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Basketball

Blum: Survivor, Kansas City

By Brent Blum, CycloneFanatic.com ColumnistFollow Brent on Twitter @BrentBlum  

*** CycloneFanatic.com’s coverage of the 2012 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament in Kansas City is brought to you by WCI Pools & Spas located in Urbandale and Ames. Bring your Big 12 Tournament ticket stub into WCI Pools & Spas by March 31st and receive and extra $500 off of a Jacuzzi Hot Tub. ***

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KANSAS CITY — The Big 12 Basketball Championships have arrived. We’ve reached that vaunted time of the season where college basketball dominates the sports scene. And for the first time in seven years, Iowa State is smack dab in the middle of the conversation during championship week. 10 teams enter, one survives.

March Madness is the reality show of all reality shows. Think about the ingredients of almost all successful reality shows: excitement, drama, rivalries, very few winners and an immense amount of tears and drinking.

The parallels are uncanny. When Iowa State lost to Hampton in 2001, Cyclone Nation had a melt-down that was far superior to anything seen on "Jersey Shore."

But the television program that schematically thrives on America’s guilty pleasure more than any is "The Bachelor." It is such a manufactured train-wreck that it is impossible to avoid it.

Many of you ‘fellas that are reading this are probably saying, "I don’t watch that kind of garbage!"  That is likely true, but what you don’t realize is the Big 12 tournament has the same recipe for entertainment – characters, theatre and unpredictability.

So which school will survive until the final episode and take home the Big 12 Bachelor? Let’s take a look.

Episode 1: Wednesday Night: The Underdogs.

(8) Oklahoma vs. (9) Texas A&M.

We greet you live from the Sprint Center where our first two contestants are classic long shots to reach the final ceremony. Texas A&M is the first out of the limo. At first glance they appear like a possible contender, great athletes across the front-line. But as you take a closer look, the alarm signs starts to signal, they come off as very dry and not full of substance. The offensive firepower is lacking. The Aggies scored more than 70 points just two times in conference play. Something seems off, they don’t make any eye contact and seem very pre-occupied. It’s as if they have no interest in even being on the show. A miserable season for A&M has gotten worse, as they have lost five straight games after being picked by the coaches to win the league.

Oklahoma is next, they also are a pleasant presence at first viewing. They have three of the conference’s top 20 scorers in Steven Pledger, Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald, yet none of the three made any of the All Big 12 teams. When Oklahoma comes to introduce themselves, you start to figure out why they finished eighth. There is just very little passion, a very passive group. Anytime they are challenged, they fold up. They lost eight of their last 10 games and were victorious just one time on the road in conference play (including an embarrassing 20 point defeat to Texas Tech). They gave up a Big 12 worst 72 points per game in conference play.

This is a match-up of two quasi-interested teams, one with no offense, the other with no defense. Oklahoma at least gives some semblance of an effort and takes control, while A&M continues to look aloof. Eventually A&M gives up mid-show and leaves before the first "rose" ceremony to be with their actual boyfriend – the SEC.

Oklahoma 68 Texas A&M 59.

(7) Oklahoma State vs. (10) Texas Tech.

Texas Tech gets off the limo and is immediately met with laughter. "Is this some kind of joke?" They are completely disheveled and clearly the producers of the show are pulling some prank – the old American Idol "William Hung" move. Texas Tech enters the conference tournament with just one player who averages double figures (Jordan Tolbert at just over 11.) In 18 conference games, the Red Raiders were within 10 points THREE times! They are 325th out of 340 Division 1 teams in points per game and scored over 60 points three times in those 18 conference games – to compare, in last week’s Iowa High School Girl’s State Tournament – the 60 point barrier was crossed on 15 occasions.

Oklahoma State jumps off the limo and is a little on the short side, but has a feisty persona. They seem like the type that would be fun to have a drink with, but are best in small doses. Keiton Page has been phenomenal the last two weeks. He has put up 25 points per game in his last seven and has been fairly efficient by shooting 52 percent from three and over 90 percent from the line during that stretch. That’s very impressive considering he is 5-foot-7 and has almost no help. The Pokes are very undermanned – they are down to a six-man rotation. LeByran Nash is still nursing an injury and backup big man Philip Jurick tore his achilles on Saturday and is done for the year.

