March Madness is here!
The Big 12 Tournament starts tonight, with a little bit of dud as the league’s four worst teams are playing in the opening night session, with 8-seed Oklahoma battling 9-seed Texas A&M in a rematch of Saturday’s close 65-62 Oklahoma win in Norman, OK.
No. 8 seed Oklahoma (15-15, 5-13 in Big 12)
Coach: Lon Kruger
Big 12 Championship history: 20-12; championships in 2003, 2002, 2001.
Probable starters: Romero Osby, 6-8 Jr. F; Andrew Fitzgerald, 6-8 Jr. F; Sam Grooms, 6-1 Jr. G; Steven Pledger, 6-4 Jr. G; Cameron Clark, 6-6 Soph. G.
You need to know: Texas A&M beat Oklahoma in overtime, 81-75, on Jan. 21 in College Station. … The junior trio of Steven Pledger, Andrew Fitzgerald and Romero Osby accounted for 64 percent of the team’s points in Big 12 play (746 of 1,164) and 49 percent of its rebounds (277 of 567). … In its five Big 12 wins, Oklahoma held opponents to .390 field goal shooting. In OU’s 13 Big 12 losses, opponents shot .475 from the field. … The Sooners are tied for the second-most wins (20) in the event’s history. … Junior forward Romero Osby is averaging 14.8 points, 6.2rebounds in his past six games, scoring in double-figures each time. He had a career-high 24 points versus A&M, making 11-of-15 from the field. … Junior guard Steven Pledger is the 38th player in OU history to reach the 1,000-point plateau (1,016). He has scored in double digits 25 times this year and has connected on multiple 3-pointers in 22 outings. … Junior guard Sam Grooms has at least five assists in 12 of his last 13 games, including 64 in the past nine contests (7.1 apg). He has two turnovers or less in 11 of the Sooners’ last 14 outings.
No. 9 seed Texas A&M (13-17, 4-14 in Big 12)
Coach: Billy Kennedy.
Big 12 Championship history: 5-15.
Probable starters: David Loubeau, 6-8 Sr. F; Khris Middleton, 6-7 Jr. F; Ray Turner, 6-9 Jr. F; Dash Harris, 6-1 Sr. G; Elston Turner, 6-5 Jr. G.
You need to know: Texas A&M is the only current team that has yet to appear in the championship game. … The 17 losses are the most for the Aggies since going 7-21 in 2004, where they finished 0-16 in the Big 12. … Junior guard Elston Turner is in the top 10 in the Big 12 in four offensive categories. … This is the first time in eight years that the Aggies are the lower-seeded team for the Big 12 Championship opener. … After posting an 0-9 record in the first six years of the Big 12 Championship, A&M has five wins in the event since 2006. Included in that total are victories in each of the last two championships. … Senior forward David Loubeau is one of 16 players in school history with career totals of at least 1,000 points and 500 rebounds. He has seen action in 66 conference games, a Big 12 and A&M record. … The Aggies have held 10 of their last 12 foes to 71 points or less, with only two opponents scoring 75 or more all year.
Both games have been close – in addition to Saturday’s down to the wire game, A&M beat Oklahoma 81-75 in overtime in College Station – and expect this one to be too. Only minor tweaks will most likely be made by Lon Kruger or Billy Kennedy as both these teams know each other well after splitting contests during the regular season with the home team winning each time. These two ballclubs are very evenly matched and both were a defensive stop or two away from winning or losing each game.
For Texas A&M, their biggest challenge might be finding a defensive answer for OU’s Romero Osby as he had a career-high 24 points on Saturday and has shot a combined 19-of-25 (.760) from the field in the two meetings (his previous career-high was in the first meeting). Kruger and his staff have done a great job of getting Osby consistent touches in games as of late and athletically. Gifted sophomore Cameron Clark has been more aggressive in recent games. He had nine points and nine boards against the Aggies Saturday. The Sooners will need more of that out of him to win this rubber match.
A&M, however, has done a good job defensively on sharp-shooting Steven Pledger, limiting him to just 25 points on 24 shots. They will need their league’s top scoring defense (61.0 ppg) to come through again. Also, sometimes under-utilized Aggie big-man David Loubeau has been productive against Oklahoma with 16 and 15 points, respectively. They need to continue to get him the ball and put pressure on OU’s interior.
