Commentary

Five things for Big 12 tourney's first day

Originally Published: March 10, 2010
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Know this about the Big 12 tournament: The No. 1 seed has won the title only once in the last five seasons, and only five times in the last 13 years.

So what does that say about Kansas' chances for cutting down the nets Saturday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City? Not much. It's simple, really. This is all up to Kansas. If the Jayhawks play to their potential, in what is essentially a home tournament, they should win the title.

So what should we be looking forward to this week in Kansas City?

[+] EnlargeBarnes
Manny Flores/Icon SMIWill Texas turn things around in the Big 12 tournament or will the Longhorns' late-season swoon continue?

Let's start with the first day:

1. Will Texas finally find itself before it's too late?

Earlier this year, there is no way anyone thought Texas would be playing on Wednesday in a No. 6 vs. No. 11 game. But the Longhorns' late-season swoon dropped them from the ranks of the Big 12 elite, and they will have to take care of Iowa State to advance to the quarterfinals against Baylor.

The Longhorns were heavily loaded on the perimeter when the season started but have since lost Varez Ward and Dogus Balbay to season-ending injuries and received a scare from J'Covan Brown. The onus is on Brown, Justin Mason and Jai Lucas to carry the load.

But the Longhorns will probably go only as far as Damion James and Dexter Pittman carry them. There is plenty of talent with Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton, but James and Pittman have to be stars for the Longhorns to advance.

2. Did Iowa State have its moment at Kansas State?

The Cyclones stunned Kansas State on the road in the regular-season finale and essentially crushed the Wildcats' chances of earning a No. 1 seed. Do the Cyclones have a run in them? Iowa State was depleted by injuries and defections and has underachieved this season. But if Iowa State were to beat Texas in its opening-round game, upsetting Baylor may not be such a reach if the Cyclones continue their hot streak.

3. Has Oklahoma shut it down? I continue to be amazed by the Sooners' 180-degree turn from a year ago. Last season, with Blake and Taylor Griffin, the Sooners were a title contender. Last weekend, in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M, the atmosphere seemed sterile and the players looked listless. As Oklahoma prepares to face Oklahoma State on Wednesday night, I'm not sure I remember a time when a third Bedlam game meant so little. The Cowboys look like a team that could go on a roll. OU looks like it can't wait for the season to end.

4. Will Missouri find its mojo again?

The injury-riddled Tigers couldn't hold off a charging Kansas team at home to close the regular season. But the fastest 40 minutes of basketball is still a tough out in the NCAAs. The problem for the Tigers in this tournament is that Big 12 teams have already had a chance to see Missouri this season, so they're better prepared for its style of play. Mizzou needs to beat Nebraska on Wednesday to ensure a solid NCAA tourney seed and then could face an interesting contrast in styles versus Texas A&M in the quarterfinals Thursday. Missouri needs to have some confidence going into next week, not an early exit to mull.

[+] EnlargeMarquis Gilstrap
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireIowa State will have plenty of confidence heading into the Big 12 tournament after beating Kansas State in its regular season-finale.

5. Early-season surprise meets late-season surprise

Texas Tech is still young and isn't the same team that was stunning teams like Washington early in the season. The real surprise is Colorado, which finished in eighth place this season. Coach Jeff Bzdelik has turned the Buffaloes into a real tough out. They've got one of the tougher players in the Big 12 to guard in Cory Higgins, and they enter the tournament Wednesday on a three-game win streak that includes last week's win over Texas Tech. If Colorado can beat the Red Raiders again, it will face Kansas in the quarterfinals. Colorado lost by 20 at Phog Allen but had Kansas panicked a bit in Boulder before falling to the Jayhawks in overtime. What might happen on a neutral court?

Player to watch: Oklahoma State's James Anderson. Anderson had a superb season, averaging 22.9 points a game. His stock will continue to rise if he can carry the Cowboys to the final in the bottom half of the bracket.

Team to watch: Baylor. The Bears rocked Texas to close the regular season. The Bears are long, athletic and a good watch. Coach Scott Drew has done a tremendous job with this crew and put them in the Big Dance. Baylor lost by two to Kansas State at home in January, but since then the Bears have won nine of 11 games and are better prepared for a rematch if it occurs in the semifinals. If you're looking for a team that could see its seeding skyrocket on Selection Sunday with a title win, keep an eye on Baylor.

Most intriguing team: Kansas State

How will K-State handle the expectation of being a favorite in the bottom half of the bracket? The Wildcats have actually played better away from Manhattan than at home. They exhibit the toughness of coach Frank Martin. But this will be an interesting test for the Wildcats. As the No. 2 seed, Kansas State is now expected to reach the championship game and possibly meet Kansas for a third time. An all-Kansas final in Kansas City would make the Sprint Center the place to be for any KU-KSU alumnus in the surrounding area. It would probably be a Big 12 dream for this venue this season.

Toughest team to stamp out: Texas A&M isn't the most talented team, nor the deepest, but like Kansas State, this squad is a tough out. The Aggies defend well and have one of the grittiest players in the league in Donald Sloan. If they meet in the semifinals, expect the Aggies to give the Jayhawks fits.

The coronation: Kansas is one of arguably three favorites to win the national title. Will the Jayhawks get through three days in Kansas City on their march to Indianapolis? Will they go through the motions and ensure they are healthy and clicking for the six-game run to the title? This will be an interesting mental check of Kansas since the chase for the larger prize is on tap next week. This will be a good test to see how some of the role players develop over these three days as the Jayhawks fine-tune or tweak any remaining rotation issues ahead of the NCAA tournament.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com