Big 12 Tournament Preview (Day 1)
The Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri is the place to be today when Texas A&M, Baylor and a host of other possible bubble teams take their first step into the great beyond better known as the Big 12 Tournament.
For most, the conference tournament is nothing more than one last chance to prove you still belong, but for a rare few, the first day of the tournament could be the difference between seeing your name on Selection Sunday, and seeing your name on the AP Wire under the three dreaded letters, NIT.
It’s been a while since the Big 12 tournament had this much build up. Maybe it’s the fact that there’s been so much parody in the league this season, but whatever it is, the conference finally has new life and a chance at having six possible teams in the Big Dance.
Here is a brief preview of every game from the first day of the tournament.
No. 8 Texas Tech (16-14, 7-9 Big 12) v. No.9 Oklahoma State (16-14, 7-9), ESPN2, 12:30pm EST
Tournament Implications: Both teams are probably playing for pride in this opening round game, however, either team could always pull a Syracuse circa 2006 and make it to the dance via the automatic berth given to the conference winner. While neither team has a Gerry McNamara on their side, I would say Oklahoma State has the talent to cause a couple upsets if they can get by Tech.
Head-to-Head Matchup: Martin Zeno (16.3 ppg, 6.2 reb, 2.9 ast) and Terel Harris (10.2, 4.3, 1.4) should play key roles for both teams. Zeno has currently been on a scoring binge for Tech over the last couple of weeks, while Harris is widely regarded as Oklahoma State’s better defenders. Next to Cowboys standout Marcus Dove, Harris stands the best chance of shutting down Zeno if the game is on the line.
Winner: Oklahoma State wins this one by 10 or more. It’s a known fact that Tech hasn’t been the same since Bob Knight stepped down in the middle of the season, despite picking off Texas at home. It might sound crazy, but if Oklahoma State wins this game, I see no reason why they can’t give Texas fits in what should be a very intense game.
No. 5 Baylor (21-9, 9-7) v. No. 12 Colorado (11-19, 3-13), ESPNU, 3:00pm EST
Tournament Implications: For Baylor this game is a “can’t-lose.” As of right now the Bears are in the tournament after a big road win against Colorado a couple weeks ago. Losing this game would all but put their season into a tailspin that could cause them to fall out. With so many at-large teams winning their conference tournament, it’s really put opening round wins at a premium. For Colorado, the game plan is to play the role of the spoiler, and with guard Richard Roby leading the way, anything is possible.
Head-to-Head Matchup: Richard Roby (16.5 ppg, 6.4 reb, 2.1 ast) and Curtis Jerrells (14.8, 3.5, 3.6) should give the fans in attendance one of the better head-to-head matchups of the first day. Roby was regarded as one of the best guards in the Big 12 after last season; however, carrying the load all season has seemingly taken its toll. If Roby is running on empty, then Colorado might want to consider putting another defender on Jerrells who has been nothing short of spectacular for the Bears. He currently leads the team in scoring, and is the perfect floor leader for one of the quickest teams in the conference.
Winner: I think the Bears will come out with the weight of a tournament berth on their shoulders. I expect Colorado to keep this game close, but with Jerrells, Henry Dugat and Kevin Rogers leading the Bears, I think they find a way to get it done and secure that elusive NCAA tournament spot.
No. 7 Nebraska (18-11, 7-9) v. No. 10 Missouri (16-15, 6-10), ESPN Plus, 7:00pm EST
Tournament Implications: Like Oklahoma State, Nebraska still stands a shot of making the tournament if they make it to the conference final on Sunday and produce a strong showing. However, that strong showing might have to be a win if the number of at-large teams continues to go up like it is right now. For Missouri this game is all about pride. If they can find a way to produce a high scoring game like they did against Texas earlier in the season, then I see no reason why they can’t pull the upset.
Head-to-Head Matchup: Aleks Maric (16.0 ppg, 10.2 reb, 1.8 ast) and Leo Lyons (13.3, 5.7, 1.6) make for an interesting matchup in this game. Maric is arguably one of the best big men in the conference, and at 6 feet-11 inches and 270 lbs., he is one of the biggest as well. Lyons stands 6-9 and 240 lbs., so expect the overmatched forward to front Maric all night long, because banging with the guy just isn’t an option.
Winner: Missouri has the shooting the make this one interesting, but with Maric on the inside for Nebraska and the dismissal of guard Stefhon Hannah still lingering on players minds, Nebraska should find a way to win this one and advance to a tasty matchup against Kansas.
No. 6 Texas A&M (22-9, 8-8) v. No. 11 Iowa State (14-17, 4-12), ESPN2, 9:30pm EST
Tournament Implications: If you’re going to watch one game tomorrow night, this is the game that you should be checking out. For Texas A&M the season rides on this first-round game. A loss to Iowa State would knock the Aggies from being on the bubble to a berth in the NIT. After beating Baylor last week to get back in, the team followed the win up with a dismal display at home against Kansas. Most say that A&M might need to win this game and beat Kansas State in the next round to be a sure bet, but for now, the Aggies need to concentrate on the Cyclones. For Iowa State the game is all about avenging a home defeat to the Aggies earlier in the year. The Cyclones played the Aggies close all day before a 31-9 by A&M put the game out of reach.
Head-to-Head Matchup: Wesley Johnson (12.5 ppg, 1.5 reb, 3.9 ast) and Joseph Jones (10.6, 5.2, 1.3) should be the matchup to watch when the two teams take the floor. For Johnson — a Corsicana, Texas native — the name of game will be keeping Jones out of the picture. If Jones finds a way to get involved, then the Aggies should be on their way to the second round.
Winner: A&M might be a Jekyll and Hyde team this season, but when it really counts, the team has found a way to dig down deep and win. Assuming the Aggies get the job done against Iowa State, that would setup what could be another must-win against Michael Beasley and Kansas State. Buckle up Aggie fans, it should be an interesting next couple of days.