(SportsNetwork.com) - The most competitive season in Big 12 history culminates with the annual conference tournament, which is set to take place at the Sprint Center in Kansas City from Wednesday, March 11 through Saturday, March 14.
The winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
First-round action features a pair of bouts pitting the four lowest seeds against each other, starting with No. 9 TCU (17-14, 4-14) battling No. 8 Kansas State (15-16, 8-10), followed by No. 10 Texas Tech (13-18, 3-15) clashing with No. 7 Texas (19-12, 8-10).
The quarterfinals are slated for Thursday, with the first game being a showdown between No. 4 Baylor (23-8, 11-7) and No. 5 West Virginia (23-8, 11.7). Third-seeded Oklahoma (21-9, 12-6) will face sixth-seeded Oklahoma State (18-12, 8-10), while the top two seeds, No. 1 Kansas (24-7, 13-5) will face the winner of the TCU/Kansas State contest, and No. 2 Iowa State (22-8, 12-6) will square off with the victor in the Texas Tech/Texas matchup.
TCU limps into the postseason having lost three in a row and four of its last five overall, and the team is seeking its first win in the Big 12 Tournament after going one-and-done in each of its first two years in the league.
Kansas State owns an 11-18 record in this event, having never won the title, although it has reached the finals in two of the last five years, losing both times to rival Kansas. With regard to this season, the Wildcats have won only three of their last 11 games, although one of those victories came against the Jayhawks just a couple of weeks ago.
Texas Tech has had a horrific season, at least with respect to its effort against its Big 12 brethren. The Red Raiders have lost seven of their last eight games, and have posted just three victories since the start of the new year. Texas Tech is 13-18 all-time in the conference tourney, and has just one championship game appearance, that resulting in a narrow loss to Oklahoma State in 2005.
Texas had spent some time in the national rankings this season, but the team was inconsistent at best in Big 12 play. The Longhorns, who boast having the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in Myles Turner (10.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.8 bpg), enter this tournament on a modest two-game win streak, that coming on the heels of a four-game slide. Texas is 23-18 all-time in this event, and it too has never hoisted the championship trophy despite reaching the title tilt six times, including three straight from 2006-08.
Baylor is seeking redemption after last year's loss to Iowa State in the tournament finals, which marked its second championship game appearance in the last three years, and its third in the last six overall. The Bears, who are fortunate to have the Big 12's Sixth Man of the Year on the roster in Taurean Prince (14.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg), have never won the crown, and they own a 14-17 record in the event all-time. They enter the postseason having won five of their last six games.
Like TCU, which joined the conference the same year as West Virginia, the Mountaineers are also seeking their first win in the tournament. The team, which is led by Big 12 Coach of the Year Bob Huggins, claimed a win over Oklahoma State in last Saturday's regular-season finale, putting the brakes on a brief two-game skid.
Oklahoma State is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, as the team has lost five of its last six games. The Cowboys won back-to-back Big 12 Tournament titles in 2004 and 2005, and they own a 23-16 record in the event all-time.
Oklahoma enters the postseason having won four of its last five games, and the team features a pair of Big 12 award winners in Newcomer of the Year TaShawn Thomas (11.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.4 bpg), and Player of the Year Buddy Hield (17.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg). The Sooners are 20-15 all-time in this event, and they have the second-most Big 12 Tournament titles of any team with three, winning them all in succession from 2001-03.
Iowa State is the defending Big 12 Tournament champion, defeating Baylor in a 74-65 final last year. The Cyclones have a total of two titles to their credit, and they are 11-16 all-time in the event. ISU, which can claim having the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year on the roster in Jameel McKay (11.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.4 bpg), has won two straight games entering the postseason.
Kansas earned its 11th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title, and its 15th in 19 years, but the team has proven to be mortal of late by splitting its last four games. With nine tournament crowns to their credit, the Jayhawks have won three times as many titles as any team in the league, and they own a 36-9 record in the event. KU did not play in the championship game last year, but has done so a total of 10 times.
Kansas is once again the team to beat, although there are certainly others who could challenge. Iowa State and Oklahoma are probably the most viable options, but Bill Self will almost assuredly have his Jayhawks primed and ready for a nice, long run through the month of March.
Sports Network Predicted Champion: Kansas