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March 9, 2010
Big 12 Tournament Preview
Kansas is King

by Bradford Doolittle

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WHAT: 14th Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament
WHERE: Kansas City, Mo.
WHEN: March 10-13

Having spent 12 years in Kansas City, I can envision all the crazies invading downtown this week, and for the first time since leaving, I think I will actually miss the old town. Well, I also miss it when I get a barbeque craving. That's one area in which Chicago falls short.

Purple-, blue- and black-clad hoops fans will be out en masse at and around the Sprint Center and the Power and Light District across the street will be teeming with humanity. The Iowa State contingent will descend upon Kelly's in Westport just like in the old Big Eight days. Meanwhile, the Texas teams, making the long trip from down South, will wonder just what they have gotten themselves into. Big fun.

POMEROY'S LOG5 PROJECTIONS

SD TEAM         1R       2R       SEMI     FNLS
1  Kansas       100      95.8     80.1     65.3
2  Kansas St.   100      74.2     39.8     11.0
3  Baylor       100      57.5     31.0      8.2
6  Texas        80.1     38.7     20.3      5.1
5  Missouri     87.0     48.3     10.1      5.0
4  Texas A&M    100      49.7      8.9      4.0
7  Oklahoma St. 75.4     22.8      7.7      1.2
8  Colorado     52.7      2.3      0.5      0.08
11 Iowa St.     19.9      3.8      0.8      0.07
9  Texas Tech   47.3      1.9      0.3      0.05
10 Oklahoma     24.6      3.1      0.4      0.03
12 Nebraska     13.0      2.0      0.1      0.01

Kansas has been the most dominant men's team in college basketball this season, though they fall well short of the standard set by UConn on the women's side. It's no surprise that Ken Pomeroy's log5 machinery sees the Big 12 as a one-bird race. Pomeroy gave half-credit for home advantage to the Jayhawks, which is appropriate for what will be a partisan crowd in each of KU's games. Missouri also has traditionally enjoyed a big home advantage when playing in Kansas City. That's less true for Kansas State, but there are a lot of Wildcat fans in Kansas City. Iowa State and Nebraska also have fairly large followings in the KC area and both travel from campuses that are a short drive away.

As I alluded to, the Texas teams don't get a big following when the tournament is held in the North, which will work against third-seeded Baylor. What really jumps out at you in these numbers are the long odds for Texas and Oklahoma. Texas is less than two months removed from being the top-ranked team in the nation. Oklahoma fell from prominence a long time ago, but the Sooners did enter the season with high expectations and were picked third in the Big 12's preseason media poll.

WHAT'S AT STAKE

It goes without saying that there is a certain amount of pride in winning a conference's postseason tournament. For fans of the three teams with the largest following in Kansas City--Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State--there is also the motivation to knock off a key rival should those teams meet. Kansas and Missouri could hook up in the semifinals and the winner of that contest could face Kansas State for the conference title.

As for teams with bigger fish to fry ... there isn't a whole at stake in the Big 12 tournament. There are seven teams that seem to be dead-cinch locks for the NCAA Tournament. It's unlikely that any of them could play their way out. Also, there is no chance that any of the bottom five teams are going to play their way in. So what's left is the jockeying for better NCAA seeds. I guess it's possible that Kansas needs to avoid an upset in its first game to lock up a No. 1 seed, but I suspect KU has that honor already sewn up. So the team with the most to play for is probably Kansas State. Right now, the Wildcats seem to be in a battle with Duke, West Virginia and Purdue for a top seed. KSU is likely behind those other schools after losing two straight, so the Cats need to run the table in Kansas City and hope for tournament flops from the competition in their respective conferences. At the other end of the spectrum, it's also possible that K-State could play its way out of a No. 2 seed.

