2014 Big 12 Tournament Preview: This is going to be good

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If I could only watch one conference tournament this season, it would be the Big 12. That’s what happens when, barring an upset, all eight teams in the quarterfinals have a chance at playing their way into the Big Dance.

The matchups?

The juiciest.

RELATEDRead through NBCSports.com’s latest Bracketology

There’s No. 4 Iowa State and No. 5 Kansas State, two teams that are noted for being unbeatable on their home floors squaring off at a neutral site. No. 3 Texas, who came from nowhere this season to become an NCAA tournament team, takes on No. 6 West Virginia, who needs to make a run to the finals to have a shot at hearing their name called on Selection Sunday. If No. 7 Baylor can beat No. 10 TCU, the Bears will square off with No. 2 Oklahoma, with the best perimeter team in the conference taking on the team with the best front court. And if No. 8 Oklahoma State can get past No. 9 Texas Tech, they’ll take on No. 1 Kansas, a matchup that shouldn’t need explanation.

And that’s just the quarterfinals.

Did I mention they have great barbecue in Kansas City?

MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews

The Bracket

When: March 12-15

Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City

Final: March 15, ESPN

Favorite: Kansas Jayhawks

On paper, Kansas is the most talented team in the Big 12, maybe the country. They have the two guys that will go top three in the NBA Draft in June (Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid), another lottery pick (Wayne Selden) and an all-Big 12 caliber role player that could end up being a first round pick himself (Perry Ellis). As you’ve come to expect from a program that has won ten straight Big 12 regular season titles, they’re loaded.

MOREWhere did Andrew Wiggins rate as an NBCSports.com All-American?

But there are two things that could derail a Big 12 tournament title. The first is Embiid’s back. It’s balky. He’s getting a second opinion on it in California and could very well end up sitting out until the NCAA tournament. He’s the defensive rock for a team that has not been consistently great defensively. The other is Naadir Tharpe. For the most part, Tharpe has been very good this season. But when he’s bad, he’s really, really bad. Kansas could end up playing Oklahoma State and Iowa State before the finals. They cannot afford Bad Naadir if Embiid isn’t playing.

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And if they lose?: Iowa State

As crazy as this may sound, the Cyclones actually had more Big 12 Player of the Year candidates than Kansas did. DeAndre Kane has been the best back court player in the conference, and Melvin Ejim has capped a terrific career with an All-American season. Throw in Georges Niang, one of the nation’s biggest matchup nightmares, and the Cyclones are good enough to make a run to the title despite being slotted into the No. 4 seed.

Other Contenders:

  • Oklahoma: The Sooners are better than anyone gives them credit for. The No. 2 seed in the bracket, Oklahoma spreads the floor and gets out in transition as much as anyone in the conference. Buddy Hield and Cameron Clark are as good of a 1-2 punch as you will find in the league, and yes, I do realize how loaded that statement is.
  • Texas: Remember when we all fired Rick Barnes back in October? Well, don’t look now, but the Longhorns finished as the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 tournament and drew a matchup with West Virginia in the quarterfinals. Texas wins with their defense and their massive front line, and on the nights that Javan Felix and Isaiah Taylor are shooting well, they’re dangerous.

Sleeper: Baylor

We all wrote the Bears off earlier this season, and rightfully so. They lost eight out of ten games at one point and looked like a sinking ship. But they closed the regular season with seven wins in eight games as Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson started to play better while Kenny Chery embraced his role as lead guard offensively. The issue with this group is always going to be on the defensive end, where they rank 95th in defensive efficiency.

Deeper Sleeper: Oklahoma State

I’m actually picking the Pokes to win the Big 12 tournament despite being the No. 8 seed that will have to beat Texas Tech, Kansas and either Kansas State or Iowa State just to get to the final. Here’s why: Marcus Smart is back to being Marcus Smart. He’s still flopping, but he cut down on his ridiculous threes and he cutback on some of those headlong drives into the lane. He’s playing like an actual point guard instead of trying to be Kobe Bryant. When he does that — when he allows Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash to be the go-to-guys offensively — Oklahoma State looks like the team that was picked in the top ten in the preseason. Oh, and in the last two weeks, they beat Kansas and came within a missed free throws from Phil Forte and a 25-foot three from Naz Long of beating Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum.

