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2011 Big 12 Conference Tournament Preview

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(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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KANSAS CITY, MO (Sports Network) – The 15th-annual Big 12 Conference Tournament is set to begin Wednesday, March 9th and run through Saturday, March 12th, with the winner earning a place among the 68-team field in the NCAA Tournament.

For the seventh consecutive year, Kansas captured the Big 12 regular season title. It marks the 11th outright or shared title in 15 seasons for the Jayhawks, who finished 14-2 in league play, earning the tournament’s top-seed and a first-round bye as a result. Texas (13-3), Texas A&M (10-6) and Kansas State (10-6) also received byes, as the second, third and fourth-seeds, respectively.

Rounding out the field are first round participants Colorado (8-8), Missouri (8-8), Baylor (7-9), Nebraska (7-9), Oklahoma State (6-10), Oklahoma (5-11), Texas Tech (5-11) and Iowa State (3-13), occupying the fifth through 12th- seeds, respectively.

First round action kicks off on Wednesday, with a matchup between the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Cowboys finished the regular season at 18-12 overall, marking their 23rd consecutive season with at least 17 wins. The team finished 6-10 in Big 12 play following a 64-61 loss to Oklahoma in the regular-season finale. Marshall Moses, an All-Big 12 Third Team selection, paces the team in scoring (14.7 ppg) and rebounding (7.5 rpg). Keiton Page supplies a perimeter threat, as he has knocked-down 50 three- pointers, leading to a 13.1 ppg scoring clip. Jean-Paul Olukemi adds versatility and tenacity on the wing. He has gotten to the foul line 173 times this season and is averaging 11.5 ppg. The Cowboys, with the exception of Page, thrive from the inside out, as they shoot 43.6 percent from the field, but just 29.1 percent from beyond the arc. They post a plus-2.2 rebounding margin, while holding their opponents to 67.4 ppg. Offensively, Oklahoma State scores 68.9 ppg. The Cowboys and the Cornhuskers met just once this season, as the latter earned a 65-54 on Feb. 12th.

Nebraska, which heads to the Big Ten next year, finished the regular season at 19-11 overall and 7-9 in conference. A win on Wednesday would give the Cornhuskers a 20-win season for the 13th time in school history. They will counter the inside presence of Moses, with the stellar backcourt play of senior Lance Jeter. The Third Team All-Big 12 selection paces Nebraska in scoring (11.5 ppg), while ranking third in the league in assists (4.6 apg), sixth in steals (1.7 spg) and second in assist/turnover ratio (2.3-to-1). Jorge Brian Diaz scores 10.5 ppg in support of Jeter. In all, the Cornhuskers rank second to last in the Big 12 in scoring offense (67.4 ppg), but compensate with the league’s best scoring defense (60.2 ppg)

The Iowa State Cyclones and the Colorado Buffaloes also meet on Wednesday. The Cyclones closed the regular season with a 67-55 loss to Kansas State. The loss snapped a two-game win streak, which included a 95-90 win over the Buffaloes on March 2nd. Iowa State and Colorado split the season series, as the Buffaloes won the first matchup 95-69 on Feb. 1st. In all, the Cyclones finished with a lowly 3-13 Big 12 mark, although they went 13-2 in non- conference play. They are led by All-Big 12 Second Team member Diante Garrett, who ranks sixth in the league in scoring at 17.2 ppg. He is aided by Scott Christopherson (13.9 ppg), Jake Anderson (12.2 ppg), Jamie Vanderbeken (11.3 ppg) and Melvin Ejim (10.5 ppg), as Iowa State scores a solid 74.8 ppg. The problem comes on the defensive end, where the Cyclones allow 70.3 ppg, ninth in the Big 12.

Colorado, which will move to the Pac-12 next year, still has a flicker of hope in regards to an at-large NCAA Tournament selection. The Buffaloes ended the regular season at 19-12 overall and 8-8 in Big 12 play. They will likely need to earn a couple of wins in the coming days to garner serious consideration for the Big Dance. Colorado will be duly motivated to hand Iowa State a bit of revenge after being embarrassed at the defensive end of the floor on March 2nd. In truth, defense is not Colorado’s strong suit, as it ranks second to last in the conference in scoring defense (73.1 ppg). The Buffs can pile up the points though, with three being the magic number. Led by the Big 12′s third-leading scorer Alec Burks (19.5 ppg), Colorado generates the league’s third-leading scoring output (79.3 ppg).

Wednesday’s third game pits the Oklahoma Sooners against the Baylor Bears. Oklahoma closed the regular season with a 64-61 victory over in state Rival Oklahoma State. The win halted a season-long eight game skid. The Sooners finished the season at 13-17 overall and 5-11 in league play. Oklahoma is hurt most significantly by a lack of offensive production. The Sooners rank last in the league in scoring offense (65.8 ppg). Cade Davis leads the modest charge at 13.8 ppg, while Andrew Fitzgerald (12.9 ppg) and Steven Pledger (11 ppg) add support. The Sooners play solid defense, to the tune of 68.6 ppg allowed, but tend to afford their opponents extra possessions, as they post a minus-2.2 rebounding margin. Oklahoma managed to split this year’s season series with Baylor, earning a 73-66 home victory on Feb. 2nd, after falling 74-61 on Jan. 11th.

The Bears, who appeared in the 2009 Big 12 Tournament championship game, in a 73-60 loss to Missouri, need two more wins to clinch their school-record fourth consecutive 20-win season. They posted a 7-9 league mark and have lost two straight entering postseason play. LaceDarius Dunn, an All-Big 12 First Team guard, leads Baylor and the league in scoring at 19.8 ppg. He is the Big 12′s all-time leading scorer with 2,274 career points. Dunn is aided by Perry Jones III (13.9 ppg) and Big 12 Co-Sixth Man of the Year Quincy Acy (12.1 ppg). The Bears score 69.6 ppg, while allowing 63.3 ppg on the defensive end of the floor.