NCAA BOUND

1. Kansas: The Jayhawks won their sixth straight regular-season Big 12 title this season and will likely enter the NCAA tournament as the top overall seed. That puts KU in a great position for its second national championship in three years. This year's team may be even deeper in terms of talent than the 2007-08 champs, but Bill Self's squad isn't as experienced this time around. With the nation's second-best Offensive Rating and top overall Defensive Rating, it's hard to poke holes in Self's roster. He has used an eight-man rotation for the most part, with only senior point guard Sherron Collins logging heavy minutes. Collins orchestrates the KU offense, while junior center Cole Aldrich anchors the defense. Aldrich ranks 14th in the nation in defensive rebound percentage and fifth in blocked-shot percentage. The Jayhawks have a slew of excellent perimeter shooters, led by freshman Xavier Henry, one of the smoothest jump shooters in the nation. However, Collins, Tyshawn Taylor, Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed all shoot near 40 percent from three-point range.

2. Kansas State: KSU is reeling a bit after dropping its final two regular-season games. The 82-65 loss in Lawrence last Wednesday was understandable, but Saturday's 85-82 overtime loss to Iowa State in Manhattan was more difficult to fathom. Wildcat coach Frank Martin was honored as the Big 12's Coach of the Year on Monday and the Kansas State administration responded by giving Martin a six-year contract extension. The Wildcats are a manifestation of the fiery Martin's personality. K-State features a smothering man-to-man defense that also happens to commit a ton of fouls. No worries, though. The Wildcats draw fouls at the nation's highest rate. So if you're recording a Kansas State game, you might want to add an extra half hour onto that DVR. In the loss to the Cyclones, Kansas State shot .343 from the field and was 3-of-23 on three-pointers. When the Wildcats have struggled this season, it's usually been because of poor shooting. Often, though, K-State gets by on the nation's six-best offensive rebound rate. While Curtis Kelly tops the offensive rebound chart, KSU excels by sending waves of big men crashing to the glass--Kelly, Jamar Samuels, Dominique Sutton, Wally Judge, et al. The offense is spearheaded guards Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, who are both physical, unselfish, a bit undersized and capable of going on prolonged hot streaks.

3. Baylor: Scott Drew has assembled one of the nation's most-entertaining teams, though too often no one was around in Waco to see it. By the end of the season, however, the Bears were drawing record crowds. That'll happen when a school wins its most games in 64 years. Baylor features the nation's sixth-best Offensive Rating. The attack is led by junior sharpshooter LaceDarius Dunn, who hit 42 percent from downtown and has no trouble getting shots with his NBA-like physical traits. Waterbug point guard Tweety Carter makes the attack go and is streaky when it comes down to knocking down his own shot. Baylor improved from 103rd to 47th nationally in Defensive Rating this season. A key part of that improvement was the arrival of junior Ekpe Udoh, who transferred from Michigan. Udoh, 6'10", 240 lb., is a beast on the offensive glass and features the country's sixth-best shot-block percentage.

4. Texas A&M: Aggies coach Mark Turgeon has overseen the best three-year stretch in A&M hoops history. This year's team has been steady in conference play, losing at home only to Kansas and knocking off Missouri, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Oklahoma on the road. The physical Aggies rank 22nd in Defensive Rating thanks largely to their interior defense and the ability of their perimeter defenders to chase shooters off the three-point line. Senior Bryan Davis anchors the defense with his rebounding and shot blocking. At the other end, Davis is a foul-drawing machine, but his efficiency is hurt by mediocre shooting from the field and the line. The offensive standout is fellow senior Donald Sloan who makes his living in the midrange, but also has a solid ability to get into the lane and to the line. Davis is complemented inside by athletic David Loubeau, while Sloan's primary running mates on the perimeter are junior B.J. Holmes and sophomore point guard Dash Harris, whose quickness gets him into the lane, where he draws fouls and sets up teammates. His shooting is non-existent, however, as indicated by his sub-.500 free-throw percentage.

