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NCAA Tournament Big 12 Notes After the First Set of Games

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Some random notes and impressions about Big 12 teams from my first two days of watching the NCAA tournament.

This man may look like a crazy maniac that shouldn't be allowed to have anything sharp, but he also drinks Sooner tears. So we like him.
This man may look like a crazy maniac that shouldn't be allowed to have anything sharp, but he also drinks Sooner tears. So we like him.

With the first two days of the tournament complete, and the third day about to start, let's check in on the teams of the Big 12.

The Winners

Iowa State. It hasn't been all fun and games for the winners. Most notably, Iowa State's Georges Niang broke his foot last night, and will miss the rest of the tournament. Fred Hoiberg will be without his point-center in Sunday's contest against North Carolina.

That is just a huge blow for the Cyclones. All season long, Iowa State has won by using its three-headed monster of DeAndre Kane, Melvin Ejim, and Niang to create and exploit one-on-one match ups somewhere on the floor. That match up puts stress on the defense, and then Hoiberg surrounds that stress point with shooters.

With Niang out of the lineup, one of the key stress creators is gone. Hoiberg will no longer have the option of isolating Niang on the perimeter against a lumbering center, or using Niang to initiate the offense while Kane overpowers a 5-10 guard on the low block.

Baylor. Baylor easily dispensed with offensively challenged Nebraska, but now faces a totally different test. The Bears' second round opponent is Creighton, which has the best offense in the country, per Ken Pomeroy's ratings. The Bluejays lead the nation in three point field goal percentage, and are second in two point field goal percentage. And then there is Doug McDermott.

Doug McDermott was a high school teammate of highly recruited Harrison Barnes in Ames, Iowa. Given that, I have to think that a substantial number of major conference coaches got to see McDermott play as a teenager, and apparently didn't think he was worth recruiting. But we can hardly hold it against those unnamed coaches, because Greg McDermott -- Doug's father -- who at the time was the Iowa State coach didn't think young Doug was a high major player either. Boy was everyone wrong. Father and son eventually ended up at Creighton, and McDermott looks like an easy bet to be the national player of the year.

When on the floor, McDermott takes nearly 39 percent of his team's shots, the second highest rate in the nation. McDermott will shoot the long ball -- he is a career 46 percent three point shooter -- but is equally adept scoring inside.

I am really looking forward to see how the Baylor zone holds up against Creighton. If Baylor collapses too much on  McDermott, Ethan Wragge and friends can eat them alive beyond the arc. If they spread out to cover the shooters, then McDermott gets more room to operate.

Perhaps the size inside for Baylor will create problems for McDermott, but I doubt it. It is not like Creighton doesn't play against teams with size in the Big East. For example, McDermott had no trouble scoring inside (going 8-11 on shots at the rim) against St. John's, the nation's premier rim defending team. I like Isaiah Austin as much as the next guy, but he has nothing on Chris Obekpa when it comes to defending the rim.

Given this, Baylor is going to need to get going on offense, and here I like the Bears' chances. While the Creighton offense is spectacular, there is nothing special about the defense. And Scott Drew's team can score.

My advice -- watch this game.

Texas. You can read my thoughts on Michigan here.

Kansas. With Stanford's victory over New Mexico, the bracket is shaping up nicely for the Jayhawks, who will be able to face two double-digit seeds on their way to the Sweet 16.

Still, the Kansas backcourt looked shaky in the first half against Eastern Kentucky's all-out pressure defense, and while Stanford won't come after Bill Self's team like this, other teams later in this bracket surely will.

The Jayhawks can breath a sigh of relief that VCU lost last night, as Naadir Tharpe against that press is a match-up conceived in the fiery pits of hell. But the team that beat VCU -- Stephen F. Austin -- plays a style of defense that resembles in many ways the approach employed by EKU, but with the additional benefit that the Lumberjacks don't give up as many easy chances inside when you break down the pressure.  And then of course Florida, Syracuse, and UCLA, with their turnover inducing ways, all remain. Kansas still will face at least one or two more defenses that turn teams over if the Jayhawks make it all the way to the Final Four.

If you don't believe that turnovers are a potential issue for Kansas, then I guess I should point out that the Jayhawks got all they could handle for 35 minutes on Friday against a team that routinely plays lineups with four guys under 6-5.

The Losers

Oklahoma. In retrospect, North Dakota State was a touch match-up for the undersized Sooners.

All season long, Lon Kruger's team has overcome its poor interior defense by doing other things well -- most notably by scoring like crazy.

But eventually these problems catch up with a team. It is hard to imagine a team better constructed to upset OU than the Bison. On the season, coach Saul Phillips' team has converted on 67 percent of its' layups and dunks, which ranks in the top 30 nationally per the leaderboard.

Oklahoma was completely overwhelmed by the Bison assault on the rim. Against OU, 30 of North Dakota State's 51 shot attempts came at the rim, and 63 percent of these shots went in. Kruger's team kept it close, and went to overtime, in part by shooting 12-30 from three point range. Without this spectacular shooting performance, the game probably wouldn't have even been close.

Kansas State. Bruce Weber's team drew the shortest straw, and was fed to eight seed Kentucky in the first round. UK hasn't been as good as expected this season -- it was the AP preseason No. 1 team -- but that doesn't mean the men from Lexington aren't good. They are. Really good.

The game started off about as strangely as possible when K-State walk-on Brian Rohleder was assessed a technical foul during pregame warm-ups for dunking the ball within 20 minutes of tip-off. That is against the rules.

From that point on, the game devolved into a total rock fight. Both teams combined to go 9-36 from long range. UK prevailed through the ugliness by earning extra chances on the offensive glass, an approach to wining that Texas fans will find both familiar and comforting.

Oklahoma State. The last two seasons with Marcus Smart in Stillwater have been a hell of a ride. Yet Travis Ford has no NCAA tournament wins to show for it. I imagine the natives are getting restless.

In six seasons as head man of the Cowboys, Travis Ford has just one NCAA tournament win. You can see where I am headed with this, but the question is, should I be headed there?

Because, despite some disappointments in March, I am guessing that Cowboy fans have had some fun in those years as well, particularly over the last two seasons. Marcus Smart, while annoying as hell for everyone else, has probably been a lot of fun to root for. And he and his teammates -- including Markel Brown, who is fun for everyone -- have brought the Cowboys some pretty exciting wins. It is just these wins came outside of the tournament.

If the tournament is all that matters to you as a fan of the game, then you are missing out on a lot. For Oklahoma State fans, I am sure that those wins against Kansas over the last two years were a lot of fun.

If any OSU fans are reading this, my advice is to try to think back on those wins, and not the two quick tournament losses, when you think back on the career of Marcus Smart. I say this speaking as a member of a fan base that defines one of its best and most enjoyable recent teams (the 2010-2011 Longhorns) as a failure because it didn't get out of the first weekend of the tournament. Marcus Smart was fun. Try to remember that.