With six teams in the top 25 in the AP rankings and seven in the top-30 in terms of RPI (Ratings Percentage Index), a tool used by the NCAA Selection Committee to evaluate teams, there is no denying that the Big 12 was college basketball’s best conference in the 2015-16 season.
So look no further than the Big 12 championship tournament, which kicks off Wednesday, as the one that is can’t miss during ESPN’s championship week (March 9 – 12).
The tournament opens with a pair of first round games as #8 seeded Kansas State takes on #9 Oklahoma State and #10 TCU takes on #7 Texas Tech. Tech enter the Big 12 championship tournament with wins against the nation’s sixth best team in Oklahoma, and against Iowa State, Baylor and Texas, all ranked within the top-25. Ranked 36th in the country, the Red Raiders are definitely a team that opponents should not take lightly.
Assuming Texas Tech does win their opening game, they’ll be headed for a showdown with the country’s 9th best team in West Virginia, who enters the tournament as the second highest seed and a recipient of a first round bye. The other bye goes of course to Kansas, unquestionably the best team in the country right now.
Ranked #1 in the nation, Kansas is coming off of an 11-game winning streak which helped the Jayhawks to secure their 12th consecutive Big 12 regular season title. Of the top teams, only Michigan State received consideration to be #1 as Kansas, with 63 of 65 votes, almost earned a unanimous decision.
Kansas, which never fell below #7 in the AP Top-25, spent a two-week stint at the top before ceding to another Big 12 tournament favorite, Oklahoma. The two battled as the top teams in the nation for a five-week long period with Oklahoma, aided by player of the year Buddy Hield (pictured), emerging on top. Kansas would linger within striking distance and when the Big East’s Villanova lost against conference foe Xavier, the Jayhawks would take over the rankings and not look back.
A strong team with an incredibly talented roster, Kansas is a favorite to emerge past the field and win the conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. A win also practically ensures the Jayhawks will be the overall #1 seed come time for the big dance, a tournament that right now has them listed among early prohibitive favorites.
But Kansas, like the rest of the Big 12 hopefuls, has a tough draw as the tournament moves on to the semifinals. Assuming Kansas defeats either Kansas State, which they have by a total of 27 points over the two victories this season, or Oklahoma State, which did manage to win one of the two meetings this season, the Jayhawks will move on to face either Texas or Baylor.
Seeded #4 and ranked 23rd in the nation, Texas is an imposing team but one with definite holes. The Longhorns defeated West Virginia in both meetings and also managed a victory over Oklahoma, but lost uncharacteristically to Washington and Connecticut. They have shown the potential in a tough conference but there’s part of the rub. The Big 12 is such a tough conference and against Baylor, a team which Texas is 1-1 with the most recent game being a lopsided defeat in favor of the Bears, the Longhorns cannot afford any mistakes.
Baylor is much like Texas in that regard. They finished the season as the fifth best team in the Big 12 and as the 22nd best team in the country. If they can get past Texas, they’ll have Kansas to look forward to and the Jayhawks defeated them soundly this season by a total of 34 points. This was only a slightly better account of defeat than Texas, which lost to Kansas by 39 total points in their two meetings.
Assuming these kinds of results hold, Kansas will at the very least, reach the finals, where they would take on the winner of the West Virginia (assuming WVU defeats Texas Tech or TCU) Oklahoma/Iowa State game.
Moving lower down the bracket is the matchup between former top team in the nation in Iowa State, currently ranked 21st. This might actually be the most intriguing matchup not in the finals because the Sooners and the Cyclones have played each other well this season, with each team walking away with a win. In fact, Iowa State defeated Oklahoma when the team was #1, costing them that very standing. Iowa State also defeated Kansas making them the only Big 12 team to defeat both this year. It’s even more impressive because they did it within a three-week span.
So if there is any team not named Oklahoma or Kansas that could win the Big 12, Iowa State certainly has to be the favorite to do so. And like they did before, they’ll have to do it in that three-week span.
Big 12 Championship Tournament Picks Predictions
Of the top USA sportsbooks, the highly-rated 5Dimes have already posted their tournament odds on the Big 12 Championship, which can be found in their basketball futures section. They bet on the Big 12 tournament winner, with the championship game taking place at Sprint Center, Kansas City on Saturday March 12, as follows:
- Kansas Jayhawks +105; West Virginia Mountaineers +275; Oklahoma Sooners +450; Iowa State Cyclones +900; Baylor Bears +1250; Texas Longhorns +1300; Texas Tech Red Raiders +6000; Kansas State Wildcats +8000; Oklahoma State Cowboys +22500; TCU Horned Frogs +80000.
I really like Iowa State in the role of spoiler, preventing the seemingly inevitable clash between those teams shorter in the betting lines. It’s never too early to start thinking Cinderella and Iowa State would certainly fill that mold.
While my championship final looks a little different than most, where I bend to convention is when it comes to crowning a winner. It’s Kansas and it’s really not even up for debate.
Yes, Iowa State did defeat Kansas, but Kansas also defeated Iowa State and with a much bigger margin. Kansas is the best team in college basketball right now and they’ll continue to prove that, riding their momentum all the way to the Big 12 Championship and the NCAA tournament after that.
- So bet on Kansas Jayhawks at +105 to win the Big 12 tournament with 5Dimes Sportsbook.