The Big 12 sent seven representatives to the nation's premier postseason basketball tournament. Iowa State is first up, but who do our conference mates face in their first round games?
Thursday, March 19th
#3 Iowa State Cyclones vs #14 UAB
Tip: 11:40 AM
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce
If you somehow missed Cylent's fantastic preview yesterday, you can catch up here.
#3 Baylor Bears vs #14 Georgia State Panthers
Tip: 12:40 AM
Announcers: Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas, Jamie Erdahl
About the Panthers
RPI Rank: 53
If Georgia State sounds or looks familiar, it is probably because you pay attention to this site and your Iowa State Basketball team. The Panthers ventured north to Ames in mid-November amidst large hype and expectations for both programs. However, it was the #14 Cyclones and their 46 second half points - this trend started early - that lived up to the billing.
Georgia State would go on to win 24 games along with the Sun Belt conference championship. Among those victories, only one team was in the RPI Top 100 (#54 Green Bay).
Best Win: #54 Green Bay
Worst Losses: #236 Texas State-San Marcos, #250 Appalachian State, #276 Arkansas-Little Rock
Leading Scorer: R.J Hunter - Junior - 19.8 PPG
Leading Rebounder: Markus Crider - Junior Forward - 6.7 RPG
Assist Leader: Ryan Harrow - Senior Guard - 3.7 APG (A/T 1.9)
I'm not sure this will be much of a contest for Baylor, who will bring a physicality and defensive strategy Georgia State has probably not seen much of this season. The books favor Scott Drew's team by nine and if you were a betting man I'm thinking you can sit back and enjoy the other offerings of the day without worrying about this investment too much.
#6 Butler Bulldogs vs #11 Texas Longhorns
Announcers: Brian Anderson, Steve Smith, Lewis Johnson
About the Bulldogs
RPI Rank: 31
Butler hasn't fallen far since Brad Stevens left to sow his professional oats, managing a second place finish behind Big East Champion, and #1 Seed, Villanova, this season.
The Bulldogs enter as a seasoned and battle-tested team, having played and won against multiple others in the field including North Carolina, Georgetown, Providence, Xavier and St. John's. They also played Oklahoma towards the beginning of the season, exiting that contest with a 59-46 home loss.
They also appear to be slumping slightly as of late, losing 4 of their last 8 games including a Quarterfinal exit in the Big East Tournament at the hands of Xavier.
Best Wins: North Carolina Tar Heels, Providence Friars, Georgetown Hoyas, Xavier Musketeers, St. John's Red Storm
Worst Loss: #96 Tennessee Volunteers
Leading Scorer: Kellen Dunham - Junior Guard - 16.7 PPG
Leading Rebounder: Kameron Woods - Senior Forward - 9.8 RPG
Assist Leader: Roosevelt Jones - Junior Forward - 3.7 APG (A/T 1.4)
After Monte Morris hit his last second shot that ended his stay in a city that truly understands good BBQ, Jonathan Holmes - who did in fact make the Honorable Mention All-Big 12 Team - had to wonder if his time in Austin has also come to completion. But the NCAA committee gave the Texas senior, his teammates and his coach the opportunity to live up to pre-season hype extending them an offer to THE post-season tournament.
I want to believe in Rick Barnes and his Texas Longhorns. I really do. But, Barnes is 3-2 in opening round games since 2009 and, outside of a Final Four run in 2003 and a couple Elite Eight appearances, the largest issue for the most successful coach in Texas history has been early exits in March.
Butler has two recent National Championship appearances on its resume, although with a different coach and players. But it is a program that seemingly overachieves this time of year in a state where basketball actually matters.
So, ultimately, I guess it is a matter of mind vs heart. Texas could use the disappointing season as motivation and go on a three weekend run with the talent they possess. Or, they could expedite their coach's forced resignation.
I filled out two brackets allowing both teams to advance and lose to Notre Dame.
Friday, March 20th
#2 Kansas Jayhawks vs #15 New Mexico State Aggies
Tip: 11:15 AM
Announcers: Marv Albert, Chris Webber, Len Elmore, Craig Sager
About the Aggies
RPI Rank: 103
Somehow, someway, this small land-grant institution in Las Cruces, New Mexico has international appeal - perhaps it is their proximity to the Devil's asshole, El Paso. The Aggies boast eight international players including: five from Toronto, Ontario; one from South Africa; one from Cameroon and another from Paris, France.
I'm not sure if this is a unique strategy, or simply a matter of necessity in the athlete starved Southwestern state but it seems to be working. New Mexico State enters their first round matchup with Kansas on a 13 game winning streak dating back to January 22nd, and lost only once in conference play. Outside of their conference, however, was a slightly different story, and included a December loss to the Baylor Bears in Waco, 66-55 and failed .
The Aggies rank 147th, 111th and 217th overall in points, rebounds and assists per game respectively and have not won a NCAA Tournament game over their past eight tries (1993).
