Big 12 represented well in NCAA tournament field

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TCU forward Xavier Cork (12) defends Texas guard Marcus Carr (2) in the Frogs’ 73-50 home loss to the Longhorns on Jan. 25, 2022. (Esau Rodriguez Olvera/Head Staff Photographer)

By Colin Post

Known by most as the best conference in college basketball, the Big 12 saw six teams chosen for the NCAA tournament yesterday as part of Selection Sunday.

That number ties for second among all conferences in number of teams selected, finishing behind only the Big 10 with nine teams.

The Big East and SEC are the two other conferences sending six squads to the Big Dance.

Highlighting its strength as a conference, the Big 12 was the only conference to have multiple teams selected as one seeds (Kansas, Baylor).

TCU head coach Jamie Dixon believes this prepared the Frogs for anything and everything they could face in March Madness.

“Obviously, it’s the best conference so we’re not gonna see anything we haven’t seen before,” Dixon said.

The Big 12 is also the only team with each of its teams in the top 100 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Net Rankings. The conference’s last place team, West Virginia, sits at 78.

Here’s a look at where each of the Big 12 schools competing in the NCAA tournament sits heading into the tournament and what sort of threat they pose to their region:

Kansas: one seed

There is not a team in the Big 12 playing at a higher level than the Kansas Jayhawks right now.

Though head coach Bill Self told the media prior to the Big 12 tournament that his team already had their sights set on March Madness, the Jayhawks tore through the conference tournament field.

After beating West Virginia and TCU by an average margin of 18.5 points, Kansas battled hard with Texas Tech in the Big 12 Championship game, ultimately beating the Red Raiders 74-65 to take the title.

It was the first Big 12 Championship win for the Jayhawks since 2018 and the 9th total under Self.

That earned a number one seed for Kansas in the Midwest Region. They’ll play the winner of Texas A&M Corpus Christi/Texas Southern in Fort Worth’s Dickies Arena, a place that TCU knows well, on Friday at 8:57 p.m.

Though they should be favored in ever game, the Jayhawks will get they can handle from the Midwest Region, as it features talented squads like Auburn, Wisconsin, and red-hot Iowa.

Kansas could also see Big 12-foe Iowa State in the Elite Eight, if both teams were to advance.

The biggest stars often shine the brightest this time of year, and Ochai Agbaji, the Big 12 Player of the Year, provides a prime candidate to do just that for the Jayhawks.

Agbaji averages 19.7 points per game, and especially with the momentum they have currently, Kansas absolutely shows signs of making a Final Four run.

Baylor: one seed

While Kansas is playing their best basketball right now, the Baylor Bears are beaten up and bruised heading into their national title-defending tournament appearance.

The Bears’ performance in the Big 12 tournament was underwhelming, as they fell 72-67 to Oklahoma in the quarterfinals.

What’s more, Baylor’s leading scorer, LJ Cryer (13.5 points per game), has not played in nearly a month because of a foot injury, and head coach Scott Drew said the guard will be a last-minute decision for the Bears’ first game.

Projected first round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft Kendall Brown has also been dealing with a leg injury, but Drew said that Brown should be ready to go.

Baylor is the Big 12’s second one seed (East Region), meaning they should, at least, have no issue making the Second Round. Like the Jayhawks, the Bears will play at Dickie’s Arena in Fort Worth, taking on Norfolk State on Thursday at 1 p.m.

The Bears have dealt with injury issues all year, and they were still able to share the Big 12 regular season, displaying the depth they have on their roster.

Regardless, the East Region features teams like North Carolina and Kentucky, who both feature dominant big men that could present problems for Baylor’s smaller personnel.

UCLA, Purdue, and Murray State are other teams that could make some noise from the East Region.

Perhaps due to the injury issues they have faced, the Bears also have yet to have an elite scorer step up late in games. Arizona-transfer James Akinjo (13.4 points per game) has shown that ability at times, and this tournament could be where he takes another step for the green and gold.

Drew is one of the nation’s best head coaches, and Baylor is deep. It feels unlikely that they are upset before the Elite Eight, but Kentucky or Purdue could prevent them from defending their crown.

Texas Tech: three seed

While many expected Texas Tech to take a step back following the departure of head coach Chris Beard, the Red Raiders turned quite the opposite direction, winning 25 games under head coach Mark Adams.

Two of those wins came in the Big 12 tournament last weekend, as Texas Tech took out Iowa State and Oklahoma before falling to Kansas in the championship game.

Adams was a defensive mastermind under Beard, so it’s no surprise that Kenpom.com ranks the Red Raiders as first nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency this season.

That defense, combined with one of the nation’s top home court advantages, led Texas Tech to a perfect 18-0 record at United Supermarkets Arena this year.

Away from home, though, the Red Raiders were just 7-9, including a less-than-impressive 3-7 on the road.

This presents a question mark around Adams’ squad when considering how they’ll compete at neutral sites in the NCAA tournament.

On top of this, Texas Tech seems to have a similar problem to Baylor, as they do not have a clear go-to guy late in close games.

All-Big 12 First Team forward Bryson Williams will certainly be a force to be reckoned with behind 13.7 points per game on 53.4% shooting, but the Red Raiders will need another consistent weapon on offense.