Studs you haven’t heard about:

  • Markel Brown, Oklahoma State: Le’Bryan Nash was a top ten recruit. Marcus Smart is, well, Marcus Smart. But Brown has been Travis Ford’s most consistent offensive weapon in Big 12 play.
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia: It’s a shame that Staten plays in a league with DeAndre Kane and Smart because he’s been overshadowed. He had as good of a year as any point guard in the country.
  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield’s development into an all-Big 12 player is one of the biggest reasons that the Sooners are a top 25 team this season.
  • Marcus Foster, Kansas State: He wasn’t a top 100 player coming out of high school but Foster has been one of the nation’s best freshmen.

CBT Prediction: Oklahoma State over Oklahoma

Best Big 12 Tournament Memory:

Kevin Ollie alleges racial discrimination in new civil action against UConn

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Former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie is heading to court with the school over alleged racial discrimination. In a report from the Hartford Courant, Ollie has filed a civil action alleging that the school illegally attempted to deter him from filing a racial discrimination complaint.

Submitted on Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Ollie is claiming he was treated differently from predecessor Jim Calhoun, because Calhoun kept his job after receiving comparable recruiting violations.

Ollie was fired for those violations earlier this year as he’s been in a contentious back-and-forth battle with the school that has gone to court. The former head coach claims he informed UConn of his intention to file the complaint but the school said it would refuse to have a contractual-grievance arbitration process that would give Ollie the final $10 million on his contract.

Seeking an emergency injunction that would allow him to file the complaint while proceeding with an arbitration process.

UConn responded to the Courant on Tuesday through a spokesperson as they disputed Ollie’s account that race played a role in his firing.

“As UConn has stated from the outset, the university terminated Kevin Ollie’s employment due to violations of NCAA rules, pursuant to his employment agreement,” UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said. “Any claim to the contrary is without merit.”

Ollie’s attorney told the Courant that the hope is to file and stay with a racial discrimination complaint, which could be addressed after the arbitration.

From the sound of it, UConn and Ollie are going to be in court for quite a bit of time as this whole firing process has been difficult from the start.

No. 15 Buckeyes overcome slow start, rout Youngstown State

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Kaleb Wesson had a career-high 31 points as No. 15 Ohio State overcame a terrible start and beat Youngstown State 75-56 on Tuesday night.

Wesson was dominating in the second half, scoring 26 points as the Buckeyes were again forced to win in come-from-behind fashion. The sophomore topped his previous career-best 22 points, achieved in Saturday’s game against Bucknell.

The Buckeyes (10-1, 2-0 Big Ten) shot poorly in the first half and were forced to rally against a mid-major opponent they should have handled easily from the beginning.

Ohio State trailed 25-22 at the half, but took the lead with a Wesson put-back three minutes into the second half and took control from there.

Luther Muhammad and C.J. Jackson each had 11 points for Ohio State, which has won three in a row after losing their only game of the season Nov. 28.

Darius Quisenberry had 17 points, and Naz Bohannon added 11 for the Penguins (5-9), who have lost five of their last six.

The first half was a nightmare for Ohio State. The Penguins went on a 14-2 run to open the game as the Buckeyes missed shot after shot. Ohio State shot 24 percent from the floor and 1 for 11 from beyond the 3-point line before intermission. The score was so close mostly because Youngstown State wasn’t much better, hitting just 33 percent of its shots.

Wesson took a seat with 5:40 left in the first half when he picked up his second foul and got his third early in the second half before going on a scoring tear.

BIG PICTURE:

Youngstown State: Took advantage of Ohio State’s poor shooting to lead the entire first half, but couldn’t keep up once Wesson and the Buckeyes got themselves unglued.

Ohio State: After nearly losing to Bucknell on Saturday, the Buckeyes took another opponent too lightly and were getting stung for a while. They are making too many mistakes against teams they should be dominating.

UP NEXT:

Youngstown State: Hosts Detroit Mercy on Dec. 28.

Ohio State: At UCLA on Saturday.

No. 2 Duke emerges from exam break to beat Princeton 101-50

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DURHAM, N.C. — A cold offensive start for second-ranked Duke on Tuesday night turned out to be a good sign for coach Mike Krzyzewski. That’s because his Blue Devils never let all those missed shots infect the team’s defensive focus.

