The Final Four of the Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament is set. Only Iowa State will be missing from the four top teams in the league coming into the tournament as regular-season champion Kansas; No. 2 seed Missouri; Baylor, the four seed, and sixth-seed Texas will take the court at the Sprint Center in Kansas City Friday night for the semifinal round of the four-day tournament.
There were few surprises in the first three quarterfinal games on Thursday, save for Kansas State, who may have gotten the Sprint Center confused with Bramlage Coliseum, where the Wildcats lost four of nine conference home games this season due largely to lapses on defense and lackluster overall play. The same symptoms were apparent Thursday in Kansas State's 82-74 loss to Baylor. The Wildcats actually defeated the Bears at Baylor but lost in Manhattan and again on Thursday in the rubber match this season between the two teams.
Perhaps Frank Martin's Wildcats were blinded by the bright (and I mean bright) yellow uniforms worn by Baylor in their opening tournament game. Baylor's Perry Jones III had a career game for the victorious Bears, hitting 11 of 14 shots in totaling 31 points to lead all scorers in the game. Jordan Henriquez scored 22 to lead Kansas State. The Wildcats shot 49 percent for the game, but Baylor was even better, at 56 percent, and K-State couldn't stop them.
It was the first time this season that the Wildcats had given up 80 or more points in a game.
"We probably played our second worst defensive game of the year," Martin said afterwards. "We were so bad defensively today. It was a joke."
Kansas State (21-10, 10-8) now heads back to Manhattan to await its selection and seeding for the NCAA Tournament.
Top-seeded Kansas had no trouble whatsoever with Texas A&M, who was playing less than 24 hours after beating Oklahoma in the opening round. The Aggies held a short-lived five-point lead early in the opening half against the Jayhawks, but that was quickly erased and Kansas cruised through the second half, widening its lead to as many as 20 points before settling in for an 83-66 win over ninth-seeded Texas A&M.
Kansas scored on 10 of its first 11 possessions of the second half to salt the game away.
A&M coach Billy Kennedy said after his team defeated Oklahoma that Kansas had many players capable of beating you. On Thursday, it was junior guard Elijah Johnson, who fired in a career-high 26 points, including five of seven from beyond the three-point line.
In the two evening games of the quarterfinals, Missouri, one of the best shooting teams in the country, shot nearly 60 percent in burying the outmanned Oklahoma State Cowboys 88-70. The Tigers were led by senior guards Marcus Denmon and Kim English, their two floor leaders all season, who scored 27 and 24 points, respectively.
Missouri built a 21-point advantage 13 minutes into the first half, and it was fairly easy pickings thereafter as the Tigers won their program-best 28th game of the year against four losses.
The most exciting and clearly the most competitive game of the day was the final game on Day 2 with third-seeded Iowa State, probably the most improved team in the Big 12 this season, taking on sixth-seeded Texas. Throughout the first half and early into the second, it appeared that the Cyclones were going to run away and hide on their way to routing the Longhorns. That's when Texas caught fire, going from 11 down to an eight-point advantage in a little under eight minutes. It was a body blow from which Iowa "State would never recover.
Friday's semifinal action in the Big 12 Tournament pits Kansas against Baylor, who the Jayhawks defeated twice during the regular season. The second semifinal game will feature Missouri and Texas. The Tiger are 2-0 against the Longhorns this season, winning by 11 in Columbia in January and barely getting by the Horns in Austin, holding on to win by a single point.
Unless something goes totally wrong, which is always a possibility in this tournament, Kansas and Missouri will advance to Saturday's championship game and have one more chance to make the final statement in the long-running series between these neighboring-state rivals. Both won on their home floor in the two earlier games this season.
This is the game everybody wants to see, and they're most likely going to get their wish.