Seven Big 12 teams were selected for the NCAA Tournament and in the first weekend, five were eliminated.
Many, myself included, took the Big 12’s depth for granted and selected XII teams to make runs that in hind sight were not likely. Ever.
For instance, the first game on Thursday put Big 12 Champion Iowa State against Conference USA champion UAB in Louisville, Kentucky. Jerod Haase’s Blazers came out hot against a good Iowa State team who had beat Kansas in a thriller just days before. I had Iowa State in the Elite Eight against Duke. UAB had other plans.
The Blazers knocked off the Cyclones 60-59, which would coincidentally be the final score for the next game in the same arena, SMU vs. UCLA.
The second game was down in Jacksonville, Florida, and featured an explosive Sun Belt team in Georgia State against the XII’s Baylor Bears. A 3-vs.-14 game, as was Iowa State vs. UAB. The Bears were hot at times but Georgia State was able to make the last run. RJ Hunter hit a beautiful three at the end to give GSU the lead and eventually the win. Two tries, both as the 2-seed and the Big 12 is sitting at 0-2 in the tournament just two games in to the Second Round.
I can’t be the only one who expected Texas to beat Butler, but nonetheless Butler’s depth affected the Longhorns and the XII is 0-3 after the first day. Four games on Friday gave the Big 12 opportunities for wins, three of which came true.
Second-seeded Kansas beat New Mexico State, West Virginia edged Buffalo in a game which many predicted to one of the typical 5-vs.-12 upsets, Oklahoma survived Albany and then Oregon beat Oklahoma State. Kansas was upset by 7-seed Wichita State, an in-state “rival” who Kansas has zero interest in scheduling, in Omaha on Sunday. Otherwise, West Virginia is headed to Cleveland to face Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen and Oklahoma is headed to Syracuse, New York, to face their own 7-seed, Michigan State.
Michigan State beat Virginia in a game that essentially came down to Tom Izzo vs. Tony Bennett. Of course, Izzo won. Izzo is a shoo-in first ballot Hall of Famer. However, the same will not likely ring true on Friday. The inside-out attack that Oklahoma has with Ryan Spangler (as long as he isn’t missing easy layups) and Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield, the Sooners have the upper hand. I picked them originally to go to the Elite Eight, and I’m sticking with the Sooners on Friday against MSU.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins made a good point Sunday night following the Mountaineers’ win over Maryland in Columbus. The previous two times that West Virginia won a tournament game, they ended up playing Kentucky down the line. In 2010 the Mountaineers beat the Wildcats in the Elite Eight for their second ever Final Four appearance and a year later the Wildcats got revenge in the Second Round (now called the Third Round because the NCAA has to be difficult).
This year isn’t like 2010. Or 2011. In fact, in my lifetime I have yet to see a team as deep, skilled and cohesive as this year’s Kentucky roster. One could argue that Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles are the three best big men in the nation, especially after Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor left to be desired in their first two NCAA Tournament games this year (at least I felt they left to be desired).
West Virginia lacks the size to compete with these three, listed at 7′, 6-11 and 6-10 respectively. West Virginia’s press helps them compete against a lot of teams. It won’t Thursday.
Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight Picks
Midwest Region – Cleveland, Ohio – Thursday and Saturday
No. 3 Notre Dame over No. 7 Wichita State – 6:15 p.m. C.T. on CBS
No. 1 Kentucky over No. 5 West Virginia – 30 minutes later
No. 1 Kentucky over No. 3 Notre Dame
West Region – Los Angeles, California – Thursday and Saturday
No. 1 Wisconsin over No. 4 North Carolina – 6:47 p.m. C.T. on TBS
No. 2 Arizona over No. 6 Xavier – 30 minutes later
No. 1 Wisconsin over No. 2 Arizona (OT)
East Region – Syracuse, New York – Friday and Sunday
No. 4 Louisville over No. 8 N.C. State – 6:37 p.m. C.T. on TBS
No. 3 Oklahoma over No. 7 Michigan State – 30 minutes later
No. 4 Louisville over No. 3 Oklahoma
South Region – Houston, Texas – Friday and Sunday
No. 11 UCLA over No. 2 Gonzaga – 6:15 p.m. C.T. on CBS
No. 1 Duke over No. 5 Utah – 30 minutes later
No. 1 Duke over No. 11 UCLA