The improving health of guards Terrence Shannon Jr. and Kevin McCullar should help Texas Tech with this. Shannon made the All-Tournament team in the Big 12 tournament behind 67% shooting from deep, and McCullar is a stellar on-ball defender and facilitator when healthy.

The three seed in the West Region, the Red Raiders will see Montana State (first tournament appearance since 1997) first in San Diego on Friday at 12:45 p.m.

Texas Tech’s region is difficult, featuring top-over seed Gonzaga, Duke, and Arkansas; but the Red Raiders feel like a lock to get past their first two opponents and into the Sweet 16.

While their reliance on home court could come back to bite them, the defensive prowess of Texas Tech alone puts their ceiling at returning to the national championship game for the second time in four years.

Texas: five seed

After the Longhorns blew a 20-point lead to TCU in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament, it’s impossible to know which Texas team will show up in the NCAA tournament.

Following the meltdown against the Frogs, Texas head coach Chris Beard put the heat on his own players.

“I think we’ve got a bunch of guys that think they have the answers, but they really don’t,” Beard said.

The choice by Beard was a surprising one, and it remains to be seen whether or not it will inspire or deflate his team going forward.

In their first year under Beard, Texas only had five Quad 1 wins this season, with three of them coming against TCU (twice) and Kansas State.

The two really impressive wins that the Longhorns got both came at home, as they knocked off No. 18 Tennessee in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and No. 8 Kansas just nine days later.

Texas enters the NCAA tournament as a six seed in the East Region with Baylor. In their first game, they’ll take on red-hot Virginia Tech in Milwaukee on Friday at 3:30 p.m.

The Hokies just tore through the ACC tournament, beating No. 25 North Carolina and No. 7 Duke on back-to-back nights to win the conference championship.

Among teams in the Dance, the Longhorns rank 11th defensively on Kenpom.com, and they have more than a few weapons offensively.

Forward Timmy Allen (12.3 points per game) and guards Marcus Carr (10.9 points per game), Andrew Jones (10.7 points per game), and Courtney Ramey (9.5 points per game) are all capable of big scoring nights, but they are rarely all clicking at the same time.

Because of the uncertainty behind Texas and the recent success of Virginia Tech, the Longhorns feel like the most-likely team out of the Big 12 to lose in the first round, but it’s not a given.

If Texas is to win, though, they will have teams like Purdue, Kentucky, and Murray State waiting for them, making it unlikely that they see the Sweet 16.

TCU: nine seed

Picked to finish 8th in the Big 12 by the preseason poll, the Frogs shocked a lot of people by making the Big Dance for the first time since 2018.

Three weeks ago, TCU’s chances seemed slim, but they then rattled off back-to-back wins over No. 9 Texas Tech and No. 6 Kansas.

They then overcame a 20-point deficit against No. 22 Texas to win the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals 65-60.

In head coach Jamie Dixon’s sixth year, the Frogs have hit new heights, setting program records with five ranked wins and eight Quad 1 wins.

TCU is a nine seed in the South Region, and they’ll start the tournament in San Diego against Seton Hall on Friday at 8:57 p.m.

Few guys in the tournament field have more potential for a March Madness breakout than guard Mike Miles. A member of the All-Big 12 Second Team, the guard averaged 15 points per game this year, and it likely would have been higher if not for two sprained wrists.

Miles is not alone, though, as the Frogs have two other double-digit scorers in guard Damion Baugh (10.7 points per game) and forward Emanuel Miller (10.3 points per game).

Defense and rebounding are the bread-and-butter of this TCU squad, though, and guys like guard Micah Peavy and forward Eddie Lampkin have led that charge.

The Frogs absolutely have the firepower to get past Seton Hall, but it will be far from a cake walk, as the Pirates have six Quad 1 wins of their own.

On top of that, history is certainly not on the side of the Frogs, as they haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since Dixon was a player in 1987.

Because of the star power of Miles and defensive strength that that TCU shows, they certainly have a high ceiling, but the competitiveness of their first two matchups certainly presents a low floor as well.

Iowa State: eleven seed

The Cyclones were the hardest team in the Big 12 to define. Their highs were very high, but their lows were very low.

After losing every conference game last year, Iowa State shocked the nation by rattling off 12-straight wins (two against ranked opponents) to start the season.

Winning just one ranked game for the rest of the year after that streak, the Cyclones then took a step back, but they still finished with 20 wins overall and nine Quad 1 wins (7th nationally).

The key to Iowa State’s success was on the defensive end, as they finished 3rd in scoring defense (63 points allowed per game) and 3rd in steals (8.41 per game) in the Big 12.

The Cyclones do have an offensive juggernaut, though. Guard Izaiah Brockington earned All-Big 12 First Team honors behind 17.22 points per game.

Freshman guard Tyrese Hunter (10.8 points per game) has also been solid, but Iowa State does not have much firepower beyond that.

An 11 seed in the Midwest Region, the Cyclones face an LSU team first in Milwaukee on Friday at 6:20 p.m. With an inconsistent Wisconsin team slated after that, Iowa State certainly has a reasonable path to the Sweet 16.

Given the fact that the Cyclones have scored fewer than 45 points four times since the start of Big 12 play, though, they are more-than at risk of falling in the First Round.

Up first

The NCAA tournament begins Tuesday with the first two First Four matchups.

From the Big 12, Kansas and Baylor play on Thursday, while Texas Tech, Texas, TCU, and Iowa State play on Friday.