5. Missouri: The Tigers have been executing the Mike Anderson formula to a 'T' this season in most respects--but not all. Mizzou has ranks third in the nation in forced turnover percentage and second in steals percentage. They play fast, don't rebound, move the ball on offense and don't get shy around the three-point line. Missouri ranks sixth in Defensive Rating and its style of play will make them a very uncomfortable opponent once the NCAA Tournament gets underway. However, Missouri lacks consistency on offense and in the games it has lost, it's generally been because of a lack of high-percentage shots. Missouri has a number of players that can knock down open perimeter shots, but no one that can really create high-quality looks against strong opponents. The Tigers also lack a polished scorer around the basket. Despite these shortcomings, Anderson's squad is greater than the sum of its parts. The Tigers play with a lot of heart and have as much depth as any team in the conference.

6. Texas: The enigmatic Longhorns can't feel too good about ending up with the sixth seed in the Big 12 tournament after starting the season 17-0 and rising to No. 1 in the polls. Texas is the first team in seven years to go from No. 1 to unranked in the same season. Texas is deep and talented, but also inexperienced. Freshmen J'Covan Brown, Jordan Hamilton and Avery Bradley are all key parts of Rick Barnes' rotation and while they've been spectacular at times, they've also been inconsistent. The Longhorns don't have a consistent home run threat from the perimeter, though they have several players capable of knocking down open looks. They do have a lot of excellent athletes that can put the ball on the floor, run in transition and get to the line. Unfortunately, once the Longhorns get to the foul line, they are one of the country's worst free-throw-shooting teams. Barnes has played a lot of players this season and his team maintains the nation's 13th-fastest tempo.

7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are a reflection of the traits their coach, Travis Ford, had as a player. They are short, take and make a lot of three-pointers and struggle on defense despite a hard-nosed demeanor. OSU's tallest primary player was 6'7" Marshall Moses who, despite his lack of stature, was one of the nation's better defensive rebounders. Ford replaced him with 6'8" junior Matt Pilgrim, whose rebound percentages are even better than Moses', though he doesn't have enough minutes to qualify for the Pomeroy rankings. Pilgrim is much more efficient than Moses offensively. The Cowboys also feature one of the nation's top offensive players in junior swingman James Anderson. He's the complete package--scoring outside, off the dribble and from the foul line, and he can create that offense for himself with superior athleticism. Anderson will play at the next level. The Cowboys work on the defensive end--Ford wouldn't have it any other way--and gamely pack it in on defense to keep from getting dominated in the paint because of their lack of size. This too often means open looks from the perimeter, which has been tended by a pair of 5'9" rotation players in Ray Penn and Keiton Page. Penn is out for the season with a knee injury. His replacement, Fred Gulley, has better size but can't shoot--as in 14-of-28 from the line and 0-of-17 from three-point range.

NIT HOPEFUL

8. Colorado: The Buffs most likely need to pick up a win in Kansas City to lock down an NIT bid. CU fans don't get too worked up over hoops despite a nice foundation put down by coach Jeff Bzdelik. Junior Cory Higgins is a fine athlete and fringe NBA prospect, while freshman Alec Burks has played a leading role for Colorado and teems with potential. The Buffaloes lack quality depth and have almost no inside presence. CU was one of the nation's poorest rebounding teams during the regular season, and that held true of both ends of the floor. Colorado beat Texas Tech, its first-round opponent, 101-90 last Saturday.

9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders got off to a 9-0 start this season and even cracked the polls at one point. But Tech enters the Big 12 Tournament on a seven-game losing streak. Tech might still salvage an NIT bid with a win over Colorado, but the Buffaloes can say the same thing. Pat Knight's team was subpar on both ends of the floor and his genetic abhorrence of three-point shots quells any hopes of overcoming Tech's lack of top-shelf talent. The Red Raiders, especially junior John Roberson, actually shoot the deep ball pretty well. They just don't take enough of them.

LET'S JUST TRY TO RUN THE TABLE

10. Oklahoma: The Sooners entered the season ranked No. 17 in the AP poll and featured a future NBA Lottery pick in Willie Warren, but it all came unhinged for Jeff Capel's squad. Oklahoma has lost eight straight entering the tournament, the school's longest losing streak in 41 years. Barring a miracle postseason, OU will finish with its first losing record since the 1980-81 season, Billy Tubbs' first at the helm in Norman. Oklahoma has generally been known for defense, but the point prevention this season has been abysmal. OU is on the wrong side of No. 300 in the rankings for opponent eFG%, turnover percentage, three-point percentage and even free-throw percentage. Yeah, it's been that bad. Warren underwent surgery for an injured ankle last month and is out for the season.

