By Matt Ruder
Defending Tourney Champion: Kansas
All Tournament Team:
G Tyshawn Taylor (MVP)
G Phil Pressey
F J’Coven Brown
F Thomas Robinson
F Royce White
Predicted Champion: Kansas
If you asked Kansas players and fans alike if their team would win its eighth straight Big XII title before this year started many would have given a blank stare to question your IQ and rightfully so. A team losing three players to the NBA (the Morris twins and Josh Selby) and several others to graduation (most notably Brady Morningstar) as well as seeing several blue chip recruits disqualified from the 2011-2012 season should not have even been in conference title talks. Yet, if the past seven years have taught us anything, it is that the Big XII title runs through Lawrence and any team brave enough to take that away must present their best shot and then some to be conference champs.
Led by junior National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson and an senior All-American caliber guard Tyshawn Taylor, the Jayhawks now have the longest conference title winning streak in the nation. The previous streak holder was Gonzaga, who saw its 11-year streak of West Coast Conference titles come to an end this year at the hands of Saint Mary’s.
While its dominance has not been a stranglehold as in the regular season, Kansas still has captured over half of the last fourteen tournament titles, including five of the last 6. In this year’s Big XII Tournament, Kansas will try to extend its current streak of tournament crowns to three. Arch rival Missouri Tigers have proven to be the only team worthy enough to hang with the Jayhawks this season. Both games have came down to one possession and it would only be appropriate that a rubber-match in Kansas City would occur between the league’s two best teams.
Possible Darkhorse: Iowa State
After a tough year in 2011, Fred Hoiberg’s ragtag team of transfers has looked very good behind the excellent play of Royce White, who leads the team in just about every statistical category. Scott Christopherson has also proven to have huge games with his deadly perimeter shot. Even Michigan State transfer Chris Allen has been known to get scorching hot from 3-point range. If both White and Christopherson can play to their potentials it is not unreasonable to see Iowa State get revenge on Kansas in the tournament.
Things to Watch for:
- Can Tyshawn Taylor keep up his All-American play? This Big XII season has been Taylor’s swan song. He averaged 17.8 points per game while dishing out just below five assists per game, numbers that rank with the nation’s best. His play will be critical to the success of Kansas in the Big XII Tournament as well as the NCAA Tournament. As long as Taylor keeps playing with the confidence he has during conference season Kansas will be a very tough out.
- How does Missouri respond after losing two of its last four? Missouri had a tough week against the state of Kansas, losing to both Kansas State at home and on the road at Kansas within days. A tough home senior night game versus the pesky Iowa State Cyclones has the Tigers vulnerable. Missouri should rebound well with a few easy games early in Kansas City before battling with the Big XII’s elite.
- Does Baylor play to its potential at last? This year’s Baylor squad is one of the most talented yet frustrating teams to watch in the Big XII. The Bears horrid zone defense has plagued them all year; a weakness Kansas has shown how to carve them up twice already this season. The Baylor players, with Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III and many others are very athletic but are unable to stop their opponents. As long as Scott Drew insists on playing primarily zone, it is hard to see the Bears making a mark on the Big XII tournament or March Madness.
- Does Texas play its way into NCAA? While five teams (Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State, Iowa State) are all but locked into March, Texas could use several marquee wins to cement its NCAA bid. A soft bubble this year limits Texas’ ability to keep the committee happy with anything but a ‘good’ loss. To feel safe, the Longhorns should, at the very least, beat Iowa State in the quarterfinals. Ideally, reaching semifinals would be great for Texas’ resume.