Courtesy of Jim Feist
Tournament play is on the horizon! It's the start of a wild few weeks with conference tournament play helping to whittle the field. In the Big 12, Kansas has been the dominant and consistent team, but there is a logjam of teams vying for the spots below the Jayhawks. Here's a look at some of the top teams of the Big 12.
Kansas: The Jayhawks have been a powerhouse team, tops in scoring (81 ppg) in the conference and a +10 scoring margin that is double that of anyone else. Freshman sensation 6-8 Andrew Wiggins (16 ppg) has led the way on a team that shoots over 50% -- second in the nation. He's not along, of course, with 6-8 senior Perry Ellis (13.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and 7-foot freshman Joel Embid (11 ppg, 7.8 rpg) blocking shots and grabbing rebounds. Kansas has been great in Big 10 play, but don't forget they lost to No. 19 Florida (67-61) and No. 21 San Diego State (61-57). Will that youth and inexperience work against them in close games come tourney time?
Texas: The Longhorns are a young team for Rick Barnes, not a great shooting team from the field (.437%), but they compete with a dynamite frontcourt behind 6-9 sophomore, 285-lb Cameron Ridley (10.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and 6-8 junior Jonathon Holmes (13 ppg, 7.4 rpg). Texas is tops in the Big 12 in rebounds and tough to score on, 4th in the conference in points allowed and second in field goal shooting (41%) behind Kansas State.
Texas has a win over North Carolina (86-83) and during a four-game Big 12 stretch against Top 25 teams the Longhorns went 4-0 SU, 3-1 ATS, including an 81-69 rout of Kansas (leading 38-23 at the half). The Longhorns thumped the Jayhawks with suffocating defense that held the Big 12's best shooting team to 39 percent from the floor. Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, who averaged 24 points over the previous three games, scored seven before fouling out late.
Iowa State: The Cyclones are not big up front and not especially strong on defense. Yets, despite a short bench, Iowa State is deadly on offense, running opponents into the ground with a top 10 offense. This is an experienced group led by 6-6 senior Melvin Ejim (19 ppg, 8.6 rpg), 6-4 senior DeAndre Kane (16 ppg, 7 rpg and 6-6 junior Dustin Hogue. This group leads the country in assists. Iowa State is on a 36-14-1 run over the total!
Following a mid-season skid losing 4 of 5, the Cyclones turned around and won 5 of 6 including wins over Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State. Something to keep in mind come Big 12 tourney time: Iowa State is 38-22-1 ATS against the Big 12.
Oklahoma: Coach Lon Kruger has a run-and-gun Sooners squad that is tough, 13th in the nation in scoring led by 6-7 senior Cameron Clark (15 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and 6-4 soph Buddy Hield (16.7 ppg). They can be relied on at the free throw line in close games, 76% (No. 1 in the Big 12). They are terrific on offense, but the defense is a concern, 7th in the Big 12 in points allowed, second to last at defending the three-pointer allowing .367% shooting. Oklahoma is last in blocked shots, not matching up well against Kansas though they did win at Texas by hitting 13-28 threes (46%). Can they keep that pace up in three games over three nights? Note that Texas still outscored them 42-20 in the paint. Did you also know that the Sooners are 16-5-1 ATS in their last 22 Saturday games?
Kansas State: The Wildcats aren't fancy. They won't run with anyone, preferring a slow pace while focusing on defense (19-8 run under the total). K-State is tops in the Big 12 in three-point defense, field goals defense and second in points allowed. It's not a big frontcourt with 6-7 junior, 265-lb Thomas Gipson (12.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and 6-7 senior Shane Southwell (11.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg). 6-2 freshman Marcus Foster (15 ppg) leads in scoring but they are not a good shooting team and awful from the free throw line (66%, 9th in Big 12). But don't tell that to Kansas, a team they beat in OT (85-82), plus they topped Oklahoma and Gonzaga.
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