College Basketball Betting: Big 12 Tournament Preview
As is tradition, the Big 12 Tournament will take place in Kansas City, though the venue is now officially known as the T-Mobile Center, not the Sprint Center, thanks to a telecommunications mega-merger. On a relative basis to both past Big 12 Tournaments and to other conference draws, this event lacks drama: the top seven teams are locks for the NCAA Tournament, and all seven will likely be wearing home white jerseys while being seeded in the bracket’s top half.
Unfortunately for Oklahoma, only six of those seven teams could earn byes into the quarterfinals, so the Sooners have to sit at the kid’s table on Wednesday and deal with winless Iowa State (Kansas State vs. TCU is the other opening round matchup).
The Favorite: Only one favorite here, folks and that’s the world-beating Baylor Bears, who have rounded back into terrifying juggernaut form after some post-COVID hiccups. The talented and deep backcourt remains devastatingly efficient from deep (Baylor ranks 1st nationally in 3P% at 42.9%), and when combined with a top 5 offensive rebound rate, the Bears are a machine on the offensive end of the floor. They enter having won three in a row, the last two in fairly convincing fashion, and the draw sets up well as a quarterfinal meeting against TCU or Kansas State will be the easiest in the field.
Other Contenders: Oddsmakers and I agreed that Kansas profiled as the biggest threat to Baylor, but the Jayhawks felt the wrath of the dreaded COVID protocols, losing towering big man David McCormack for the duration of the event (reserve forward Tristan Enaruna is also out). McCormack emerged as a major difference-maker in Big 12 play after a stagnant start to the year and without him the Jayhawks are alarmingly thin in the paint.
That opens up the bottom half of the bracket for Texas and Texas Tech, who square off on Thursday in the quarterfinals. The Red Raiders actually swept both preseason matchups here, most notably escaping by two in Austin thanks to a Mac McClung buzzer beater. Chris Beard is just 1-3 in this event so far in his Texas Tech tenure, but he’s too good of a coach and game planner to not eventually find success. Texas Tech’s no-middle defense clearly bothered the Longhorns in Lubbock the second time around, and I have to lean towards Mr. Beard with time to prepare.
Texas, though, is not to be taken lightly. The Hook ‘Em Horns won the Maui Invitational in Asheville, N.C. earlier this season, emphatically proving their merits in neutral site, quick turnaround events. They also swept Kansas this season and just won at Oklahoma, so if they can avoid the triple sweep against Texas Tech, the path is there for another Texas tournament run.
The 4 vs. 5 matchup offers two enticing challengers in West Virginia and Oklahoma State. Both have big-time shot-makers in Miles McBride and Cade Cunningham, but Cunningham is banged up right now, and both teams are unfortunately stuck on the Baylor half of the bracket. Still, the Cowboys just won at West Virginia without Cunningham, and early reports indicate that he and Isaac Likekele are going to play (he’s missed six of the Cowboys’ past seven games).
I do think the Mountaineers could be a value play if you find the right price, though. McBride, Sean McNeil, and Taz Sherman are the kind of three-headed playmaking backcourt that can give opponents fit in an setup like this, and powerful center Derek Culver can control the interior. For what it’s worth, WVU has won two games in four straight Big 12 Tournaments. If nothing else, that’s indicative of Bob Huggins’ insistence on his teams bringing their A-game to Kansas City.
Long-Shot: Only the bottom three teams would qualify as true long shots, but those three don’t exist in the same plane as the top seven, so I’ll call the Oklahoma Sooners a long shot. As mentioned, Boomer Sooner is stuck playing in the opening round against Iowa State, giving Lon Kruger’s legion the dreaded “four games in four days” path to the conference crown. Importantly, though, Oklahoma is not on Baylor’s side of the bracket, so the route to a championship berth is navigable, at the very least.
Final Thoughts: Though the on/off numbers don’t paint McCormack as a seismic loss, my eyes tell me differently, so I think his loss opens up some value on this field. First, I’ll lock in a wager on the odds-on favorite Baylor Bears; they’re deadly, the rotation has depth, and the easy quarterfinal draw make Baylor an appealing bet even as a favorite. Additionally, I’ll sprinkle some dinero on Oklahoma. The Sooners should easily handle Iowa State, and with Kansas short-handed, that opens up the bottom half of the bracket for an OU run.
I’ve invented a currency called BIQ Bits, so here’s what I’m taking (odds via Westgate as of Tuesday afternoon):
187.5 BIQ Bits on Baylor -150 (to win 125)
20 BIQ Bits on Oklahoma +1800 (to win 360)
Follow BettorIQ contributor Jim Root @2ndChancePoints.