The Big 12 is arguably the nation’s toughest conference from top to bottom. The conference featured some of college basketball’s most compelling stories. From Oklahoma’s star Trae Young, who captivated the nation from the get-go, to Texas Tech’s basketball resurrection, the Big 12 proved to be the top conference in the country.
With that in mind, the Big 12 Tournament will not disappoint. So who will hoist the trophy at the end? Let’s look at the contenders and find out.
Kansas continued one of college basketball’s most impressive streaks by winning the Big 12 regular season title for the 14th straight season. However, this year was similar to a roller coaster ride for coach Bill Self. Kansas was in a precarious situation for most of the season, dropping games at Allen Fieldhouse at an alarming rate. But nevertheless, senior Devonte’ Graham carried them late in the season to another championship.
Both Texas Tech and West Virginia each threatened Kansas throughout the season numerous times, with the Red Raiders actually beating Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. The Mountaineers pushed Kansas to the edge both times they played, but collapsed late both times.
The remaining teams in the conference all experience their respective ups and downs, but no team fell harder than Oklahoma. The flashy playing style of Trae Young, who averaged 27.5 points, 8.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game, originally stunned the conference as a whole. However, as teams slowly began implementing hard double-teams on Young and forcing other players on OU to beat them, the Sooners’ lack of other consistent scoring options became clearer.
The Big 12 starts and ends with the Kansas Jayhawks. Graham, the Big 12 Player of the Year, averaged 17.6 points and 7.2 assists per game this season. Graham flashed the ability to take over games with his versatile offensive playing style.
Svi Mykhailiuk, once purely a three point shooter, has developed into a nice inside-out offensive threat. Mykhailiuk averaged 15.3 points and shot 45.1 percent from 3-point range on the season.
Texas Tech, if not for Keenan Evans’ turf toe, could have slayed Kansas this season. The Red Raiders defeated the Jayhawks 85-73 at Allen Fieldhouse earlier this season, but fell at home 74-72. Texas Tech’s defense has launched themselves into this position. Collectively, they ball-switch better than any team in the nation.
Their season, however, took a turn for the worse when star point guard Keenan Evans developed turf toe. This, along with a slew of other injuries, derailed the Red Raiders and led to a four-game losing streak.
Evans averaged 17.4 points and 3.3 assists per game this season. These numbers would have been higher if the turf toe did not affect his play to the degree that it did. If Evans did not sustain that injury, the Red Raiders easily could have ended Kansas’s Big 12 regular season title streak.
West Virginia, once ranked No. 2 in the nation, has been prone to late-game collapses all season. Bob Huggins’ famous “Press Virginia” defense has sputtered in the second half of many big games, and that has allowed opposing teams to climb back from large deficits. Regardless, the Mountaineers are a senior-heavy squad led by point guard Jevon Carter. Carter averaged 17.0 points, 6.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game this season.
The Darkhorse: TCU
TCU’s season appeared to be over when Jaylen Fisher was ruled out indefinitely with a knee injury. However, after struggling through inconsistent play for most of the second half of the season, Jamie Dixon’s squad roped off a four-game win streak before losing to Texas Tech by four points to end the season.
These four wins could represent a sign of things to come for the Horned Frogs. Controlling the glass and limiting second-chance opportunities is key for TCU.
During their four-game winning streak, the Horned Frogs won the rebounding battle every single game. Without Fisher leading the way on offense, TCU needs to limit the opposition’s opportunities for second-chance points since TCU’s baskets do not come as easily.
The Horned Frogs are led by Vladimir Brodziansky, a 6-foot-10 senior forward who averaged 15.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. He anchors the paint on both offense and defense, as he shoots an efficient 57.7 percent from the field.
The Champion: Texas Tech
If the bracket holds up, the Red Raiders will take on in-state rival Texas. This is not an easy matchup as Texas has given top teams in the Big 12 fits all season. However, Tech should be able to ride its strong defense and opportune scoring to a matchup against West Virginia. In a battle of top defenses, Tech’s ability to limit their own turnovers should win the day.
They would then take on Kansas in the rubber match. One could make the argument that if Evans was healthy for their game at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders would have emerged victorious. Tech is a bad matchup for Kansas as their switching limits Kansas’ ability to create open looks from the 3-point line for Mykhailiuk.
Evans will build off of his strong game against TCU, where scored 23 points on 54.5 percent shooting and led Chris Beard’s crew to a title while winning Most Outstanding Player in the process.
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