Best Win: #78 UTEP Miners
Worst Loss: #280 Seattle Redhawks
Leading Scorer: Remi Barry - Senior Forward - 13.3 PPG
Leading Rebounder: Pascal Siakam - Freshman, Forward - 7.7
Assist Leader: Daniel Mullings - Senior Guard - 2.8 (A/T 1.2)
Similar to Kentucky, The Aggies did not face a single opponent in the RPI Top 100 once conference play began (SEC facts assumed). The highest ranking WAC member (excluding NMSU) is Grand Canyon University - a school with enrollment of 5,813 full time undergrad students - at 274. So the fact they lost even one game in this conference of nobodies should give those same nobodies cause for concern. Throw in the fact they have not won a first round game since I was a junior in high school and I feel pretty confident this is not the year Kansas gets Hampton'd.
#5 West Virginia vs #12 Buffalo Bulls
Tip: 1:10 PM
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, Grant Hill, Tracy Wolfson
About the Bulls
Buffalo, led by second year head coach, Bobby Hurley, won the Mid-American Conference Tournament giving them their first ever invite to the Big Dance. Although the MAC is historically not even an average basketball league, limiting the amount of quality competition a member school would face over a season, outside the conference the Bulls did play (and lost to) two of this year's bracket 1 seeds, Kentucky (71-52) and Wisconsin (68-56).
The Bulls rank 28th in points per game, scoring an average of 75 per contest, and also rebound pretty well which seems uncommon among teams that like to emphasize offense, ranking 16th overall (38.4 rpg).
Best Win: #70 Central Michigan Chippewas
Worst Loss: #231 Ohio University.
Leading Scorer: Justin Moss - Junior Forward - 17.7 PPG
Leading Rebounder: Justin Moss - Junior Forward - 9.3 RPG
Assist Leader: Shannon Evans - Sophomore Guard - 4.7 APG (A/T 1.8)
This is probably the Big 12's best opportunity to be upset in opening round play. Traditionally, at least one 5 seed succumbs to the underdog and Buffalo is getting significant press as the potential Cinderella at this year's ball. West Virginia's defense can be suffocating when it is clicking, but if their offense struggles their chances of playing again on Sunday is not promising. I'll picking the Bulls to send the Hungry Hungry Huggins home.
#8 Oregon Ducks vs #9 Oklahoma State Cowboys
Tip: 5:50 PM
Announcers: Marv Albert, Chris Webber, Len Elmore, Craig Sager
About the Ducks
RPI Rank: 27
SOS Rank: 41
Oregon, coached by Iowa State basketball savior, Dana Altman, finished second in the Pac-12 regular season as well as the conference tournament. While the Pac-12 is no basketball powerhouse conference (only 4 of its 12 members were invited to the only postseason that matters), it is home to one of the nation's top teams, Arizona.
Oregon lost to the Wildcats all three times they played this season, and it was never close. They also lost to UCLA, Washington and Washington State yet somehow swept the Utah Utes.
This is the third straight tournament appearance for NikeU, and the seventh since 2000 where they hold a 4-3 record in opening round games.
Best Win: #19 Utah (x2)
Worst Loss: #169 Washington State
Leading Scorer: Joseph Young - Senior Guard - 20.2 PPG
Leading Rebounder: Jordan Bell - Freshman Forward - 6.1 RPG
Assist Leader: Joseph Young - Senior Guard - 3.7 APG (A/T 1.5)
After reviewing their resume, I find little to be impressed with concerning the Ducks. They play in a weak conference, were never competitive against the league's best (Arizona) and also lost to some other really bad teams (Michigan, Washington, WSU). Say what you will about Oklahoma State's lack of scoring options, but a rested Forte and hungry Nash should run through this team easily enough. Even if they are still coached by Travis Ford.
#3 Oklahoma Sooners vs #14 Albany Great Danes
Tip: 6:27 PM
Announcers: Ian Eagle, Doug Gottlieb, Evan Washburn
About the Great Danes
RPI Rank: 99
SOS Rank: 287
What is so great about these Danes? Not much, really. During a 32 game schedule, Albany has managed to play just two top 100 teams (#64 Yale and #22 Providence). In fact, it appears they only time they left New England was to take on the Running Rebels of Nevada Las Vegas - a game they lost 75-59.
This is the third straight appearance for Albany and the fourth since 2000, where they have yet to win a R64 game (won play in game last season).
Best Win: #64 Yale - away
Worst Loss: #285 Niagara - away
Leading Scorer: Sam Rowley - Senior Forward - 14.0 PPG
Leading Rebounder: Sam Rowley - Senior Forward - 7.7 RPG
Assist Leader: Evan Singletary - Junior Guard - 2.8 APG (A/T 1.3)
Oklahoma is a 13 point favorite in this contest, and I imagine anyone betting this game can comfortably enjoy the final minutes as the Sooners should control easily from the opening tip.