The winner will face Kansas tomorrow morning at 11:30.
PREDICTION: Oklahoma 66-64. Its hard to beat a team back-to-back, but Oklahoma has three talented players in Andrew Fitzgerald (12.2 ppg, 5.1 reb), Pledger (16.6 ppg) and Romero Osby (12.7 ppg, 7.4 reb), as opposed to A&M’s Khris Middleton (12.4 ppg, 5.1 reb), who may be the best player on the floor, when he is fully healthy, and Elston Turner (13.8 ppg). Middleton is not 100%, but is as healthy as he is going to get. A&M is free-falling, losing five in a row and nine of its last 10, and the bleeding won’t stop today.
The night cap (8:30 pm, Big 12 Network/ESPN3) features one of the worst Big 12 teams in the league’s 16-year history, Texas Tech (8-22, 1-17 Big 12) facing a very short-handed Oklahoma State (14-17, 7-11). The Cowboys swept the season series, winning rather easily in Lubbock and winning both by an average of 17.5 points.
No. 7 seed Oklahoma State (14-17, 7-11 Big 12)
Coach: Travis Ford
Big 12 Championship history: 20-13; championships in 2005, 2004.
Probable starters: Michael Cobbins, 6-8 Fr. F; Marek Soucek, 7-0 Fr. F/C; Brian Williams, 6-5 Fr. G; Keiton Page, 5-9 Sr. G; Markel Brown, 6-3 Soph. G.
You need to know: The Cowboys last had a losing overall record in 1988 and the 17 losses are the most since the 1987 team finished 8-20. … Oklahoma State’s only Big 12 road victory the last two seasons came this year at Lubbock when the Cowboys defeated Texas Tech 80-63. … Oklahoma State hasn’t defeated a Big 12 foe three times in one season since 2005 when it defeated Texas Tech twice in the regular season and then in the 2005 Big 12 Championship game. … OSU has never lost a first round game at the Big 12 Championship, boasting a 9-0 record. … Senior guard, the “Pawnee Pistol” Keiton Page is averaging 27 points per game in his last five games, shooting 47.5%. A total of 29 of his 38 field goals during that span are from 3-point range, where he is shooting 50 percent. … Oklahoma State has five freshmen in its eight-man rotation. In conference play this season, the five freshmen accumulated 616 of the Cowboys’ 1189 points (51.8 percent).
No. 10 seed Texas Tech (8-22 overall, 1-17 in Big 12)
Coach: Billy Gillispie.
Big 12 Championship history: 12-15.
Probable starters: Terran Petteway, 6-6 Fr. F; Jordan Tolbert, 6-7 Fr. F; Robert Lewandowski, 6-10 Sr. C; Ty Nurse, 6-1 Jr. G; Javarez Willis, 5-11 Soph. G.
You need to know: This is the sixth meeting between Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in the Big 12 Championships. The Cowboys have won of the five meetings. … Texas Tech’s eight victories are its fewest since 1991 and its conference record is the worst since 1990 when the Red Raiders finished 0-16 in the Southwest Conference. … Freshman Jordan Tolbert leads Texas Tech in scoring at 11.4 per game; he averaged 15.4 in nonconference games and has scored in double figures 14 times, scoring 20 or more five times. … Sophomore Jaye Crockett has scored in double figures in four of the last six, all of the bench. In fact, 11 of his 13 double-figure scoring outputs this season have come when he was a non-starter. … Junior Ty Nurse has missed a total of six free throws all year, including just two in Big 12 play. He has 13 double-figure scoring efforts in 2011-12, including six of the past 11 contests.
Oklahoma State is young and short-handed with five freshmen in its top eight, but Tech is even younger, with just one senior and nine new players this season, with the freshman averaging 165 minute per game.
Two of Oklahoma State’s seven conference wins have come at the Red Raiders expense. Like other teams in this league, they were smart to get wins now because Billy Gillispie’s program will progress each year moving forward and the wins will be much tougher.
