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Big 12 Tournament Preview: Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Texas look to make noise

The Oklahoma State Cowgirls, Iowa State Cyclones and Texas Longhorns will be chasing the Baylor Lady Bears and the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Big 12 Tournament.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 11 Women’s Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
Natasha Mack definitely has WNBA potential.
Photo by Torrey Purvey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Big 12 Tournament tips off on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET when the TCU Horned Frogs and Kansas Jayhawks square off on ESPN+. Two quarterfinal games will be broadcast on ESPNU and the championship game will be on ESPN2. Tune in to see if one of the talented players on a non-Baylor team can lead their squad to a surprise automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

The top two teams

The No. 1-seed Baylor Lady Bears have dominated the Big 12 in recent years and are once again the favorites to win this year’s tournament. They are led by Big 12 Player of the Year NaLyssa Smith, who nearly averaged a double-double this year with 18 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

The Lady Bears had two players make the All Big 12 Second Team in DiDi Richards and Moon Ursin. While Richards failed to win Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in a row, she was a unanimous All-Defensive Team selection and averaged 6.7 assists per game in her first collegiate season as a point guard. Ursin, on the other hand, has been one of the feel-good stories in the nation as she has gone from role player to star. All four of her career double-doubles came this season and she scored 20-plus three times. Ursin joined Richards on the All-Defensive Team.

Baylor’s second-leading scorer, DiJonai Carrington (13.3 points per game) and its fourth-leading scorer, Queen Egbo (11.3 points and eight rebounds per game), were All-Big 12 honorable mentions.

Like every team in the country, the Lady Bears have faced the adversity of the pandemic this season and had to play without head coach Kim Mulkey for a stretch due to a positive COVID test. However, they have fought through the adversity with just two losses — one to the Arkansas Razorbacks and one to a conference foe in the Iowa State Cyclones. Baylor has fallen as low as No. 9 in the rankings and was a projected 3-seed in the first NCAA Top 16 reveal, but at its best it is still very difficult to beat when going against Big 12 competition.

The No. 2-seed West Virginia Mountaineers may have the best chance at defeating Baylor, though the Oklahoma State Cowgirls matched their 13-5 conference record and the Mountaineers, unlike the Cyclones, lack a win over the Lady Bears this season. In fact, the Mountaineers lost to the Lady Bears by 20 and 23, respectively, in their two meetings, with the second coming on Monday.

The factors working in West Virginia’s favor include All-Big 12 First Team members Kysre Gondrezick and Esmery Martinez. Gondrezick is a lethal scorer who averaged 20 points per game with 52 threes on 143 attempts (36.4 percent). Meanwhile, Martinez averaged a double-double with 13.9 points and 11.8 rebounds per contest.

Kirsten Deans (13.8 points per game on 43.8 percent shooting from long range) and Kari Niblack (9.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game) were Mountaineers who received All-Big 12 honorable mentions.

West Virginia (No. 17) is the only Big 12 team besides Baylor (No. 6) that is ranked and at 19-5 had the second-best overall record in the conference, two games ahead of Oklahoma State. It has a signature win over the Tennessee Lady Volunteers and also defeated the then-No. 17 Texas Longhorns by 34 on Jan. 9.

First round and quarterfinal matchups

Star player Vivian Gray and the 7th-seeded Texas Tech Red Raiders take on the 10th-seeded Kansas State Wildcats in the first round, with the winner going on to face West Virginia. We thought highly of Texas Tech in our Big 12 preview but the head coaches picked them to finish sixth and they were more accurate. The Red Raiders have one quality conference win and that was over Texas on Jan. 17. They split with Kansas State and were swept by West Virginia. The Wildcats boast a signature win over the No. 25 South Dakota State Jackrabbits, but don’t have any quality wins in the Big 12.

Lauren Heard and the 8th seeded TCU Horned Frogs will face the 9th-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in the other first round game, with the winner going on to face Baylor. Heard was second in the conference in scoring this year with 21.7 points per game, trailing only Iowa State’s Ashley Joens (23.4). TCU’s best Big 12 win was over the Oklahoma Sooners on March 4 and it split with Kansas. The Horned Frogs were swept by Baylor with two blowout losses. Kansas had just three Big 12 wins with the best one coming against Oklahoma (9-9 Big 12) on Dec. 10.

Oklahoma State is a very interesting team sitting at the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament. Projected No. 5 pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft, Natasha Mack, was expected to be one of the best players in the Big 12 but she has surprised a lot of people with the team success she has brought about. Mack, a 6-foot-4 forward, is a unanimous All-Big 12 First Team member and the Defensive Player of the Year in the conference with two steals and four blocks per game. Oklahoma State was picked to finish eighth in the conference and head coach Jim Littell has been named Big 12 Coach of the Year due to the team’s very successful season, which currently has them slotted as an 8-seed in ESPN’s projected NCAA Tournament bracket. The Cowgirls split with the Mountaineers, their potential semifinal opponent, but lost to the Lady Bears by 19 twice.

The Cowgirls will take on the 6th-seeded Oklahoma Sooners in an intra-state battle in the quarterfinals. Oklahoma features All-Big 12 player Madi Williams, who scored 45 points against West Virginia on Jan. 3. The Sooners lost that game but avenged it with a one-point win over the Mountaineers on Feb. 13. They were swept by Oklahoma State. Oklahoma is likely in or out of the NCAA Tournament based on this game as they currently sit as one of the “first four out” in ESPN’s bracket. Teams No. 67 through No. 64 (BYU, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and Mississippi State, respectively) are all done with their conference tournaments so Oklahoma just needs to focus on its own destiny. Two wins and a spot in the Big 12 championship game should leave no question that they will be in the tournament.

The 4th-seeded Cyclones take on the 5th-seeded Texas Longhorns in the first quarterfinal game. It is a matchup between the teams everyone thought would be Baylor’s biggest challengers this year, but they both fell behind West Virginia and Oklahoma State. The Cyclones started the season at No. 15 and the Longhorns rose as high as No. 17 on Jan. 4, but neither received votes in the latest poll on Monday. Joens can flat-out score from anywhere on the court, while Texas’ Charli Collier is super talented as well and is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft. Texas won both matchups between the two teams in the regular season but Iowa State has that impressive win over Baylor and could be a sleeper pick to win the Big 12 Tournament.

Both Iowa State and Texas are currently projected as 7-seeds.

Big 12 Tournament schedule

First Round – Thursday, March 11

Game 1: No. 8 TCU vs. No. 9 Kansas, 6 p.m. ET (ESPN+),

Game 2: No. 7 Texas Tech vs. No. 10 Kansas State, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

Quarterfinals – Friday, March 12

Game 3: No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 5 Texas, 11:30 a.m. ET (ESPNU)

Game 4: No. 1 Baylor vs. Game 1 winner, 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Game 5: No. 2 West Virginia vs. Game 2 winner, 6:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

Game 6: No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 6 Oklahoma, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

Semifinals – Saturday, March 13

Game 7: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

Game 8: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN+)

Championship – Sunday, March 14

Game 9: Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN2)