Big 12 Tournament preview and predictions: Can West Virginia or Baylor challenge Kansas?

The 2017 Big 12 tournament tips off Wednesday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Here is an in-depth look at the tournament including a complete bracket, TV information, analysis and predictions.

THE KEY QUESTIONS

1. Who is the favorite?

It’s Kansas — how could it not be? How could it not be the team that has won 13 regular season titles in a row? How could it not be the team that won this year’s title by a whopping three-game margin. The Jayhawks are by no means the runaway favorites. They’re not even the conference’s highest rated team in some predictive rankings. And they certainly have flaws. But it’s frankly unfair to Kansas to think anybody else is the favorite, especially in front of a home crowd in Kansas City.

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2. Who else could win the tournament?

West Virginia is 2-4 in Big 12 tournament games since moving to the conference in 2012, but poses the biggest threat to Kansas. It beat the Jayhawks by 16 in Morgantown, and held a double-digit lead in the final few minutes at Allen Fieldhouse before a spectacular collapse. If the two teams were to meet a third time in the final, the betting line would be pretty darn close to a pick ’em.

Baylor also heads north to Kansas City with a real shot at taking home a title. So do Iowa State and Oklahoma State. If there’s a team outside of the top five that can make a run, it’s probably Kansas State, but watch out for Oklahoma as a deep sleeper. The Sooners, a strong defensive team, have won two of three, and in that one loss, they led Kansas by 12 midway through the second half.

3. Who got the best and worst draw?

The Big 12 was never going to hand any team an easy draw, but Iowa State has received a particularly difficult one. The Cyclones lost a three-way tiebreaker with Baylor and West Virginia, and now their road to Saturday goes through the conference’s best team and its hottest team throughout much of February.

If any team can feel happy about the bracket, it’s Kansas State. Bruce Weber’s club dodged any bad loss potential by receiving a bye to the quarters, and gets Baylor — the most vulnerable of the top three seeds, and a team the Wildcats have already beaten this year — in its first game.

BUBBLE IMPLICATIONS

Kansas State (19-12, 8-10, KenPom 32, RPI 58): A win over Baylor should get the Wildcats in. A loss would leave Kansas State right where it is: Hoping the committee forgets about its 302nd-ranked non-conference schedule and chooses to focus on its wins at Oklahoma State, over West Virginia and at Baylor. Should the Wildcats lose to Baylor, they’ll be one of the more interesting and telling bubble cases come Sunday.

Texas Tech (18-13, 6-12, KenPom 36, RPI 107), TCU (17-14, 6-12, KenPom 45, RPI 79):After spending much of January and February on the bubble, both the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs have fallen off it, and have to win four games in four days to make the tournament.

PLAYERS POINT GUARDS TO WATCH

(Getty)
(Getty)

1. Frank Mason III, G, Kansas: Mason is a, if not the, National Player of the Year favorite. He’s also just one of four Big 12 lead guards who have had All-American-caliber seasons.

2. Jevon Carter, G, West Virginia: The Big 12 defensive player of the year fuels Press Virginia, but is a fearless and increasingly efficient offensive player too.

3. Monte Morris, G, Iowa State: Morris has smashed the NCAA record for assist-to-turnover ratio with a 6.17-to-1 mark this season, and has capped off an outstanding four-year career in Ames in style.

4. Jawun Evans, G, Oklahoma State: Overshadowed by more established players, Evans is the engine of the nation’s second-best offense. He assists on 44 percent of Oklahoma State’s made field goals, and takes almost a third of his team’s shots, but still maintains decent shooting numbers, especially given his high usage rates.

ONE BIG STORYLINE

For much of the season, the Big 12 was celebrated for its depth. It was the conference’s middle tier that seemed to make it America’s best conference, with as many as eight teams possibly NCAA tournament bound. But headed into the Big 12 tournament, the league has become top-heavy. Half of the league could very well make the Elite Eight. The other half could miss out on the Big Dance altogether.

So all of a sudden, the Big 12 tournament has been about who can emerge at the top of the league to challenge Kansas, and perhaps even give the conference a second Final Four favorite. West Virginia could certainly be that team. So could Baylor. And don’t be surprised if Oklahoma State has a good showing and becomes a trendy pick for a deep March Madness run.

SCHEDULE

All times Eastern

Wednesday, March 8 | First round
No. 8 TCU vs. No. 9 Oklahoma — 7 p.m., ESPNU
No. 7 Texas Tech vs. No. 10 Texas — 9:30 p.m., ESPNU

Thursday, March 9 | Quarterfinals
No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State — 12:30 p.m., ESPN2
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 8 TCU/No. 9 Oklahoma — 3 p.m., ESPN2
No. 2 West Virginia vs. No. 7 Texas Tech/No. 10 Texas — 7 p.m., ESPNU
No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 6 Kansas State — 9:30 p.m., ESPNU

Friday, March 10 | Semifinals
Winners of quarterfinals 1 and 2 — 7 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2
Winners of quarterfinals 3 and 4 — 9:30 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2

Saturday, March 11 | Final
Semifinal winners — 6 p.m., ESPN

PREDICTIONS

First round
No. 9 Oklahoma over No. 8 TCU
No. 7 Texas Tech over No. 10 Texas

Quarterfinals
No. 5 Oklahoma State over No. 4 Iowa State
No. 1 Kansas over No. 9 Oklahoma
No. 2 West Virginia over No. 7 Texas Tech
No. 6 Kansas State over No. 3 Baylor

Semifinals
No. 1 Kansas over No. 5 Oklahoma State
No. 2 West Virginia over No. 6 Kansas State

Final
No. 2 West Virginia over No. 1 Kansas

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