Looking at the match ups for tonight it's fairly easy to go, "One of these things is not like the others."
The 7th seeded Baylor Bears, who had to survive TCU on Wednesday night, stymied and frustrated the Oklahoma Sooners last night and earned themselves a semi-final match up with the Texas Longhorms. Oklahoma State has been getting the press as a hungry team looking to finally play to their potential, but Baylor has been doing the same for the past month, going 9-1 in their last 10 games. The only loss during that stretch was a five point defeat to the Longhorns in Austin on February 26th.
In the other semi-final we get the familiar and classic Big 8 match up between Iowa State and Kansas. The storyline was much the same last year heading in: Iowa State and Kansas both survive their match ups on Thursday to set up the rubber match where undoubtedly the Cyclones would get the best of the Jayhawks. It was not meant to be as Kansas would run Iowa State out of the Sprint Center en route to an 88-73 victory.
So those are the two match ups, but let's dig a little deeper shall we?
Iowa State vs Kansas - 6 PM
Joel Embiid is out, everyone knows that. What a lot of people don't know is that the Jayhawks are 3-1 without Embiid this year and it's due in large part to Andrew Wiggins living up to the hype bestowed on him earlier this season. In the last two games alone Wiggins has scored 71 points and it's the most in a two game stretch in Jayhawk history.
At the end of the day Wiggins is but one man, and despite his recent tear the Jayhawks still need help from the likes of Naadir Tharpe, Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, and so on and so forth. Ellis absolutely eviscerated the Cyclone defense in last year's tournament match up, but he won't be surprising anyone this time around.
On the other side of the coin Iowa State is learning how to win without one of the Big Three late in games. First it was Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang fouling out late in the Oklahoma State win on Saturday, then it was DeAndre Kane fouling out with 3:55 left in yesterday's match up. With Kane on the bench the Cyclones outscored the Wildcats 15-11 with Naz Long scoring 9 of his 14 points in that stretch.
They say it's hard to beat a team three times in a season, and that mantra is exactly why I wanted no part of Oklahoma State again. Last year a lot of Cyclone fans rode into the Sprint Center with that very thought in their mind before getting bitch slapped by the Jayhawks.
The biggest difference this year is the Jayhawks and their dependency on Embiid to change the opposing team's offensive attack. Without Embiid patrolling the paint the Cyclones should find more room to move and get cleaner looks at the basket. Offensively the Jayhawks don't hide the fact they're centered around Wiggins now but I think it's the match up between Tharpe and Monte Morris that everyone should keep their eye on. Morris was outstanding defensively yesterday and if he can hassle Tharpe and get him out of his flow the Jayhawk offense will suffer. Kansas has guys capable of filling up the stat sheet on any given night, but if they become turnover prone they will struggle to keep pace in what's sure to be a back and forth game.
Give me the trendy pick for a second year in a row.
Iowa State 81, Kansas 77
Baylor vs Texas - ~8 PM
As I mentioned above, the Bears are red hot and it starts with their aggressive 1-3-1 defense. They forced the Sooners into 35 attempts from behind the arc last night and just absolutely dominated the paint on both sides of the floor. Somehow Scott Drew finds a way to get his teams to make deep runs in March and this year's team looks to be no different.
Texas ran out to a 12-0 lead in the first four minutes against West Virginia last night and never looked back en route to a 66-49 victory. The Longhorns are one of the few teams in the Big 12 that won't struggle with Baylor's length inside but Baylor is going to do their damnedest to force the Longhorns to shoot from behind the arc, an area where they rank dead last in the Big 12.
The Baylor offense finally figured out they're best served to slow down the pace and work a bit of an inverted offense similar to Fred Hoiberg's with Isaiah Austin handling the ball often behind the arc. Their ability to stretch the opposing defense has been made even easier with point guard Kenny Chery finally finding his stroke to compliment the always dangerous Brady Heslip.
Let's put this another way: If you're a 1-3 seed in the NCAA tournament and Baylor ends up anywhere from 6-11 do you want to face them in the Round of 32? I'm not sure I do. Give me the Bears here.
Baylor 74, Texas 67
According to the TV clearances if you live in the Big 12 footprint all games will be shown on your local network. If you're outside of the footprint you can find the games on ESPNU.
We're going to do something a little different today and pose four questions to you, the readers, and ask you to answer them below in the comments.
1. If Iowa State wins tonight will they improve their seeding in the NCAA tournament?
2. What does it take for Kansas to move to a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament?
3. How deep can Baylor take this run?
4. What are your predictions for tonight?