Keiton Page of Oklahoma State has been on a tear lately averaging 27 points over his last five games. However, he must continue to produce in that manner as OSU’s injury woes have continued to pile up. Le’Bryan Nash and Phillip Jurick have been added to the M*A*S*H unit in Stillwater and that could help open up an opportunity for a Texas Tech upset.
Although the Red Raiders were swept in the season series, they did out rebound OSU in both games. That was also when both Nash and Jurick were available, two of the Cowboy’s best rebounders. The Cowboys must find a way to hold their own on the boards and try to produce some points off turnovers and take advantage of a Tech team that turns it over 17 times a game.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 72-67: Oklahoma State is favored by eight, and my mathematical model favors Oklahoma State by 11 points, but take into account the mounting injuries for the Cowboys and the upset factor in this one as an effect, and I’m betting on Texas Tech to beat the eight points. Oklahoma State has been just awful away from Stillwater, where they have beat two of the top three seeds – Iowa State and Missouri, but they have only road win in two years – at Tech this year. Oklahoma State is the better team, but that was before the injuries. If Keiton Page goes cold, Tech has a shot to pull off the upset.
Thursday, March 8 – Quarterfinals Time (CST)
11:30 am No. 4 Baylor (25-6, 12-6) vs. No. 5 Kansas State (21-9, 10-8) (ESPN2)
2 pm No. 1 Kansas (26-5, 16-2) vs. OU/TAMU Winner (ESPN2)
6 pm No. 2 Missouri (27-4, 14-4) vs. OSU/TTU Winner (Big 12 Network/ESPN3)
8:30 pm No. 3 Iowa State (22-9, 12-6) vs. No. 6 Texas (19-12, 9-9) (Big 12 Network/ESPN3)
Friday, March 9 – Semifinals Time (CST)
6:30 pm Thursday Afternoon Winners (Big 12 Network or ESPNU)
9 pm Thursday Evening Winners (Big 12 Network or ESPNU)
Saturday, March 10 – Final Time (CST)
5 pm Semifinal Winners (ESPN)
Thursday: Kansas and Missouri will be easy winners, but the other two games should be great…
Baylor 70, Kansas State 67: Kansas State comes in winning four of their last five, including a win over Baylor in Waco. Baylor also has a win in Manhattan, and just like their first two meetings, this should be a one possession game. Baylor is 8-2 in games decided by five points or less and that will help in this one.
Texas 71, Iowa State 70: The teams split in the regular season, with the home team winning both games. The teams matchup well, as both as +7 in scoring differential. Texas needs a win to get closer to its 14th straight NCAA Tournament bid, and J’Covan Brown will hit some big shots down the stretch to hold off Royce White and the ‘Clones down the stretch. The Cyclones have lost their first game of the tournament six years (first round) in a row, and they’ll continue that trend.
Kansas 71, Oklahoma 57: No problem for KU.
Missouri 80, Oklahoma State 64: Missouri was shocked in Stillwater 79-72, but reconciled by blowing out the Cowboys at home, where they led by as many as 35 in the second half before Keiton Page went bizerk in the final minutes. The Cowboys will be not match for Missouri at the Sprint Center, where the Tigers are 2-0 this year with an average margin of 29 points.
Friday: Two games featuring higher seeded teams that swept the lower seeded teams.
Baylor 70, Kansas 68: Trying to not sound like a homer here, but I think it is hard for one good team to beat another good team three times. It has happened, but its not easy. Not only has KU beat Baylor twice, they have blown them out and won each game easily. I have always questioned KU’s motivation in the Big 12 Tournament as they rarely are playing for much of anything.
“We dont feel the tournament is that important, but if we are going to be in it, we might as well try and win it,” head coach Bill Self said.
They have done a great job of that, winning eight of the 15 Big 12 Tournament’s.
I still think Baylor has the motivation in this one. Perry Jones III finally shows up against a good team and little man Pierre Jackson hits a game-winner to put the Bears in the finals.
Missouri 73, Texas 69: Missouri beats Texas for a third time, and like the game in Austin where Missouri won by one, its another game down to the wire. Missouri gets the job done. Texas might even need this one to lock a spot in the field of 68, but Missouri wants this tournament more than anyone and are likely the most motivated team in the bracket.
