I shouldn't love the Big 12 tournament, but I do. So what if I've never seen Iowa State win in Kansas City? I've saved a ton of money on tickets and hotel fare that I would have otherwise had to pony up had Iowa State won and advanced. Actually, that's not entirely true. I just reallocated that money and dumped it into a bottomless pit of alcohol and pop-a-shot basketball at Kelly's in Westport. That's beside the point, though.
So while I've never witnessed an Iowa State win in KC, it hasn't kept me from having a good time. Mixing every fan base in the conference into the Power and Light District and watching the interaction is always an eventful process. And who can forget the perfect little Irish bar, standing tall at the corner of Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue? I'm talking of course about the aforementioned Kelly's, the official Iowa State headquarters of Kansas City.
That's right, there's always fun to be had regardless of how the Cyclones do and I've taken advantage. I do however envy the old timers who got to witness "Hilton South" at Kemper Arena. I remember watching those games on TV as a kid and dreaming about being there to watch the Cyclones. Unfortunately, I never got to see that atmosphere, but with The Mayor at the helm, I think the ISU fan base is capable of re-establishing that draw at the Spring Center. With that being said, it's time to break this awful run of losses. Iowa State hasn't won a game in the Big 12 tournament since 2005. We're due. I'll be making the trek down to KC on Thursday morning and I made reservations for the weekend. I want to see at least one win.
The tournament officially begins on Wednesday night, but the real action starts on Thursday when the top six teams in the conference, including Iowa State, hit the floor inside the Sprint Center.
What's At Stake
Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State are all a lock for the NCAA tournament, so in their case, it's a matter of improving their seed. I also believe that Oklahoma is a near-lock, but the Sooners could solidify their bid with a win over Iowa State on Thursday and also improve their seeding. Baylor is probably the one team that really needs to go on a run to have a chance. The Bears probably need to win two games to get an invite, but I wouldn't be shocked if a quarterfinal win over Oklahoma State was just enough to get them into the First Four.
Then there's Iowa State. The Cyclones are currently "in" for the moment according to every bracketologist out there, but Championship week is only beginning and Fred Hoiberg's team could use another win to really lock things up.
Wednesday, March 13th
#8 West Virginia vs. #9 Texas Tech - 6 PM, Big 12 Network (Game 1)
#7 Texas vs. #10 TCU - 8:30 PM, Big 12 Network (Game 2)
Thursday, March 14th
#4 Oklahoma vs. #5 Iowa State - 11:30 AM, ESPN2 (Game 3)
#1 Kansas vs. Game 1 Winner - 2:00 PM, ESPN2 (Game 4)
#2 Kansas State vs. Game 2 Winner - 6:00 PM, Big 12 Network (Game 5)
#3 Oklahoma State vs. #6 Baylor - 8:30 PM, Big 12 Network (Game 6)
Friday, March 15th
Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner - 6:30 PM, ESPNU (Game 7)
Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner - 9:00 PM, ESPN (Game 8)
Saturday, March 16th
Championship - 5:00 PM, ESPN
Iowa State's Path
ISU faces a stiff challenge in the quarterfinals on Thursday morning in the Oklahoma Sooners. The teams split their regular season contests in a pair of lopsided home-court victories for each school. Each program finished 11-7 in league play, but the Sooners own the tie-breaker as they hold a better head-to-head record against #1 seed Kansas.
Both teams play a similar style and match up pretty well with each other, playing an outside-in game that stresses a strong perimeter attack and provides opportunities for versatile front court players. Stopping Oklahoma offensively starts with slowing down First team All-Big 12 F Romero Osby. The 6'8" senior had an outstanding conference campaign, averaging 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in league play. Osby is joined in the front court by 6'9" Amath M'Baye. While not as much of an offensive threat as Osby, M'Baye has to be accounted for as he does a decent job on the offensive glass and positions himself well for dump offs when the Sooner guards get into the lane.
On the outside, containing Steven Pledger and limiting his open looks will be key. Pledger had been playing well of late, scoring 14 or more in 6 straight games prior to a 1-7, 2-point performance at TCU to end the regular season. Oklahoma's back court also got a big lift with Buddy Hield returning to the line up. The freshman guard missed 5 games due to a foot injury but returned recently and hoisted up 14 shots in 25 minutes against TCU.
