Yet again, here I am, starting a multi-part series. I will try my hardest to actually, you know, complete this one, and I will give myself bonus points if I finish all 4 points by the conference opening extravaganza, which is slated for Saturday. All 12 teams begin conference play this Saturday, spanning over the entire day. It is almost like Christmas, if you are really into Big 12 conference basketball. In any case, I think that the conference can be separated into four sections, each containing three teams. Each part will break down one of these sections...
Today, we take a look at teams ranked 6-4. All three of these teams have the potential to make a run at an NCAA berth, and all could conceivably sneak into the Big 12 Conference picture. I am betting on at least 5 teams making it into the Tournament from the Big 12, maybe 6, so most signs point to one of these teams not making the Tournament. The most interesting games in the Big 12 season will be between these three teams...
My favorite team in the Big 12, besides Kansas of course, has always been Baylor. They have never really been all that successful in either football or men's basketball while a member of the Big 12, and if I am one thing, I am a fan of the underdog. And this season, at long last, Baylor looks to be a legitimate contender for a NCAA Tournament berth. They began the year with three consecutive, solid victories down in the Virgin Islands against Wichita State (RPI 146), Notre Dame (51) and Winthrop (65). They followed that up with a near-miss in an upset attempt against the undefeated-before-today Washington State Cougars (24), losing by 3 points in a game where they led for much of the contest. After racking up win-after-win against patsies on the schedule, except a possible exception against South Carolina in Columbus (143), they stumbled again against Arkansas. Arkansas hasn't looked as impressive as of late, losing to Appalachian State and everything, but not a "bad" loss by any means.
However, in order to make a legitimate run at a NCAA bid is to win some games in conference play. They have the talent to get there, led by G Curtis Jerrells, G LaceDarius Dunn and F Kevin Rogers, along with numerous other scorers. Still, they will need 10 wins in conference play, at least, for a bid. For that to happen, the next three games are critical. They open up conference play with two home games against some of the worst teams in the Big 12, Iowa State and Oklahoma State, before going on the road to Nebraska. All three games are winnable, and the two home games are close to "must-wins" for them to get into the NCAAs.
Pomeroy isn't as big of fans of the Bears as I am, predicting a 6-10 conference record. After losing the lead and the game against Wazzu, they will likely need a signature win of sorts as well. 10 conference wins, including a win against one of the Big Boys and they just might sneak in.
Predicted Conference Record: 8-8
Matchup(s) With Kansas: February 9th (Home)
Michael Beasley is really good. There is no denying that. Let the Wildcats their one year with a true next-level talent, a probable Top 5 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. Because he is gone, no matter what you think. Chance to come back and win a NCAA title or not be damned, Michael Beasley came to college for one reason. Because he had to. And even then, he chose Kansas State so he could not be subjected to a share-the-ball atmosphere, a place where he could showcase his talents, and his alone, and try and improve his already sky-high draft stock. Beasley is about himself, flat-out. I'm sure 'Cats' fans won't like that assessment, and that is all it is, my assessment, but that is just what I think.
In any case, this year is all about getting to the NCAA Tournament with their one year of Michael Beasley, possibly their only year of Billy Walker as well. And in order to get that done, they have some work to do. They've already lost 4 times, and while all 4 games were against quality opponents in George Mason (66), Oregon (27), Notre Dame (51) and Xavier (10), they don't have any big-name wins to speak of. Cal, maybe, but that won't look good under "Big Wins" come March. A big game tonight against Oklahoma that would, potentially, improve their at-large possibilities. They will need to have a winning record in conference play, along with at least a big win or two to actually get into the NCAA Tournament.
Pomeroy likes the Wildcats, more than I do at least, projecting a 10-6 conference record including a predicted home victory over Texas.
Projected Conference Record: 9-7
Matchup(s) With Kansas: January 30th (Road), March 1st (Home)
Boomer Sooner is having a mighty fine hoops season, and they could be in the Top 25 right now were they not to blow a game at home against Stephen F. Austin. They have a couple of really solid victories, namely in a "semi-home" atmosphere against West Virginia (28), Gonzaga (22) and Arkansas (38). And of their three losses, two of them are entirely reasonable, a neutral floor loss to the #1 RPI team (Memphis) and on the road in Los Angeles against a tough USC team (75). Boomer Sooner is going to make the NCAA Tournament barring a complete collapse in conference play, as long as they win the games they should and beat a K-State, a Texas, an A&M or a Kansas along the way they are looking pretty good.
Pomeroy agrees, predicting a 10-6 record. That sounds good to me...
Predicted Conference Record: 10-6
Matchup(s) With Kansas: January 14th (Road)
Final three coming tomorrow, along with a Nebraska game recap. Nebraska Preview/Open Thread coming up in another hour or so.