Saturday’s title game: In a rematch of the 2009 championship game where Missouri won its first Big 12 basketball championship, Missouri wins 74-70, earning their second Big 12 postseason title, and giving them a great shot to be a No. 1 seed – albeit out west, or the top No. 2 seed, in St. Louis.
For some reason, I have this weird feeling that Missouri gets to the title game, but it won’t be against Kansas. I’m sure Missouri fans and players want Kansas again – something that is not said often, but a Big 12 title will do nonetheless. I think Missouri and Texas are the two most motivated teams in this thing.
No. 1 seed Kansas (26-5, 16-2 in Big 12)
Coach: Bill Self.
Big 12 Championship history: 31-7; championships in 2011, 2010, 2008, 2007, 2006, 1999, 1998, 1997.)
Probable starters: Thomas Robinson, 6-10 Jr. F; Jeff Withey, 7-foot Jr. C; Tyshawn Taylor, 6-3 Sr. G; Elijah Johnson, 6-4 Jr. G; Travis Releford, 6-6 Jr. G.
You need to know: The Jayhawks have won eight consecutive regular-season titles, sharing or winning every title since 2004-05. … Thomas Robinson was named Big 12 player of the year, Jeff Withey was named defensive player of the year while Bill Self was co-coach of the year. … Robinson has 22 double-doubles this season. According to KenPom.com, Kansas is one of two teams (Kentucky is the other) in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency. … KU has won at least 26 games for six straight years dating back to 2006-07. … The 16 wins in conference play ties the school record for Big 12 victories and is the fifth with 15 or more Big 12 wins. … Robinson has 22 double-doubles this year, fourth on the Big 12 single-season list. He has a double-double in each of his last four outings and eight of the past 10 contests. … Taylor has 11 games with 20 or more points, tied for second with in the Big 12 with Robinson. In the last three games, he is averaging 24.3 points and shooting 61.5 percent.
No. 2 seed Missouri (27-4, 14-4 Big 12)
Coach: Frank Haith.
Big 12 Championship history: 16-14, championship in 2009.
Probable starters: Ricardo Ratliff, 6-8 Sr. F; Marcus Denmon, 6-3 Sr. G; Kim English, 6-6 Sr. G/F; Matt Pressey, 6-2 Sr. G; Phil Pressey, 5-10 Soph. G.
You need to know: Missouri’s 27 regular-season victories set a school record. … In its final regular-season game, the Tigers made a season-high 16 3-pointers against Texas Tech. … Denmon is sixth on the school’s career scoring list with 1,714 points and has Arthur Johnson (1,759) in his sights. … Haith was named the Associated Press Big 12 coach of the year. … Sophomore point guard Phil Pressey leads the Big 12 in assists (6.1 per game) and steals (2.1 per game). … The 2-seed for Missouri matches its highest seed in the event (1999). The Tigers have 14 wins in Big 12 play for the first time, matching the school record for conference wins, when they went undefeated in the Big Eight. … The 27 regular seasons are also a school record. … The 104 wins over the last four seasons are the most in a four-year stretch in school history.
No. 3 seed Iowa State (22-9 overall, 12-6 Big 12)
Coach: Fred Hoiberg.
Big 12 Championship history: 7-14; championship in 2000.
Probable starters: Royce White, 6-8 Soph. F; Melvin Ejim, 6-6 Soph F; Chris Allen, 6-3 Sr. G; Scott Christopherson, 6-3 Sr. G; Chris Babb, 6-5 Jr. G.
You need to know: The Cyclones are No. 25 in the Associated Press poll, marking the first time they have been ranked all year. … White is the only player in the country who leads his team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots. … Christopherson leads the Big 12 in 3-point field goal percentage (44.5) and free throw percentage (89.5) and is ranked second on ISU’s career 3-point list with 192. He has multiple 3-pointers in seven straight games, shooting 52.3 percent from beyond the arc during that span. … The Cyclones are a No. 3 seed in the Big 12 Championship for the first time and it is their highest seed since it was twice a No. 1 (2000, 2001). … Iowa State has lost in the first round each of the last six years. The Cyclones’ last victory was in 2005, a 77-57 defeat of Baylor. … Iowa State has defeated two teams in the Top 10 this season, the first time it has done so in the same year since 2001, when it beat Kansas twice in two weeks. … They went 8-1 at home in conference play and won seven straight, marking the first time they have done that in eight years. … The Cyclones have four players ranked in the top 15 of the Big 12 for 3-point field goals made. ISU has connected on 10 or more shots from beyond the arc 14 times in 2011-12.
