Mar 8, 2014; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard DeAndre Kane (50) defends Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Marcus Smart (33) in the second half at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Iowa State beat Oklahoma State 85-81. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

College Basketball: Big-12 Conference Tournament Preview


Mar 5, 2014; Lawrence, KS, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Wayne Selden, Jr. (left), guard Andrew Wiggins (center) and Kansas Jayhawks guard Niko Roberts (right) celebrate a backed against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the second half at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas won the game 82-57. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports1

Easily the most interesting and deep conference in college basketball this season, the Big-12 kicks off its conference tournament Wednesday night with two games. The winner of those two games will advance to the quarterfinals to be played on Thursday.

No conference this year has had more teams ranked in the top 25 at one point or another in the season (six) and could end up with the most teams in the NCAA Tournament tournament field. The Big-12 is as deep as any conference in recent history in college basketball. Some of the bottom teams in the field have beaten some of the best the conference has to offer. Those same teams look like legitimate contenders to win the whole thing and the top teams look very vulnerable. It’s going to be interesting.

The Bracket:

Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders; Wednesday, 7:00 P.M., ESPN3. Winner to play 1-seed Kansas Jayhawks in quarterfinals Thursday.

Here we are again as Oklahoma State takes on Texas Tech. Obviously the history between these two teams this season has been well documented with Marcus Smart‘s fan push earlier this season. Texas Tech won the first meeting at home while the Cowboys took the return match in Stillwater.

Baylor Bears vs. TCU Horned Frogs; Wednesday, after O.K. State/Texas Tech game, ESPN3. Winner to play 2-seed Oklahoma Sooners in quarterfinals Thursday.

Few people expect TCU to win this game. Baylor is a much better team than the Horned Frogs with their size, quickness and overall depth. TCU has been at the bottom of the conference since they joined last season for football purposes. Unfortunately their basketball program hasn’t caught up to the football prominence. That won’t change over night.

Iowa State Cyclones vs. Kansas State Wildcats; Thursday, 12:30 P.M EST, ESPN2.

Here’s where the bracket starts to pick up steam. Iowa State has been solid all season long and closed with a big overtime win at home against Oklahoma State this past Saturday. The Cyclones tout New Comer of the Year in the Big-12 in DeAndre Kane and Player of the Year Melvin Ejim. Each team holds a victory at home against the other with Kansas State winning by seven at home and the Cyclones winning by six at home. Should be interesting to see how this goes down on a neutral floor.

Texas Longhorns vs. West Virginia Mountaineers; Thursday, 8:30 P.M EST, ESPN3.

West Virginia is coming off its biggest win of the season, dominating the Kansas Jayhawks for most of the game and holding on at the end for a six-point victory at home this past weekend. Juwan Staten has been stellar for the Mountaineers this season, flying mostly under the radar with so many other great players in the conference. Texas as a whole has been flying under the radar this season, taking a group of no-names and maintaining themselves as a viable threat in the Big-12 for most of the year. The Longhorns took both meets against the Mountaineers in the regular season, winning by 11 on the road and by 17 at home. West Virginia needs this win to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament field.

The Headlines:

Oklahoma State’s search for redemption

The Cowboys’ struggles haven’t been any kind of secret. Starting the year 16-3 then losing seven games in a row, looking completely lost in how to win basketball games, Oklahoma State ended the year with a 4-1 record in their last five games. That stretch was very important because two losses in the last five would’ve made getting to the NCAA Tournament an even more unlikely scenario. Most of the recent bracketologies have the Cowboys has a solid “in” but losing in the first round of the tournament would make it very difficult.

Oklahoma State needs the win but so does Marcus Smart. He came back to school to be a winner. That hasn’t happened this year but there’s still a chance to go into the both the conference and NCAA Tournament, pick up some momentum and get to the Final Four. That won’t be able to happen if they lose to Kansas State on Wednesday night.

Joel Embiid out for Kansas during Big-12 Tournament

Feb 4, 2014; Waco, TX, USA; Kansas Jayhawks center Joel Embiid (21) warms up before the game against the Baylor Bears at the Ferrell Center. The Jayhawks defeated the Bears 69-52. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Projected as a top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Joel Embiid has been dealing with back issues for the last few weeks. After getting a second opinion on the issue, as requested by Bill Self, Embiid will miss the entirety of the Big-12 Tournament as likely will miss the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament as well. This spells trouble for the Kansas Jayhawks, as they had found their identity as a team with Embiid in the mix.

Andrew Wiggins gets most of the attention but Embiid’s presence on the floor gives the Jayhawks an athletic big who can protect the rim. Without Embiid, Wiggins, as well as Perry Ellis, will have to carry the load. The question is can they do it? Kansas lost two of their last three games of the year, one of which came against Oklahoma State on the road, the same game Embiid’s back injury first surfaced. Tarik Black will need to step up in Embiid’s absence, as he did against Texas Tech.

Predictions:

Iowa State defeats Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas for Big-12 Tournament Championship

Feb 3, 2014; Stillwater, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guards DeAndre Kane (50) Matt Thomas (21) Monte

Iowa State is talented and determined not to go into the NCAA Tournament as an after thought in the whole thing. The Cyclones have one of the best duos is college basketball with Kane and Ejim, solid production from Georges Niang and a young coach looking to make a big statement this season in Fred Hoiberg.

With Kansas losing Embiid the Jayhawks are very vulnverable and could very easily lose to Oklahoma State again. The Cowboys need to make a statement but they won’t be able to get past the Cyclones, who have used four overtimes this season for two victories against Oklahoma State. Texas has a relatively easy road to the championship game, if there is such a thing in the Big-12. Wins against West Virginia and Oklahoma propel the Longhorns into the championship game before they run into the Cyclone buzzsaw.

Most Valuable Player of the Tournament:

DeAndre Kane, Iowa State Cyclones

Feb 15, 2014; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard DeAndre Kane (50) brings the ball up the court against Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Toddrick Gotcher (20) at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Iowa State defeated Texas Tech 70-64. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Kane is a mismatch for everybody in the conference at the point guard position except for Marcus Smart, and Kane has bested Smart in each of their first two meetings. He’s got six years of college basketball experience under his belt and wants to end his college career on top.

Tags: Big 12 Conference Tournament College Basketball DeAndre Kane Iowa State Cyclones Joel Embiid Kansas Jayhawks Kansas State Wildcats Marcus Smart Oklahoma Sooners Oklahoma State Cowboys Popular TCU Horned Frogs Texas Longhorns Texas Tech Red Raiders West Virginia Mountaineers