Oklahoma State jumps out from the get go and puts Tech away early, while Tech tries to soak up their final tick in their 15 seconds of unfortunate fame.

Oklahoma State 72 Texas Tech 53.

Episode 2: Thursday: The Drama Begins

(4) Baylor vs. (5) Kansas State

K-State enters the Big 12 Bachelor house with an all-business attitude. They aren’t the most attractive of the lot, but damn if they don’t have some passion and ambition. The Wildcats are self-made millionaires. Facing long odds and staring at the wrong side of the bubble, Frank Martin’s club turned it up a notch. They won four of their final five games – three of them on the road and two of them against top 10 ranked clubs. K-State does work on the glass. They are sixth in the nation in offensive rebound percentage at over 40 percent – which means that they grab 40 percent of their own misses. That is FILTHY. The ‘Cats have had 10 or more offensive rebounds in 27 of their 30 games. The knock on them is they don’t look great in a swim-suit. Offensive droughts have been a problem all year. In their last five losses, they put up only 61 points on average.

Baylor is the opposite. They get out of the limo and you do a double take. Brooklyn Decker would be jealous. They are an "Across the Bar" All-Star. You are awestruck at the potential.  They have a dead-eye shooter at the wing, length in the frontcourt including two future lottery picks, a deep bench, they rebound the ball at a high rate, have several options to go to on offense including probably the most  dynamic shot making point guard in the league. Pierre Jackson has averaged 22 points on 52 percent shooting over his last four games. They appear to be the perfect team to make a deep tournament run. But like most things too good to be true, there are some underlying problems. The crazy tends to come out at the wrong time. The Bears bench led by Scott Drew occasionally makes some inexplicable decisions – the overzealous timeout usage in Ames being front and center. The team reflects this poor decision making mantra and the train gets derailed. Also worth noting, none of the other contestants like Baylor – which carries some weight.

This is another clash of opposites. The hard-worker versus the looker. Inevitably, in every season of The Bachelor, the best looking person gets the nod early in the show. K-State scraps and doesn’t go down without a fight, but Baylor is just too tempting to eliminate. The crazy girl always gets a second look.

Baylor 71 K-State 68.

(1) Kansas vs. (8) Oklahoma

Kansas enters the house with everything you are looking for. Easy on the eyes (second in the league in points per game), ambitious (first in the league in fewest points allowed), very disciplined (Bill Self) and not to mention they are a great leader with personality to match (Thomas Robinson/Tyshawn Taylor). They do all the little things – the only category where KU isn’t ranked in the top four in the league is turnovers. And they have a stable family with good bloodlines – KU has won five of the last six Big 12 tournaments.

Oklahoma got some recognition by getting by the first cut, but they aren’t making it past the group date stage. The Sooners have no chance to slow down the KU attack. In the two games the two played this year, KU averaged 78 points and shot 53 percent from the floor…OU belongs on the Cinemax with that ease of access.

Kansas 81 Oklahoma 63.

(2) Missouri vs. (7) Oklahoma State

Missouri gives off a great vibe when they get off the limo. They are an absolute blast to be around -always the life of the party and yet they seem fairly grounded. Missouri led the league in scoring at 80 points per game and they also led the league in fewest turnovers per game at just over 10. It is a remarkable balance how they play such fast, disciplined basketball. They are a bit undersized however and can get worn out. It is well-documented the lack of depth they have on the roster, playing with a seven man rotation all year. They also finished in the bottom half of the conference in almost every rebounding category – worth noting the Tigers were out-rebounded in three of their four losses. But holy cow they are fun – those guards, that speed, love at first sight.

Matching up with an Oklahoma State team that is even more undermanned isn’t too much of a hassle for the Tigers. Everyone admires OSU’s  feisty persona, but as Bachelor history shows, the feisty one never makes it too far. The Pokes beat Mizzou earlier in the year, yet that is an aberration and not the norm. A fresh group of Tigers is too much to handle.

Missouri 84 Oklahoma State 65.

(3) Iowa State vs. (6) Texas

Texas exits their ride and you can sense their desperation right off the bat. They are overly chatty and very eager to get past the first cut. The Longhorns by all accounts need a win to be sure of their NCAA chances. They have a very youthful appearance as well and you question how they will handle the bright lights. But despite the obvious flaws, there are some admirable traits with the Horns that may merit keeping them around. J’Covan Brown can carry the team for long stretches. The First-Team All Big 12 performer scored 19 or more points in 12 conference games – but strange enough, the Horns were 4-8 in those games. Young point guard Myck Kabongo continues to get better, scoring in double figures in five of the last seven contests. Texas also does a great job on the offensive glass (second in league).

