the Year Power Rankings all season long.

No. 4 North Carolina rolls over Oklahoma State in Maui

Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) North Carolina has won the Maui Invitational three times, championships that were a springboard to two national titles and a trip to the Final Four.

Keep playing like this and the Tar Heels could be looking at a repeat performance.

Joel Berry III scored 24 points, Justin Jackson added 22 and No. 4 North Carolina steamrolled its way into the Maui Invitational championship game Tuesday night with a 107-75 victory over Oklahoma State.

“We played a level much higher than at any other time this year,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said.

The Tar Heels were warned about Oklahoma State’s pressing defense, one that effectively disrupted the Cowboys’ four previous opponents.

But North Carolina (6-0) dominated the Cowboys from the start, building a 12-point lead in the opening 4 1/2 minutes. The Tar Heels kept their foot down, shooting 57 percent and going 8 of 17 from 3-point range while smothering Oklahoma State at the other end.

Next up is No. 16 Wisconsin in Wednesday’s championship game for a chance at their fourth Maui title.

“At pregame meal, they weren’t trying to scare us, just prepare us for what was to come,” said Berry, who had five rebounds, four assists and three steals. “We came out and hit them first.”

The Cowboys (4-1) had no answer.

Oklahoma State’s press was picked apart by the long, athletic Tar Heels, and the Cowboys couldn’t stop them in the half court, either.

Jawun Evans had 30 points on 13-of-25 shooting, but got little help from his Oklahoma State teammates on the offensive end. The Cowboys shot 36 percent and were 6 of 22 from 3-point range.

“Boy, did they punch us in the mouth early and it was an uphill battle from there,” coach Brad Underwood said. “They are a very, very good basketball team and if we play another team that good, I hope that it’s deep in March and we’ve had time to grow.”

North Carolina needed a little warmup time against Chaminade in the opening round before dominating the Silverswords inside for a 104-61 win.

The Tar Heels jumped on the Cowboys from the opening tip, scoring inside and out. North Carolina hit seven of its first 13 shots to open with a 16-4 run and kept pouring `em in.

The Tar Heels hit 18 of 32 shots, going 4 of 7 on 3s, and led 51-38 at halftime.

Oklahoma State’s first-half offense was all Evans. He had 20 points on 9-of-16 shooting while the rest of the Cowboys were 4 of 21.

North Carolina hit a couple of quick baskets to open the second half, prompting Underwood to call a timeout.

It did little good.

The Tar Heels continued to pour it on, stretching the lead to 67-42 in the opening 4 minutes and cruising from there.

“They jumped on us right at the start of the second half and the game pretty much was never in doubt,” Underwood said.

BIG PICTURE

The Cowboys had little impact on North Carolina with their pressure defense and need to find someone besides Evans to carry some of the scoring load.

The Tar Heels showed just how good they can be with a dominating performance at both ends to set up what should be a fantastic final in Maui.

BALANCED SCORING

Berry and Jackson were the scoring leaders, but North Carolina spread it around, finishing with six players in double figures.

Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley had 13 points each, Nate Britt finished with 12 and Kennedy Meeks had 10.

“To see six players in double figures, that’s pretty crazy against a very good team,” Jackson said.

UP NEXT

Oklahoma State will face Georgetown in the third-place game on Wednesday.

North Carolina faces No. 16 Wisconsin in Wednesday’s title game.

Top-25 guard trims list to six

2 Comments

One of the top points guards in the Class of 2017 has trimmed his list of potential collegiate destinations to six.

Trae Young, a consensus top-25 recruit, listed Texas Tech, Kansas, Oklahoma, Washington, Oklahoma State and Kentucky as the schools he is considering as he readies to begin his senior year of high school.

The list of the 6-foot-2 point guard is largely provincial as it includes Oklahoma, whose campus is just minutes away from Young’s Norman North High School, and fellow in-state school Oklahoma. Another pair of Big 12 schools make the list in powerhouse Kansas and the Red Raiders, whose first-year coach, Chris Beard, has spent the bulk of his career working in Texas. Texas Tech is also Young’s father’s alma mater. Washington has been on a role sending its players to the pros and recently received the commitment of top-five 2017 recruit Michael Porter, Jr.

Kentucky, of course, needs no explanation as to its attractiveness to high-level players.