11. Iowa State: The Cyclones are coming off a road win at Kansas State to finish the regular season, a just result for a squad that lost six conference games by five points or less. Iowa State could sneak into the postseason with a couple of wins in Kansas City. With Texas and then Baylor lined up in front of them, that's not an impossible task for Greg McDermott's squad. ISU is led by 6'10" Craig Brackins, one of the better offensive big men in the country. He's complemented by senior wing man Marquis Gilstrap, who is more volume than efficiency. Diante Garrett is a point guard with good size and playmaking ability, but it gets murky after that for a Cyclone roster short on athleticism.

12. Nebraska: Doc Sadler's team has some promising freshmen, but only Brian Diaz is getting significant court time this season. The Huskers are offensively offensive. Well, that's not exactly fair. Nebraska moves the ball well and shoots a good percentage from deep. However, the lack of overall talent means the Huskers lack offense creators and against good teams, the decent shooting ability is irrelevant because of a lack of open shots. Nebraska gets after it on defense, but lacks the an interior presence that could anchor a truly solid performance on that end. Junior Lance Jeter transferred from Cincinnati--where he was a football player--and is a physical specimen to behold.

GAMES TO WATCH

In the first round, the Texas vs. Iowa State (8:30 p.m., Wednesday) game could be interesting. The Cyclones always draw well at these tournaments and feature one of the conference's best inside-outside players in Craig Brackins. Texas' season has been partially derailed by inconsistent shooting, but one of the Longhorns' better-shooting nights in conference play came in its 90-83 win at Iowa State on Jan. 13. Still, Texas trailed at halftime in that game. In the semifinals, you gotta love a Missouri vs. Kansas matchup, which would be the 6 p.m. game on Friday, but Mizzou has to get by Texas A&M in the second round. KU has throttled Missouri twice this season with hot perimeter shooting and stifling interior defense. A potential Kansas State vs. Oklahoma State matchup in the second round (6 p.m., Thursday) would be interesting. OSU beat Kansas State 73-69 on Jan. 23, and Travis Ford's team showed how competitive it can be when it gets hot from the field in an 85-77 win over Kansas on Feb. 27.

PROSPECTS

I've had this list of prospects gathered for awhile so I figure I might as well break them out now, just to throw a bone to my NBA readership. These are the pro prospects I have flagged for each team, with my national prospect ranking listed in parenthesis:

Kansas: Cole Aldrich, C (No. 4)
Kansas: Xavier Henry, SG (No. 5)
Oklahoma: Willie Warren, PG (No. 7)
Iowa State: Craig Brackins, PF (No. 16)
Texas: Dexter Pittman, C (No. 20)
Kansas: Sherron Collins, PG (No. 21)
Oklahoma State: James Anderson, SG (No. 23)
Texas: Avery Bradley, SG (No. 29)
Texas: Damion James, SF (No. 30)
Baylor: Ekpe Udoh, PF (No. 49)
Texas: Jordan Hamilton, SF (No. 50)
Kansas: Tyshawn Taylor, PG (No. 57)
Oklahoma: Tiny Gallon, PF (No. 62)
Kansas State: Wally Judge, PF (No. 92)
Kansas State: Jacob Pullen, G (No. 114)
Texas: J'Coven Brown, PG (No. 134)
Baylor: LaceDarius Dunn, G (No. 143)
Texas: Gary Johnson, PF (No. 143)
Texas A&M: Donald Sloan, G (No. 149)
Colorado: Cory Higgins, G (No. 157)
Missouri: no prospects
Nebraska: no prospects
Texas Tech: no prospects

I list Warren for the sake of thoroughness, but he is out of for the season after having surgery on his ankle. If there is a ranking repeated, it means my prospect formulas yielded a tie.

You can follow Bradford on Twitter at twitter.com/@bbdoolittle.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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