Tuesday , Mar , 07 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

2006 Big 12 Conference Tournament Preview

The Sports Network

By Pat Taggart, College Basketball Staff Writer

FACTS & STATS: Site: American Airlines Center (20,000) — Dallas, Texas.
Dates: Thursday, March 9th through Sunday, March 12th. Television: ESPN Plus,
ESPNU, ESPN2, ESPN (Championship). Annual 10th. Defending Champion: Oklahoma
State.

OUTLOOK: The 10th annual Big 12 Tournament begins on Thursday, March 9th, and
all 12 teams will compete for the championship and resulting automatic bid to
the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Only four schools have won this event in its
nine-year history, and Texas A&M is the only league member without a single
Big 12 Tournament victory. Oklahoma State has won the last two titles, and
Oklahoma won three in a row from 2001 through 2003. In fact, the only year one
of those two schools did not reach the title game was in 1997, the inaugural
year of this event. Kansas and Oklahoma have each won three championships,
while the Cowboys have two titles to their credit. Iowa State is the only
other conference member to claim the trophy, as it did so in 2000. This
season, Kansas enters as the second seed, while Oklahoma is the third seed.
Those two clubs, along with top-seeded Texas, appear to be the class of the
conference. Fourth-seeded Texas A&M enters with a great deal of confidence and
plenty to prove.

The first of four opening round games on Thursday pits the ninth-seeded Kansas
State Wildcats against the eighth-seeded Texas Tech Red Raiders. Kansas State
lost three of its final four regular season games, but it is important to
point out that the three losses came against the top three seeds in this
tournament. Both the home defeat against Texas and the road setback at
Oklahoma came by a single point, proof that the Wildcats are capable of
hanging with the league’s elite on occasion. Cartier Martin leads Kansas
State with 18.3 ppg to rank fourth in the conference, and he was recently
named to the All-Big 12 Second Team. As for Texas Tech, it is paced by All-Big
12 First Team performer Jarrius Jackson, as he leads the league with 20.3 ppg.
The Red Raiders are ranked 11th in the conference in rebounding margin, and
the lack of quality performers up front has hurt the squad.

Fifth-seeded Colorado is clearly favored in its opening round clash with 12th-
seeded Baylor. Colorado is the top-scoring team in the conference with 78.7
ppg, and it is outscoring opponents by a healthy 9.1 ppg this season. The
Buffaloes, who lead the league in offensive rebounding and three-pointers
made, are paced by All-Big 12 First Team performer Richard Roby. Just a
sophomore, Roby is netting 17.8 ppg. Baylor has two players listed among the
conference’s top 20 scorers, as Curtis Jerrells checks in with 13.1 ppg, while
Aaron Bruce is close behind with 13.0 ppg. The Bears are last in the league in
scoring offense (63.3 ppg) and next to last in scoring defense (73.0 ppg).

A pair of teams that have endured difficult seasons will meet on Thursday as
Oklahoma State takes on Iowa State. The Cyclones figured to contend for the
Big 12 title, but poor play at the defensive end on many occasions has the
club just three games over .500 overall. Iowa State is last in the league in
scoring defense, as it is surrendering 74.5 ppg. The strength of the squad is
its backcourt, as Will Blalock and Curtis Stinson combine to average 34.7 ppg.
Blalock is second in the league with 6.1 assists per game, while Stinson is
close behind with 5.6 apg. As for Oklahoma State, it continues to play without
legendary head coach Eddie Sutton, who has not been with the team since a
well-publicized DUI charge. The Cowboys haven’t won back-to-back games since
the middle of January, and although there are some talented performers in the
lineup such as Mario Boggan (14.6 ppg) and JamesOn Curry (13.5 ppg), the club
is far from loaded.

The final opening round game pits the 11th-seeded Missouri Tigers against the
sixth-seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers. It has been two months since Missouri has
won two straight contests, and the pressure and negative attention that
results from losing forced a coaching change for the Tigers. There is some
reason for optimism heading into Thursday’s game however, as they did knock
off this Nebraska team less than a week ago in the regular season finale.
Nebraska enters this event on a serious down swing, as it has lost three
straight games. The Huskers have not had a great deal of success in recent
years, so earning the fifth seed in the Big 12 Tournament is a solid
accomplishment. Still, they are shooting just 41.1 percent from the floor this
year and are ranked in the middle of the pack among league teams in many
important statistical categories.

The winner of the Kansas State/Texas Tech game has the unenviable task of
playing top-seeded Texas, which is surrendering only 58.8 ppg to place first
in the Big 12. The Longhorns are also scoring 76.4 ppg, third best in the
conference, and they possess two of the five First-Team All-Big 12 members.
P.J. Tucker was named Big 12 Player of the Year, and he remains the heart of
this Texas team. The undersized forward is scoring 16.1 ppg, and he reminds
many of Charles Barkley because of the fact that he is pulling down 9.0 rpg
despite his 6-5 frame. Teammate LaMarcus Aldridge is second in the Big 12 in
rebounding (8.9 rpg) and ninth in scoring (15.4 ppg). Texas is outrebounding
opponents by 10.0 rpg, and Brad Buckman joins Aldridge and Tucker to form
perhaps the nation’s premier front line.

Forth-seeded Texas A&M is slated to take on the winner of the Baylor/Colorado
game. Considering that Texas A&M has won its last seven games, it seems fair
to say that there isn’t a hotter team in the Big 12. Strong defense has been
key to the success for the Aggies, as they are limiting opponents to 60.2 ppg.
They are also second best in the league in turnover margin, a sign that they
are well coached. The duo of Joseph Jones and Acie Law scares opponents, as
both are capable of dominating a game. Law is posting 16.0 ppg, while Jones is
contributing 15.6 ppg. Should Colorado advance to the quarterfinal round as
expected, the Buffs and Aggies should produce an entertaining game.

The Iowa State/Oklahoma State winner will take on second-seeded Kansas, which
is led by Big 12 Coach of the Year Bill Self. The Jayhawks are extremely
young, as a host of freshmen have led the way for the squad. The Big 12 All-
Rookie Team features five players, three of which are on the Kansas roster.
The best of the rookies is Brandon Rush, as he was named to the exclusive All-
Big 12 First Team. Fellow rookie Mario Chalmers and sophomore Russell Robinson
were Big 12 All-Defensive Team selections, and the youngsters are playing like
experienced veterans at this point. The Jayhawks are only surrendering 60.4
ppg this season, and opponents are shooting a mere 36.6 percent against them.

The last quarterfinal matchup will feature the third-seeded Oklahoma Sooners
against either Missouri or Nebraska. The Sooners are paced by a pair of All-
Big 12 Second Team selections, Taj Gray and Terrell Everett. Gray is netting
14.4 ppg on 57.2 percent shooting from the floor, and he is pulling down 7.7
rpg as well. As for Everett, he is contributing 12.3 ppg and has amassed 179
assists. Michael Neal, the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, adds 13.0 ppg to the
mix on his 43.1 percent shooting from three-point range, and Kevin Bookout
(11.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg) brings a great deal of toughness to the lineup. Oklahoma
was crushed by Texas in the regular season finale by a 72-48 final, and it
will be interesting to see how the club will respond in this tournament.

Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma are all impressive squads that simply know how to
win. One of those three will undoubtedly win this tournament, and the smart
money is on Texas. Tucker is a beast on the low block, who attacks the glass
with a level of intensity unrivaled by opponents. Expect the Longhorns to win
this event for the first time and make a deep run in the upcoming NCAA
Tournament.

Sports Network Predicted Champion: Texas