No. 4 seed Baylor (25-6 overall, 12-6)
Coach: Scott Drew.
Big 12 Championship history: 9-14.
Probable starters: Pierre Jackson, 5-10 Jr. G; Brady Heslip, 6-2 Soph. G; Quincy Miller, 6-9 Fr. F; Quincy Acy, 6-7 Sr. F; Perry Jones III, 6-11 Soph. F.
You need to know: Baylor’s six losses have come to four Big 12 NCAA Tournament teams (Kansas, Missouri, Iowa State and Kansas State) that have a combined record of 96-27; four have come to Top 10 teams (Missouri, Kansas) … The Bears, a No. 9 seed, reached the Big 12 Championship game in 2009 but lost to Missouri. … In his last four games, Pierre Jackson has four 20-point contests and is averaging 21.5 points per game and has made 13-of-24 3-pointers (54.1 percent) in that stretch. …Baylor has been ranked in the top 15 for a program-record 18 consecutive weeks. … The Bears have been a top four seed twice in the last three years after having previously never been higher than fifth in league history. … Baylor has set a school record with 12 victories in Big 12 play. The Bears have 44 conference wins in the last five years after posting 45 in the first 11 seasons of Big 12 competition. … The Bears have won 11 games away from home this season (tied for most in the Big 12), including six conference road contests. The Bears are also 8-2 in games decided by five points or less in 2011-12.
No. 5 seed Kansas State (21-9 overall, 10-8 Big 12)
Coach: Frank Martin.
Big 12 Championship history: 9-15.
Probable starters: Angel Rodriguez, 5-11 Fr. G; Will Spradling, 6-2 Soph. G; Rodney McGruder, 6-4 Jr. G;Jamar Samuels, 6-7 Sr. F; Jordan Henriquez, 6-11 Jr. C.
You need to know: Rodney McGruder has scored 20 or more points in three of the past five games and is averaging 21.8 points, 5.8 rebounds during that stretch. He also scored in double figures in 19 of the last 20 games and leads the Wildcats in scoring and is second in rebounding. … Kansas State has won four of its last five, including back-to-back victories over top 10 teams Baylor and Missouri; that was a first for the school. … The Wildcats have won four of their last five games with Baylor. … In its last four games, Kansas State is shooting 49.2 percent from the field (105-of-213). … K-State has won 21 games in each of the last six season, including every year under Frank Martin. They have also won nine or more conference games each season of his tenure. … The six seed is the lowest in the Martin tenure. … Samuels has 708 career rebounds, just the sixth player in school history to reach the 700-plateau. He has 13 career double- doubles, with the Wildcats boasting a 12-1 mark in those contests.
No. 6 seed Texas (19-12 overall, 9-9 Big 12)
Coach: Rick Barnes.
Big 12 Championship history: 20-15.
Probable starters: Sheldon McCLellan, 6-4 Fr. G; Myck Kabongo, 6-1 Fr. G; J’Covan Brown, 6-1 Jr. G; Jonathan Holmes, 6-7 Fr. F: Clint Chapman, 6-10 Sr. F/C.
You need to know: Senior forward Alexis Wangmene was scheduled to undergo surgery Tuesday after dislocating his wrist in the final game of the season at KU. … Brown, in his first season as a starter, was named first team All-Big12 and led the Conference in scoring at 20 points per game and has four 30-point games this season, leading the conference. He has made 48-of-51 (.941) from the free-throw line in the last eight games, including four perfect performances. His career .866 mark from the stripe is fourth on the Big 12 all-time list. … A victory over Iowa State would give the Longhorns 20 victories for the 13th consecutive season. … Texas has reached the Big 12 Championship game six times but has yet to win. … They have won at least one game in the event for six straight seasons and their 20 all-time wins are tied for second in the league. … Kabongo has five or more assists in five of his last six outings and 18 times this year. He has dished out 164 assists, a total that is fourth on the Big 12 season record list for freshmen.
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