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.