The Sooners were one of the more well-rounded, efficient teams in the conference. There are no glaring holes or weaknesses to be exploited. Lon Kruger has done an excellent job, molding this team and they've gotten better as the year has progressed.
For Iowa State, it will be imperative that the Cyclones don't allow OU to get to the line. The 34-34 performance from the stripe in Norman was a bit of a fluke, but Oklahoma did lead the Big 12 in free throw shooting, knocking down an impressive 77.4% of their foul shots in conference play. On the flip side, Oklahoma does a pretty good job of staying out of foul trouble, especially with their big men, which makes it all the more important for Iowa State to at least keep the foul and free throw disparity as close to even as possible.
When the Cyclones are playing well, it's a beautiful thing. The ball movement and spacing would make the most keen basketball minds nod in approval. When things aren't going well, though, it usually boils down a few key errors. First, ISU can fall in love a little too much with the perimeter game, which makes it easier for opponents to pressure the 3-point line and abandon the paint. It also allows opponents to hedge out on screens without the fear of getting beat on pick-and-rolls and back cuts. Second, the ball movement can become stagnant with a little too much one-on-one or quick shot action that creates a sink or swim mentality on that end of the floor. The biggest hole in ISU's game though, has been putting together defensive stops. The Cyclones ranked last in the conference in defensive scoring average (somewhat a factor due to the style of play) and we all know that it's been a recurring theme throughout this season that when ISU needs a stop, they often haven't been able to come up with one. Iowa State's defensive performance in Norman was their worst of the year and the Cyclones looked completely disinterested in even trying on that end of the floor.
If Iowa State comes into the Big 12 tournament with the "outscore them" mentality, then it will be another one-and-done trip in Kansas City. By now, we know what the Cyclones are and a defensive-minded team they are not. That's okay. ISU doesn't have to play outstanding team defense to win a game or two in the Sprint Center, but playing sound defense and smart team defense could go a long way into how long ISU stays alive in this tournament.
Offensively, ISU needs to watch tape of the first halves of the games against Oklahoma State and West Virginia on how to move the ball and work for the best shot. The passing was crisp and on time and when ISU made just 2-3 passes, they found an open shooter or cutter to the basket nearly every time. Again, it's too late in the year to overhaul the offensive philosophy of this team, but just a few minor tweaks here and there, and we can see a little less chucking, and a lot more open shots.
Ultimately, I just think Iowa State is due. It's time to win a game in this tournament and advance. I expect a back and forth game with little separation and huge runs, but at the end of the day, I still think Iowa State is a better team than Oklahoma, and on a neutral floor, I see the better team winning.
Iowa State 76 - Oklahoma 70
How I See the Tournament Shaking Out
West Virginia 68 - Texas Tech 60
Texas 79 - TCU 57
Iowa State 76 - Oklahoma 70
Kansas 74 - West Virginia 61
Kansas State 68 - Texas 63
Oklahoma State 74 - Baylor 71
Kansas 84 - Iowa State 83 (another heart breaker)
Kansas State 72 - Oklahoma State 69
Kansas State 74 - Kansas 70
How Ken Pomeroy Sees It Going Down
The following graph assesses the percentage-based likelihood of each team advancing in the tournament. Pomeroy sees Kansas as an overwhelming favorite, giving them a 54.2% chance to win the conference tournament. It is noteworthy that Pomeroy gives Iowa State the edge of over Oklahoma, even if it is by the slimmest of margins.
Qtrs Semis Final Champ
1 Kansas 100 93.5 73.3 54.2
3 Oklahoma St. 100 63.4 41.9 17.1
2 Kansas St. 100 75.9 33.2 10.4
5 Iowa St. 100 55.6 15.0 7.1
6 Baylor 100 36.6 19.6 5.8
4 Oklahoma 100 44.4 10.3 4.3
7 Texas 86.7 23.4 5.3 0.8
8 W. Virginia 81.1 6.1 1.4 0.3
9 Texas Tech 18.9 0.4 0.02 0.001
10 TCU 13.3 0.7 0.03 0.0009