Bill Fennelly and the Iowa State Cyclones kick off the quarterfinal action in the Big 12 tournament today in Kansas City, Mo. (Credit: Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE)
Yesterday's first round in the Big 12 Tournament was a day of upset with both lower-seeded teams advancing to today's quarterfinal round. Today's match ups point to the potential of even more higher seeds getting unseated. And since the Cowgirls are out, I think I'm going to root for chaos! All games today will be televised on FSN. Times listed are central.
#4 Iowa State vs. #5 Kansas State; 11 a.m.
The Cyclones and the Wildcats quietly went through the season without a lot of fanfare, while finishing the season tied with a 9-8 Big 12 record. Iowa State swept the season series and held Kansas State to their lowest offensive production in their second meeting. K-State only mustered 33 points on Feb. 29 when the Cyclones hosted and overpowered their visitors.
ISU is led by unanimous first-team all-Big 12 selection Chelsea Poppens. Poppens might not get the pub of her fellow junior Brittney Griner, but she does possess quite a skill set to help Bill Fennelly's team night in and night out. The only player in the league to finish the season averaging a double-double (14.9 points, 10.5 rebounds), Poppens will look to team up with Big 12 all-freshman selection Nikki Moody, who dishes the ball out almost five times a night.
The Wildcats proved to be one of the conference surprises in the league this season. Picked to finish ninth during the preseason, K-State proved some people wrong earning their tie for fourth. The Wildcats are led by the services of Brittany Chambers, who is one of three players nationally to lead their team in the unlikely combination of rebounds and 3-pointers. Chambers and senior Jalana Childs were both picked to the all-Big 12 first team for their efforts on the court. Both women average over 14 points a game, accounting for over half of the Wildcats 55.5 points a night.
#1 Baylor vs. #9 Texas Tech; 1:30 p.m.
This is where I say I'm glad that OSU didn't drop to eighth seed due to the three-way tie. Baylor hasn't lost yet this season and I don't expect them to lose here. Am I saying they're going to run through the conference tournament unscathed? Ummm. Probably. But if they lose, Tech might be the one to to it. As everyone and their momma knows, Baylor is led by all-everything Brittney Griner (player of the year, defensive player of the year, unanimous all-Big 12). But they have other weapons in Odyssey Sims (unanimous all-Big 12), Nae Nae Hayden (honorable mention all-Big 12). They are number one in the country for a reason.
Part of that reason is they were able to hold off the Red Raiders on two separate occasions in two very tight contests. In their first meeting in Lubbock (when Tech was still ranked in the polls), Baylor came away with a 72-64 victory. In their second showdown in Waco, Tech spent a good portion of the game ahead on the scoreboard before a late charge gave the Bears the 56-51 win at home on Feb. 21. The Red Raiders are the only conference opponent to keep the margin of victory in the single digits for both contests. The only other squads to stay within striking distance were Tennessee (76-67 - Nov. 27) , Connecticut (66-61 - Dec. 18) and Texas A&M (69-62 - Feb. 27).
I know that the goal for the Bears is a national championship ring, and maybe a loss and some pre-tournament rest would do them good and lessen the pressure. Hard to fathom a blemish to their record at this point, but who knows. Tech might have some "third time is a charm" magic up their sleeve.
#2 Oklahoma vs. #10 Missouri; 5 p.m.
Oklahoma skated into the second seed in the tournament off a coin toss with Texas A&M, it was that close. The Sooners lost their last game of the regular season - to Kansas - on senior night - so I expect Sherri Coale will have kicked their hind ends into gear for this game. OU is led by first-team all-Big 12 selections Whitney Hand and Aaryn Ellenberg along with the strong presence of freshman Sixth Woman Award winner Sharane Campbell.
Oklahoma State had a clear path to a Bedlam Part 3 rematch that was usurped yesterday by the Missouri Tigers. Though the Sooners swept the season series with the Tigers, these were not easy games. Both in Norman and in Columbia Missouri played OU close, losing 62-59 at home and falling 74-70 at the Lloyd Noble Center. It would be easy to say that the Sooners have the clear and distinct advantage in this one, but Mizzou coach Robin Pingeton said something in Stillwater last Saturday that I should have paid attention to, apparently.
"For us, the seeding has already been set as a 10 seed. The only way we'd go to postseason is if we win the conference tournament," Pingeton said after the loss to OSU. She went on to talk about their determination, energy and focus throughout this tough year as positive signs, despite the scoreboard. And after last night, I think perhaps the Tigers are legitimately going for that auto-bid. Or at the very least, they are relishing their role as potential spoilers.
#3 Texas A&M vs. #6 Kansas; 7:30 p.m.
By virtue of the aforementioned coin toss, Texas A&M finds itself slated as the No. 3 seed and hoping to stop a two game slide. The Aggies closed out the regular season with losses to Baylor and Texas and have to get back on track. They'll have the services of Big 12 Newcomer of the Year at their disposal, Kelsey Bone (honorable mention all-Big 12), along with all-Big 12 first-team selection Tyra White and all-defensive team pick Sydney Carter (2nd team all-Big 12). As expected from the defending national champs, those three aren't the only contributing players for Gary Blair's team, with all-freshman team member Alexia Standish and conference honorable mention Adaora Elonu rounding out the Aggies' staring lineup. A&M has been in the final game of the Big 12 Tournament in each of the last four seasons. They won in 2008 and 2010, so maybe there's some sort of 'even year' luck going for A&M.
Kansas, on the other hand appeared to be in a tailspin of their own losing five of their last six games heading into their season finale in Norman with Oklahoma - which the Jayhawks won. Will that win over a top competitor be enough to propel KU onto the bubble and into the bracket after Texas and OSU lost yesterday? A win over A&M, who swept the season series, would go a long way in the Jayhawk talk, to be sure.
The Jayhawks boast first-team all-Big 12 player Carolyn Davis and second-team selection Angel Goodrich to lead the way. Davis puts up 16.9 points on 59.8 percent shooting while getting the ball from Goodrich, who averaged a conference-leading 7.47 assists a night. The team is second only to Baylor in field goal percentage, putting in 45.6 percent of their attempts. In something of an oddity (unless your team is named Baylor), KU is the only other team in the conference to have a conference winning record away from home.
The two semifinal games will take place Friday afternoon with the Baylor/Tech winner to face either Iowa State or Kansas State. That leaves the victors of OU/Mizzou to go up against the A&M/Kansas game winner.