RJ Barrett continued his rookie-season scoring rush, finishing with 27 points to help second-ranked Duke beat Princeton 101-50. Meanwhile, as the offense got rolling to hand Princeton its most lopsided loss in its program history, the defense finished with a bevy of steals, blocks and deflections to earn the approval of the Hall of Fame coach.

“We kept telling them: `Just don’t be down about the offense, you’re doing a good job, just keep shooting, keep doing it and don’t let it affect the defense,” Krzyzewski said.

“And they did. So that’s good.”

Consider it a lesson learned and applied for the freshman-led Blue Devils (10-1), whose high-flying offense has the potential to run past just about anybody. Yet this group has shown the ability to be a get-after-’em defensive team, too, with freshman point guard Tre Jones pressuring the ball surrounded by plenty of length and athleticism on the wings.

Krzyzewski wants his players to focus on the latter, knowing it’s likely a matter of time before any off-target shooting corrects itself. And that was obvious Tuesday as Duke opened its first game in more than a week due to an exam break by missing its first eight shots and falling behind 8-0.

Even more unusual of a sight on its famously hostile home court, the Blue Devils didn’t take their first lead until more than 14 minutes in.

“We were getting good shots,” Barrett said. “We just couldn’t make them.”

But after a steady start from the Tigers — who caught Duke with some early backdoor cuts — the Blue Devils scored on 10-of-11 possessions to close the first half, then on four more out of the break to take a 48-28 lead. Duke shot 64 percent after halftime as the game turned into a rout.

“Boy, that’s a really good team,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “They’re even better in person.”

Myles Stephens had 19 points for Princeton (5-5), which led 18-16 before Duke put together an 11-0 run to take over. Princeton shot just 30 percent for the game, including 8 of 36 (22 percent) after halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Princeton: Those opening few minutes had to be encouraging for the Tigers. They just didn’t have an answer once Duke’s shots started falling to pair with that defensive aggression.

“They got so many deflections, just stuff we hadn’t seen before,” Henderson said. “It’s a great lesson, that when you’re playing against the best, you have to be absolutely sharper than you’ve ever been.”

Duke: The Blue Devils hadn’t played since beating Yale here on Dec. 8, and it took a while for the offense to get into gear. Things went to script once that happened. Barrett came in averaging an Atlantic Coast Conference-best 24.2 points and finished 11 of 21 from the field while fellow rookie Zion Williamson (17 points, 10 rebounds) had another big game. Meanwhile, Duke’s defense had 12 steals, 14 blocks and 23 points off turnovers to go with a 50-25 rebounding advantage.

NEW RECORD

The 51-point margin surpassed Princeton’s previous worst margin of defeat of 45 points, set against Penn in December 1908.

CLOSING THE (BACK)DOOR

Duke quickly did a better job of closing off those backdoor lanes after Princeton got loose inside for easy early layups.

“Really that was just something we hadn’t worked on as much coming in,” said Duke forward Javin DeLaurier, who had six points and three rebounds. “Once we realized that was something they were going to try and hurt us with, guys did a good job of just making the adjustment, not contesting as much. And as soon as a guy was dribbling at you, expect the back door.”

UP NEXT

Princeton: The Tigers visit Lafayette on Friday.

Duke: The Blue Devils face No. 12 Texas Tech in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

VIDEO: Backboard nearly takes out Zion Williamson on blocked shot

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Zion Williamson was almost taken out by a backboard as Duke played Princeton at home on Tuesday night. Playing at home, Williamson went for a block as his arm and face appeared hit the backboard and caused him to fall to the ground.

Williamson was okay, but the startling block is yet another freakish play that the freshman forward has made on the defensive end this season. Although mostly known for his dunks, Williamson is showing himself to be one of the scariest shot blockers in college hoops this season.

No. 2 Duke ran past Princeton for the easy home win.

West Virginia reinstates big man Derek Culver

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West Virginia announced some positive news on Tuesday as freshman big man Derek Culver has been reinstated to the team.

Previously suspended earlier this season on Nov. 15 for a violation of team rules, the 6-foot-10 Culver is the highest-rated freshman in the Mountaineers’ freshman class as he’s got a chance to become a rotation player.

Rated as a four-star prospect coming out of high school, Culver did a postgrad year at Brewster Academy last season as he’s been someone West Virginia has been looking forward to adding for the past two classes. If Culver comes along and is able to contribute then he’ll alleviate some pressure from Sagaba Konate and potentially adding some life into a 6-4 West Virginia team.