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What-to-know tourney previews: The Big 12

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Marcus Smart, coach Travis Ford and Oklahoma State are sleepers for the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. (USATSI)

THE BIG 12 TOURNAMENT BRACKET

1. Is Kansas a cut above once again? No, right? After all, it just got beat badly by Baylor and also had that miserable loss to TCU.

Well, let's put it this way: It's not Kansas' most dominant year as a Big 12 champ, but it was the champ -- again -- nonetheless. That makes for nine straight seasons that Bill Self has coached his program to a regular-season title. Just nuts. Now, Kansas is still the best team in the league by a certain, small margin, though. I'm of the belief that KU will roll through this bracket and earn the last No. 1 seed (in the South). Just my opinion, though.

Kansas has Jeff Withey in the middle and Ben McLemore on the wing. The former is a stalwart defensive player, a true college hoops center who's gotten better and better each year. The latter is an athletic freak with a jumpshot -- who needs to be more aggressive. Kansas' issues sometimes crop up with Elijah Johnson at point guard, but he's had really nice moments as well (the Iowa State game in Ames being the most prominent). Overall, the lesson, as always: do not doubt Bill Self, even if the occasional bad loss is inevitable. The good wins outweigh them 10-to-1.

2. Tell us more about Marcus Smart, the Big 12 Player and Freshman of the Year.

Smart's game is fantastic. Composed, adroit, strong, fast, crafty, you name it. He's the kind of player that, without him, Oklahoma State is barely making the NCAA tournament -- if that. He can carry this team to a Big 12 tournament title/Elite Eight appearance. He's that vital. The pieces around him, like Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash, are good because of his playmaking ability.

I'm not sure where to tab OSU overall. Smart's so otherworldly that he'll single-handedly vault this team to the Big 12 title game or second weekend of the NCAA tournament, and is a must-watch as just about any other player in college hoops this year.

3. Is Bruce Weber's team really this good? It's 25-6!

Hey, I doubted K-State for the first half of the season. I thought it'd be a quintessential 8/9 club. Coming in like Weber has with a clan of guys he didn't recruit, then winning 25 of 31 games? That's not easy. It's just not. It happens from time to time, but coaches also botch these situations -- or just can't win in them -- and those circumstances don't receive as much pub.

But Weber's really good. And this K-State team gets by on offense more than defense, a change from the Frank Martin days. Rodney McGruder (MCGRUDER!) is the Otto Porter of the Wildcats. They go as he goes.

Outside of K-State, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor are the other three Big 12 teams fighting for a tournament bid. None are promised. I think it's likely five make it. Odd team out? The one who loses first in this tournament, perhaps.

It should be a good bracket, so long as Kansas keeps it interesting. I have my doubts, though. So many KU honks will fill that arena in Kansas City, and Kansas always plays well here. It's as reliable as, say, Duke is in the ACC tournament.


Schedule: All games at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, March 13-16.

Title game: Saturday, March 16, at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

THREE BEST PLAYERS

  • Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State)
  • Ben McLemore (Kansas)
  • Jeff Withey (Kansas)

Conference RPI: 5
KenPom.com rating:
6
Sagarin rating:
3


For more college basketball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCBB on Twitter, like us on Facebook and subscribe to the thrice-a-week podcast on iTunes. You can follow Matt Norlander on Twitter here: @MattNorlander.

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