For the first time since 2010 when the Big 12 had 12 members the top four seeds all advanced to the semifinal rounds of the Big 12 Tournament in the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Baylor will have their shot at finally knocking off Kansas this season, and Iowa State and Oklahoma will play a rubber match to close out a set of games that have seen wild runs for both teams.
One thing is for certain: no matter who wins on Friday, and subsequently on Saturday, they will be deserving of taking home the crystal and marble trophy as tournament champions.
(4) Baylor vs (1) Kansas - 6:00 PM - ESPN 2
by Cyclone Scholar
In the first semifinal matchup of the Big 12 Tournament, the 4-seed Baylor Bears will square off against top seeded Kansas Jayhawks. Baylor beat West Virginia in convincing fashion 80-70 on Thursday to advance, while Kansas held off a feisty TCU in their 64-59 victory. Kansas looks to beat a Baylor team they've already defeated twice this year to make it to their fourth Big 12 Tournament championship game in the last six years. Baylor looks to advance and make their second straight championship game appearance, which saw them lose to Iowa State in last year's title game.
Kansas has been shorthanded the last couple of games, with the absence of Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander, both key players. Ellis and Alexander lead Kansas in most statistical categories including rebounding and scoring, and Kansas has struggled without the two of them on the court, but still found a way to grind out a win against TCU on Thursday. Led by a career game from Kelly Oubre, who scored 25 points, Kansas won despite not making a single 3 point basket, finishing the night 0-8 from deep, but still managing to shoot 48.9% from the field. Kansas will continue to need someone to step up in a big way in the game against Baylor, as of this writing, Ellis and Alexander are both expected to miss the game.
Baylor comes into the game fresh off an 80-70 victory over West Virginia, which was closer than the score indicates. West Virginia kept the game close late into the game, trailing by as little as three with 3 minutes remaining, but Baylor was able to shut the door on any late run and seal the victory. Taurean Prince led the way for the Bears with 18 points off the bench, while Rico Gathers had 14 points and 9 rebounds in the victory. Baylor advances to the semifinals for the second straight year, and will look to knock off a Kansas team that beat them both times they faced one another this year, and has only beat them once in their last 5 meetings.
The keys to this game will be if Kansas can continue to have someone step up the absence of Ellis and Alexander. If someone like Oubre can find a way to get hot, or if Wayne Selden can snap out of the funk that's seen him score less than 10 points in seven straight games, I could see Kansas coming away with a victory in this one. If Baylor wants to advance, they'll need to out rebound Kansas on the defensive end, and limit second chance points. Baylor is one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the country, and that could be the key to them stealing a victory from Kansas. If Baylor can control the glass on both ends of the floor, it could lead to them making their second straight championship game of the Big 12 Tournament.
I think this will be a close grind it out game for both teams, but ultimately I see the Baylor defense and their zone giving Kansas problems on the offensive end by eliminating any second chance opportunities, and preventing a deprived Kansas offense from scoring.. If Baylor can keep players like Oubre and Selden from getting hot, and keep the game in the low to mid 60's, Baylor will be making back to back Championship games appearances for the first time in the programs history.
The Main Event
(3) Oklahoma vs (2) Iowa State - 8:00 PM - ESPN 2
First, this game will tip approximately a half hour after the end of the Baylor vs Kansas game. With the defensive minded approach of both schools it's likely that game runs over the two hour allotment and the Cyclones will tip off with the Sooners closer to 8:30.
Now, on to the important matter: how the hell do the Cyclones get out of their recent first half funks and not play themselves out of the game before halftime?
Anyone who has watched this team over the past few weeks has seen the same crippling issues on offense over and over. A lukewarm start gives way to a cold streak sometime in the first half and suddenly the Cyclones are staring down a double digit deficit. Against Oklahoma in Ames it was 19 points at halftime, against TCU it was only six after TCU led by as much as 10, and last night against Texas it was 11. This team flirts with disaster early in games, but seems to live by the old adage, "it's not how you start, but how you finish." They're essentially the John Elway of college basketball.
So how does it happen? In simple terms it's all about ball movement. Fred Hoiberg's offense is predicated on winning one-on-one situations through spacing, and kicking and moving the ball when help defense arrives. That's all well and good when it's working (see the 12-0 run to close last night's game), but when players don't move, or they think they can win every battle, things get ugly and the term "hero ball" gets bandied about.
The common thread that all potential opponents remaining in the tournament possess is great perimeter defending, and Oklahoma has shown they can use it to slow down Hoiball. On the surface it's easy to look at the 46-46 tie heading in to halftime in Norman, or the 4,000 point second half in Ames, but the flip side to those two results is what happened in the other halves.
Oklahoma hassled Iowa State on the perimeter, switched every screen and hand off, and kept Iowa State from running their offense at the pace they prefer to. In Norman this switch happened in the second half and slowed Hoiball down enough for the Sooners to pull away. That strategy continued in the first half in Ames, and once Iowa State adjusted a run for the ages happened.
Strategically, the Sooners game plan is simple, and Buddy Hield even mentioned it in his post game interview last night: stop Georges Niang and Monte Morris. The Sooners achieved the former by putting Hield on Niang in Norman, and did so in stretches in Ames as well. Slowing down Morris is another story, and it's going to fall in to the hands of guards Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins, if I'm a betting man my money is on Morris.
With Niang and Morris playing like they've been in March before, it's going to be tough to really knock them off their game. Conversely, I don't see Iowa State's defense slowing down Hield or TaShawn Thomas, so like last night this comes down to role playing.
Can Iowa State get production off the bench? Can Dustin Hogue or Jameel McKay chip in a double-double? Can the Sooners do the same thing with Spangler? It's those questions that will drive the outcome of the game, and I have a sinking feeling this one might not go the Cyclones' way.
Defense is about effort, and any team that bets on historic runs to get back in to games is playing with fire. Oklahoma knows how to slow down Hoiball, and at some point the grave digging this Cyclone squad does is going to catch up with them.
Unfortunately I think that night is tonight.
Iowa State 73