Merry March Madness, mates.
By now, I sincerely hope you have your brackets filled out, polished and submitted. But in case you don’t — and heck, even if you do — I’ve previewed the Big 12’s road to the Final Four just for you (SPOILER: none of them make it that far).
I highly doubt this truncated analysis will sway your final decisions one way or another, because if you’re anything like me, you’re much smarter than any bozo on the Internet who tries to give you bracket advice. At any rate, here’s my final take on the fate of the best conference in all of college basketball — a viewer’s guide to end all 2013-14 viewer’s guides.
(2) Kansas | South Region | My Pick: Elite Eight (L – Florida)
All things considered, Kansas got a decent draw. There was some fear that the selection committee might overreact to Joel Embiid’s injury, with the uncertainty swaying some pundits to project them even as a 3-seed after losing to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament. The road isn’t a treacherous one by any means. I think New Mexico-Stanford is a toss-up and both are teams with containable offenses that the Jayhawks will match shot-for-shot. If Embiid is indeed back for the Sweet 16, I like them over Ohio State. In the end, Florida’s senior leadership was a sexy pick for me (and I already penciled them in as my champions anyway).
(3) Iowa State | East Region | My Pick: Sweet Sixteen (L – Villanova)
Just know that this is all head and no heart. As far as defensive matchups go, Iowa State drew an incredibly short stick. They could get a UNC team in the Round of 32 whose defense has proven to be akin to some of Roy Williams’ Final Four and National Championship squads. Villanova is brutish on the interior as well — Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston could be extremely tough assignments for Dustin Hogue and Melvin Ejim, not to mention Ryan Arcidiacono can shoot the lights out from literally anywhere. Ultimately, I think that’s where the road ends for the Cyclones in Madison Square Garden.
(9) Oklahoma State | West Region | My Pick: Round of 32 (L – Arizona)
Historically, 9-seeds have won more first round NCAA Tournament games than 8-seeds, which only further solidified this pick for me. Now I’m no Digger Phelps, wielding my orange highlighter with reckless abandon and picking the Cowboys to the National Championship, but I do think they get past a Gonzaga team that isn’t as potent offensively as they used to be. Marcus Smart is a nightmarish matchup for the Bulldogs’ small guards. But Arizona’s size and defensive prowess was all the convincing I needed to halt Oklahoma State’s run after one game. Brutal draw for a team that we all know is far more talented than its seed and record indicate.
(5) Oklahoma | West Region | My Pick: Sweet Sixteen (L – Arizona)
I’m not buying the North Dakota State hype. The Bison may do a good job of taking care of the ball and shooting at a high clip, but so does Oklahoma, and they’ve been doing it against a far better crop of teams for the last 2+ months. Give me the Sooners against a Summit League squad that’s 136th nationally in defensive efficiency and 308th defending the perimeter (paging Buddy Hield). In a rematch of last year’s first ("second") round game, I like OU over San Diego State. Despite a stingy Aztec defense, Oklahoma frankly is just more balanced and should get more production out of its guards. Finally — same story, different opponent: Arizona’s just too big and the run ends there for the Sooners.
(6) Baylor | West Region | My Pick: Round of 32 (L – Creighton)
Nope, we’re still not out of the West yet. Did anyone chuckle as much as I did when Nebraska’s name popped up below the Bears? The Huskers would have been a fun upset pick for me, but Baylor enjoys that pace of play and just has far better athletes on the floor. Baylor has simultaneously found its shooting stroke and is executing a frustratingly good zone defense lately that Iowa State was fortunate to bust in the Big 12 title game. It should be good enough to contain Nebraska, but Creighton has the painfully obvious perimeter game to hang around. I was this close to riding BU to the Sweet 16, but I’ll take Fresh McBuckets and the gang.
(9) Kansas State | Midwest Region | My Pick: One and done (L – Kentucky)
It’s kind of amazing how little time I spent on this pick for an 8/9 game. I’ve mentioned it multiple times already but size is a factor, and it’s something Kansas State just doesn’t have. I will say this about Kentucky: their half court offense is quite often a raging dumpster fire. If that pesky K-State defense can force some bad shots and get buckets in transition, we could have a ball game. I just think in the end, UK has the length and athletic ability to one-up KSU on every offensive possession and should pound them on the glass too. Blue Wildcats beat the purple Wildcats.
(7) Texas | Midwest Region | My Pick: One and done (L – Arizona State)
Tossup. Truly a tossup. Here’s what I know: I once watched this Arizona State team upset Arizona while getting absolutely obliterated in the rebounding department 54-35 — without Brandon Ashley. That’s relevant here because rebounding is about the only thing Texas does really well. For the most part, this isn’t a very good Longhorn team offensively but at least Isaiah Taylor will still be a treat to watch as always, especially battling with ASU guard Jahii Carson. In the end, there will be a guy on the floor for the Sun Devils by the name of Jordan Bachynski that has five full inches on Cameron Ridley, and that could definitely be a deciding factor. Close but one and done for Rick Barnes’ crew.