Saturday’s slate of regular-season finales finished up what’s been a brutal Big 12 regular season schedule. With just three days until tournament play begins, March Madness is officially here.
Wednesday marks the start of the Big 12 tournament with the play-in games, beginning with Kansas State and TCU.
Wednesday, March 11
No. 8 KSU (15-16, 8-10 Big 12) vs. No. 9 TCU (17-14, 4-14 Big 12), 7 p.m. ET
Kansas State experienced the definition of an up and down season. On the bright side, the unranked Wildcats knocked off two top-25 teams in their last three games of the regular season, including a 70-63 win over Kansas. KSU followed up with a 70-69 win over Iowa State, but fell flat in the regular season finale against Texas.
Kansas State is led by sophomore Marcus Foster, who leads the team with 12.9 points per game. TCU, on the other hand, got the season started on a 13-game win-streak, but struggled in conference play, with the only notable win coming over then-ranked No. 20 Oklahoma State. TCU did manage a season-sweep over Texas Tech and split games with KSU, falling in the first meeting 58-53. The Horned Frogs followed up with a convincing 69-55 win in their second meeting on Feb. 18.
No. 7 Texas (19-12, 8-10 Big 12) vs. No. 10 Texas Tech (13-18, 3-15 Big 12), 9:30 p.m. ET
Two separate four-game losing streaks tarnished an otherwise solid season by the Texas Longhorns. Against ranked opponents this year, the Longhorns managed just two wins, coming against WVU (77-50) and Baylor (61-59). After enduring a second, four-game skid, Texas closed the season with wins over Baylor and Kansas State to pick up a bit of momentum prior to the first-round game of the conference tournament.
Sophomore Isaiah Taylor has been the go-to guy for Texas, averaging over 13 points per game. Texas has also used its inside size advantage with Cameron Ridley to its advantage as well. The Longhorns get the maligned Texas Tech Red Raiders, who managed just three conference wins this season.
In their two previous meetings this season, Texas won in convincing fashion by scores of 70-61 and 56-41. Although the Red Raiders managed just three conference wins this year, the biggest of the season came on Jan. 24 over then-ranked No. 9 ISU.
Thursday, March 12
No. 4 Baylor (23-8, 11-7 Big 12) vs. No. 5 WVU (23-8, 11-7 Big 12), 12:30 p.m. ET
During their first meeting this year, the Baylor Bears exerted their will on WVU and walked out of the Coliseum with an 87-69 win. Baylor completed the sweep over the Mountaineers last weekend, but WVU showed much more promise against Baylor in Waco, especially considering the Mountaineers were without seniors Juwan Staten and most of regulation without Gary Browne.
Three minutes into the game, Browne was injured chasing after a loose ball and has since been diagnosed with a high ankle sprain. Neither have played since Feb. 24. Still, Baylor was able to finish the sweep with a 78-66 victory.
The Bears have built quite the resume for the postseason, entering the Big 12 tournament with a sweep of Iowa State, WVU and season splits with Oklahoma and Texas. In the final two games of the season, Baylor has struggled to finish, with an overtime loss to Texas and a slim 77-74 win over Texas Tech in Saturday’s finale.
For the Mountaineers, it’s been a game of attrition, trying to find ways to stay competitive with no Gary Browne or Juwan Staten. Despite falling in two of the final three games, WVU rebounded with a convincing 81-72 win over Oklahoma State. Filling the void left by Browne (7 ppg, 1.8 reb.) and Staten (14.5 ppg, 2.8 reb.) has been the talent group of youngsters led by Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr. and Tarik Phillip. With both Staten and Browne’s availability still in the air, WVU must be prepared to go forward without the availability of the two senior guards.
No. 1 Kansas (24-7, 13-5 Big 12) vs. KSU/TCU winner, 2:30 p.m. ET
The Jayhawks are used to winning. So it’s no surprise that Kansas locked up its 11th-straight regular season conference title and enter the Big 12 tournament as the undisputed No. 1 seed.
Kansas, like WVU, might potentially have to play without two key cogs in the machine in the postseason.
Cliff Alexander has been sidelined for over a week now while the NCAA investigated reports that said Alexander potentially accepted impermissible benefits. Making matters worse, the Jayhawks saw standout Perry Ellis injure his knee against West Virginia last week. Ellis was eventually diagnosed with a “sprained knee”, but underwent treatment with the hopes of being ready for tournament play. After sitting out Saturday against Oklahoma, coach Bill Self hopes to have Ellis and his 14.2 points per game back on Thursday.
As a team, it was another stellar year for the Jayhawks, but did see losses at Iowa State (86-81), WVU (62-61) and Oklahoma (75-73).
No. 2 Iowa State (22-8, 12-6 Big 12) vs. Texas/Texas Tech winner, 7 p.m. ET
The 2014-2015 season marked another year the Iowa State Cyclones finished hot on the heels of the Kansas Jayhawks in regular season play. The Cyclones average over 79 points per game and picked up key wins along the way throughout some of the conference’s best competition, including a 74-72 win over WVU, a 77-70 win over Oklahoma and an 86-81 win over eventual champion Kansas.
The Cyclones capped off their regular season with wins over Oklahoma and TCU, with the win over Oklahoma giving ISU the No. 2 seed in the tournament. Big 12 Player of the Year contender Georges Niang has been the spark plug for the Cyclones. The junior forward averages over 15 points per game and more than five rebounds a game.
Whichever team wins between Texas and Texas Tech still heavily favors the Cyclones, even away from the Hilton Coliseum.
No. 3 Oklahoma (21-9, 12-7 Big 12) vs. No. 6 Oklahoma State (18-12, 8-10 Big 12), 9:30 p.m. ET
Oklahoma rode the back of its workhorse Buddy Hield to the No. 3 seed in the tournament. Hield, who averaged 17.4 points per game claimed the Big 12 top honor as player of the year.
It’s no shock that Hield is one of the main reasons Oklahoma is now a postseason contender.
Oklahoma stacked an impressive year that saw big victories against Iowa State, Kansas and WVU. The Sooners finished the regular season with a 75-73 win over the Jayhawks on senior day.
Things haven’t been as favorable for the Cowboys this season. In the final stretch of the regular season, the Cowboys posted just a 1-5 record, including losses to Texas Tech and TCU.
Even though the odds are stacked against the Cowboys on Thursday, Oklahoma State does have a top-10 win over the Jayhawks to their credit. Senior Le’Bryan Nash leads the team with nearly 17 points per game. Junior Phil Forte III has been potent for the Cowboys on the offensive end of the floor as well, scoring over 15 points per game as well.
Friday, March 13
Thursday afternoon winners 6 p.m.
Thursday evening winners 8 p.m.
Saturday, March 14
Big 12 Championship 5 p.m.
— Written by Chris Siers for BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans and part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.