Seven teams are in as the Tournament starts today. (I'm perched on my play-in games don't count soapbox. Come at me, bro.)
How does the Big 12, which received the most bids of any conference, do in 2014's bracket? Let's take a look...
Baylor Bears — At No. 6 in the West Region, the Bears earned a better seed in the national bracket than they did in the Big 12. Respect indeed ... even if it was ultimately fueled by BU's impressive showing in the conference tournament. This team has size and depth inside, with a couple of gunners outside. Baylor has as much potential upside as any team in this year's field.
The season ends at: Sweet 16. The crossroads for this team comes against the Wisconsin Badgers. Bo Ryan's guys are always Sunday's itch to Saturday night's fever -- always up in your business and making you pay for bad decisions. Disciplined defensive basketball can melt a Scott Drew offense, and I think that happens here. But, say the Badgers trip early (not likely, but hey...), the road could be paved for a green and gold march to Arlington.
Iowa State Cyclones — The No. 3 seed in the East, ISU became one of the hottest trendy picks after showing well in Kansas City with a Big 12 Tournament Championship. This team has style; it has grace. Dare we say it's vogue?
The season ends at: Sweet 16. Being the Big 12 proponent I am, I HATE myself for thinking one of the best teams from the top-rated RPI conference isn't going to cash in. But, as I sat and watched this team in Kansas City, I couldn't shake the fact that ISU has five amazing starters, who play brilliantly together, and that's about it. In a 40-minute setting, you're begging for this team to stay out of serious foul trouble and for shots to continue to rain in. I think the Cyclones get by North Carolina in what should be one of the most fun games of the tourney. After that, I have serious reservations.
Kansas Jayhawks — The No. 2 seed in the South, KU's only question that matters is this: When does Joel Embiid return? If it's during this tournament, KU's set up for some March magic (I don't believe in New Mexico like some national media do) considering Andrew Wiggins has metamorphosed into a superhero just in time to perhaps create his own Danny Manning/Carmelo Anthony'ish story.
The season ends at: Elite 8. This fully depends on Embiid. In my bracket, I have KU up against Florida in Memphis. No Embiid = Florida. Yes Embiid = KU has every opportunity to make the Final Four.
Kansas State Wildcats — The No. 9 seed in the Midwest, the Wildcats have their hands full. Outside of the Baylor/Creighton/Nebraska or Arizona/Gonzaga/Oklahoma St. pods, this one -- featuring KSU/Kentucky/Wichita St. might be the toughest in the entire field. For a schizo team that at times played like the second-best Big 12 team and other times played like the seventh-best, it's impossible to know who shows up on Friday.
The season ends at: Second (first) round. Aside from the consistency issues, I'm not entirely confident that just seeing "Kentucky" on the other jerseys won't mess with a couple of the young guys' heads. Like it or not, it just happens, especially when you weren't highly recruited. Never mind the height differential between KSU and Kentucky, nor the fact that John Calipari's squad appears to have finally found some of that urgency it lacked pretty much all season. Scary thought considering this team was the preseason No. 1 pick for many folks.
Oklahoma Sooners — The No. 5 seed in the West, OU is the wrong kind of trendy pick on a lot of brackets. Not mine. The Sooners weren't awe-inspiring in shrinking away from Baylor (I'm looking at you, Ryan Spangler), but I think that was a blip. OU had a week to regroup, and Lon Kruger had a week to prepare for State. When OU is on, it's one of the top offenses in the country -- something I think gets overshadowed by the Iowa State's and Kansas' (and now Baylor's) of the world.
The season ends at: Sweet 16. Finishing second in the Big 12 was no fluke, but that was a season-long accomplishment. This team has had a few too many stretches of bad minutes this year for me to think it will put together multiple great games in a row. OU moves past the second round, and I'm giving benefit of the doubt in picking the Sooners over San Diego St. in the third. But, I think some old demons creep back in -- enough that Arizona beats OU in the Sweet 16.
Oklahoma State Cowboys — The No. 9 seed in the West, Oklahoma St. gets to prove that it really did belong in this field despite proving it was capable of losing for weeks at a time. Well, Travis Ford and company, it's your time. Selfishly, I'm just hoping Marcus Smart forgot to pack his
The season ends at: Second (first) round. I feel like OSU should win this game. Gonzaga's guards aren't physical in any sense, and OSU *should* dominate on the perimeter. However, there have been a lot of "should" moments for OSU this year, including during that four-game losing streak before Smart's suspension. If you want to buy into the thought that the 'Pokes are dangerous now because Smart's mind is right, don't let me stop you. I'm just playing it cautious ... maybe to a fault.
Texas Longhorns — The No. 7 seed in the Midwest, the Longhorns provide a little intrigue for me. In a two-game, two-day stretch last week, Texas looked like a Sweet 16 (or better with a little help) team and then looked like it belonged in the NIT somewhere. Bring that defense, 'Horns, or this will be a short trip and a somewhat disappointing finish to a surprisingly solid season.
The season ends at: Third round. I don't like much out of the Pac-12, outside of Arizona and UCLA, so I think Texas makes it past Arizona St. That is provided that Texas brings the sort of defense that stymied Juwan Staten and Eron Harris in Kansas City. Let's say that happens ... I don't think Texas has the offensive firepower to knock down Michigan.