Iowa State enters the house as the fascinating character. The Cyclones are a mysterious group that captures your attention. Iowa State shot the most 3-pointers in the league (731, a school record) and also had the best 3-point percentage in the league at over 38 percent. They have the biggest matchup nightmare in Royce White – who is the ultimate X factor. But with the Cyclones – like many mysterious personas – that uniqueness can be interpreted as being quasi-disinterested. Iowa State is 210th in the country in field goal defense at 44 percent. In their six conference losses, Iowa State allowed the opponent to shoot over 50 percent on average.

When matching these two side-by-side, Iowa State has the edge. Texas’ desperation is not aided by losing big body Alexis Wangmene, who at 240-pounds did a good job of battling Royce White down in Austin – Wangmene is out with a wrist injury. Also note that Texas struggles to score without J’Covan Brown. Brown has made 44 of Texas’ 92 3-pointers in conference play. And if  there is one constant in Iowa State’s defense it’s Chris Babb, who will do his best to shut down Brown. Texas will need somebody like Sheldon McClellan to have a big game to win. You quickly realize that desperation only gets you so far, eventually it becomes a nuisance.

Iowa State 72 Texas 65.

Episode 3: Friday: Meeting the Family

(1) Kansas vs. (4) Baylor

This is where things gets serious. Contestants can no longer coast by on good looks, some depth needs to be shown and the family situation has to be in order. When Kansas meets Baylor, it becomes obvious how vital the head of the family is. Baylor remains a knockout in the looks department and has shown some spunk that leaves you coming back for more. But when you go see the family life, it’s a mess. Scott Drew has never been the model of consistency. And as you spend more time with Baylor, the idiosyncratic tendencies begin to show themselves – Perry Jones disappearing for long stretches, turnover issues and a zone defense that is less disciplined than the Lohan family.

Meanwhile, Bill Self commands his house with confidence and hard work. Everything is in order and the Jayhawks are always well prepared. They almost never give up easy baskets. Also, Kansas has a large supportive family at the home visit, where Baylor had a few measly cousins who stopped by. That has an impact. It’s hard to eliminate Baylor because dang, they look good and would be great on magazine covers but you can’t ignore the crazy.

Kansas 75 Baylor 64.

(2) Missouri vs. (3) Iowa State

This is the toughest decision to make so far. You have a Mizzou squad who has really impressed with their charisma and confidence. The visit to the Tigers house was surprisingly competent – although the father figure has some financial distractions back in Miami that he is dealing with admirably.

Iowa State’s house is also in order. The Cyclones have shown a great propensity for shutting down the opposing team’s go-to player and Iowa State is one of the tops in the nation in points scored after time-outs – a direct correlation to in-game strategy.

Both the Tigers and Cyclones had equal and enthusiastic representation from family members on the home visit. So it comes down to actual skills and traits. The one standing problem for Mizzou is they are lacking depth and their charisma takes a huge shot when they are tired – see the game at Kansas. Swagger doesn’t do you any good when you are stumbling around. Iowa State has a very capable bench and more weapons to go to when things aren’t functioning at full blast. And Missouri has shown little ability – other than flopping – of stopping a committed Royce White. The deeper and intriguing Cyclones overcome the Tigers to make it to the final ceremony.

Iowa State 74 Missouri 73.

Episode 4: Saturday Night: The Finale.

The Big 12 Bachelor has a choice between two contrasting styles. Most of America has christened the blue-blood Jayhawks as the easy winner. This is the safe choice – they have every quality you could want – almost no weaknesses to be found.

And then there is the upstart Cyclones, who have a wildcard ability that continues to fascinate. When Iowa State is knocking down jump shots there is not a team – save Kentucky or North Carolina – who Iowa State can’t beat. Iowa State is second among BCS teams in made three pointers–trailing only Florida. The three ball is the great equalizer.

Consistency vs. Mystery.

Common sense says:

Kansas 76 Iowa State 69.

But when has reality television ever made sense?

Onto Kansas City and the revitalized Hilton South we go.

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