The final first-round matchup pits the Texas Tech Red Raiders against the 2009 Big 12 Tournament champion Missouri Tigers. The biggest news coming out of the Red Raiders’ camp is not their lackluster 5-11 league record, but rather the dismissal of head coach Pat Knight. Knight will continue to coach through the Big 12 Tournament, but has officially been terminated and a search for his replacement is already underway. If Tech’s chances of making noise in the tourney seemed slim before, they appear even dimmer now with a lame duck coach at the helm. The Red Raiders score at a 72.8 ppg clip, as John Roberson (13.6 ppg), Mike Singletary (12.7 ppg) and Brad Reese (11.6 ppg) lead the way. The trouble for the Red Raiders is simple: They fail to stop their opponent from putting the ball in the basket, sporting the league’s worst scoring defense (74.9 ppg).

Missouri will look to halt a three-game losing streak as it heads into postseason play, the team’s first such skid since 2007-08. The Tigers have compiled a 22-9 overall mark, including an 8-8 record in league play. They win by wilting opposing defenses, ranking second in the league in scoring offense (81.5 ppg). Unfortunately for the Tigers, their defense could use some nourishment itself. Missouri plays a gambling-style defense, leading the nation at 9.7 steals per game, but ranking 10th in the Big 12 in scoring defense (70.5 ppg). Marcus Denmon, an All-Big 12 First Team selection, scores 16.8 ppg and has hit a team-high 74 three-pointers. Ricardo Ratliffe, the Big 12′s Newcomer of the Year adds 10.7 ppg and a team-high 6.3 rpg. The Tigers and the Red Raiders met just once this year, with the former earning a 92-84 victory on Feb. 15th.

On Thursday, top-seeded Kansas will face the winner of Oklahoma State/Nebraska in a quarterfinal matchup. The Wildcats enter postseason play as the defending Big 12 Tournament champions and have won 11 conference tournament titles in all, including four of the last six and seven of the 14 Big 12 championships. Sine the Big 12′s inception in 1997, Kansas has posted a 12-2 record in quarterfinals games. The Jayhawks are currently ranked second in the nation and completed the regular season with a 14-2 league mark. They lead the Big 12 in several pertinent areas, including scoring (82.7 ppg), scoring margin (plus-18.2), field goal percentage (51.8), three-point field goal percentage (39.4), rebounding margin (plus-7.7), assists (18.1 apg) and assist/turnover ratio (1.33-1). Marcus Morris, the Big 12 Player of the Year, leads the team and ranks fifth in the conference in scoring, at 17.3 ppg on 59.7 percent shooting, while pulling 7 rpg. He receives tremendous aide from brother Markieff Morris (All-Big 12 Second Team), who leads the league in rebounding (8.3 rpg) while ranking second on the team in scoring (13.5 ppg). The Wildcats hold opponents to 64.5 ppg on the defensive end of the floor.

Also taking the court for a Thursday quarterfinal matchup will be 19th-ranked Kansas State, which will await the Iowa State/Colorado winner. The Wildcats swept the regular-season series with Iowa State, while they lost both meetings with Colorado. Last year’s tournament proved a success for Kansas State, as the Wildcats earned a spot in the finals for the first time since 1993. They enter this year’s tourney as perhaps the hottest team in the league, sporting a conference-best six-game win streak, which includes victories over three ranked teams (No. 1 Kansas, No. 20 Missouri, No. 7 Texas). Since opening Big 12 play with a 1-4 mark, Kansas State has won nine of its last 11 games. Fundamental to the turnaround has been an increased effort on the defensive end. Over their last six games, the Wildcats are holding teams to 63.7 ppg, as compared 65.3 ppg on the year. All-Big 12 First Team selection Jacob Pullen leads the team and ranks second in the conference in scoring at 19.6 ppg. Kansas State could use help however, as it averages a modest 73 ppg.

The Oklahoma/Baylor winner will take the court Thursday as well, in a meeting with second-seeded Texas. The 10th-ranked Longhorns started the Big 12 regular season with 11 consecutive victories, to gain deserved national favor. They have seen something of a slide in recent weeks, dropping three of five to close the regular season at 13-3 in Big 12 play. The normally stingy Longhorns’ defense allowed an average of 78.6 ppg in the three losses. Texas returned to form with a 60-54 victory over Baylor in the regular season finale. Despite the slump, the Longhorns still sport the third-best scoring defense in the league (61 ppg) and field Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Dogus Balbay. Wing player Jordan Hamilton earned All-Big 12 First Team honors. He paces the squad and ranks fourth in the conference in scoring (18.5 ppg). Big 12 Freshman of the Year Tristan Thompson supports Hamilton to the tune of 13.5 ppg, as the Longhorns average 75.2 ppg on the whole.

Thursday’s last quarterfinal matchup pits Texas A&M against the Texas Tech/Missouri winner. The Aggies won six of their final eight regular season games to finish the campaign at 23-7 overall and 10-6 in conference. The Aggies’ third-seed stands as the second-highest seed in school history. Texas A&M employs the Big 12′s second-best scoring defense (60.4 ppg) to earn victories. The dilemma for the Aggies has been consistent scoring, as they rank 10th in the league in scoring offense (68.7 ppg). They rely primarily on getting to the line, as they average 16.7 free throws per game, as opposed to 12.4 for their opponents. All-Big 12 second teamer Kris Middleton paces the squad at 14.4 ppg, while David Loubeau adds 11.6 ppg to the modest total.

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