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March 9, 2011
All Eyes on the Jayhawks
Big 12 Tournament

by C.J. Moore


2011 Big 12 Tournament
March 9-12
Sprint Center, Kansas City
Bracket (pdf)

Log5 odds by Ken Pomeroy
Kansas is credited with half a home-court advantage.

Seed                  Qtrs   Semis   Final   Champ
 1 Kansas              100    90.6    77.8    56.2
 2 Texas               100    88.3    68.1    29.7
 4 Kansas St.          100    69.5    14.6     5.4
 6 Missouri           83.8    51.7    16.9     4.2
 3 Texas A&M           100    44.5    10.7     1.9
 8 Nebraska           68.5     7.7     3.5     1.0
 5 Colorado           61.2    20.9     2.7     0.7
 7 Baylor             75.3    10.5     3.8     0.5
12 Iowa St.           38.8     9.6     0.9     0.2
 9 Oklahoma St.       31.5     1.7     0.5     0.08
11 Texas Tech         16.2     3.8     0.4     0.03
10 Oklahoma           24.7     1.2     0.2     0.01

The Big 12 has more intriguing matchups and subplots happening this week than any other conference tournament -- with the possible exception of the 107-team Big East. In Kansas City, you'll see no fewer than three bubble teams (Colorado, Nebraska and Baylor); Pat Knight coaching his final game(s) at Texas Tech; Missouri and Texas trying to bounce back from late-season struggles; two teams (Nebraska and Colorado) bound for new conferences and dodging Benedict Arnold jabs; K-State attempting to continue its hot streak; and Kansas possibly getting a chance to avenge its two losses.

Eat your heart out, Big East.

Three weeks ago Ken Pomeroy's log5 predictions would have had Texas and not Kansas as the tourney favorite -- even with KU receiving credit for half a home-court advantage at the Sprint Center. But then the Longhorns lost three of their next four, allowing better than 1.13 points per trip in each of those losses. Rick Barnes' team actually didn't experience much of a drop-off offensively, but what did coincide with the defensive letdown was leading scorer Jordan Hamilton's shooting slump. Hamilton shot just 15-of-58 and had nine turnovers in those three conference losses. His struggles led to some noticeable pouting and, as Luke Winn diagramed in his final power rankings, Hamilton's defense suffered as well.

Texas' former stinginess on defense was nearly matched this season by KU's offensive efficiency. The Jayhawks scored better than 1.23 points per trip six straight times and in nine of 10 games following their January 22 loss to Texas. Led by the Morris twins, the Jayhawks are an incredibly efficient bunch. They lead the country in effective FG percentage (58.2). Markieff Morris ranks second nationally in offensive efficiency per 40 minutes and Big 12 Player of the Year Marcus Morris ranks eighth, according to Draft Express. Brady Morningstar, who shot 27 percent from beyond the arc in nonconference play, caught fire once the conference slate started, knocking down 53 percent of his threes while sporting a Big 12-best 4.4 assist-to-turnover ratio in conference play.

KU's defense had been identified by Bill Self as one of his team's weaknesses; however, the Jayhawks have looked quite Texas-like in their last two games. In fact at Missouri last Saturday the Jayhawks won despite turning it over on nearly a third of their possessions, proving they can win with defense if they must. This should benefit them this week and in the NCAA tournament.

Meanwhile as Jordan Hamilton was shooting himself out of Big 12 Player of the Year consideration, K-State's Jacob Pullen shot his way in. The Wildcats have won six straight and are now a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament. Better still, Frank Martin's team has a chance to improve its seed with a potential semifinal matchup against Kansas. Most of the credit for the K-State's resurgence goes to their senior guard.

During the six-game winning streak Pullen's has averaged 25 points a game, and his shooting numbers have improved greatly. He's also been getting to the line more frequently, attempting at least eight free throws in each of the last six games. Pullen draws 6.9 fouls per 40 minutes, second only to Alec Burks of Colorado among major-conference guards.

Pullen and the Wildcats owe their potential quarterfinal opponent, Iowa State, for their late-season turnaround. Frank Martin completely changed his offense mid-season to a variation of former Iowa State coach Johnny Orr's pinch-post offense, an attack that fits K-State's personnel and has helped Pullen thrive.

The Cyclones can ruin Colorado's chances for their first NCAA tourney bid since 2003, as the Buffs sit squarely on the bubble. In the latest Bracketology, CU was one of Joe Lunardi's last four in. Iowa State knocked off Colorado 95-90 a week ago in Ames, exposing the Buffs' weak interior defense. CU was caught off guard when the three-point-happy Cyclones pounded the ball inside to freshman forward Calvin Godfrey, who went off for a season-high 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting.

Assuming they can slow down Godfrey this time, the Buffs have the best chance to be the sixth Big 12 team into the field of 68. KU, Texas, Texas A&M, K-State and Mizzou are considered locks. The Big 12 has never had a team make the tournament that finished below .500 during the conference season, and only Texas A&M in 2008 has made it with a .500 conference record. Mizzou and possibly CU could make it three this year. Nebraska and Baylor both finished 7-9 and better hope tourney expansion reverses history. Both teams need at least two wins (maybe three) to enter the tourney conversation.

Nebraska was great at home this year, losing to only KU and K-State, but the Huskers were pitiful away from the Devaney Center, winning only one conference road game (at Oklahoma). They were also 1-2 on a neutral court, including a resume-killing loss to Davidson. The Huskers won their only meeting against first-round opponent Oklahoma State. If they can get past the Cowboys, they get the Jayhawks in the second round. Nebraska actually played one of its better road games at KU, losing 63-60, but got drilled by the Jayhawks by 20 at home.

Baylor, which reached the Elite Eight last season, has been the most disappointing team in the Big 12. To sneak into the tournament, the Bears need to get past Oklahoma and figure out a way to beat Texas, which swept the season series. Baylor's bugaboo has been turnovers -- the Bears turn it over on 24 percent of their possessions -- but they've actually taken decent care of the ball against the Longhorns, turning it over just 13 times in each game for a turnover rate of 20 percent. To beat the Horns, the Bears have to hope that Big 12 all-time leading scorer LaceDarius Dunn catches fire. Dunn is certainly going to shoot it, as he jacked up 45 shots in two games against UT.

The dark horse pick to win the Big 12 tournament could be Missouri. The Tigers lost their last three games, yet Ken Pomeroy gives them the fourth-best odds of winning the tourney. Texas A&M, which finished third in the conference, was leapfrogged by Mizzou in Pomeroy's predictions, not a surprise considering the Aggies somehow won 10 conference games despite a meager +0.01 efficiency margin.

Mizzou also has proximity on its side and a big following in Kansas City. Plus MU went 3-1 in neutral or semi-home games this season, its only loss coming in a late-game collapse at the Sprint Center against Georgetown. If the Tigers make a surprise run to the championship game, they would most likely face either KU or K-State. Either matchup would be a treat for the locals and a nice transition to the new 10-team Big (TBA).

C.J. Moore is a writer in Kansas City. Follow him on Twitter: @cjmoore4.

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