Three Big 12 Tournament Bets with Lots of Upside
Jan 15, 2018; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers forward Sagaba Konate (50) looks to make a move while defended by Kansas Jayhawks guard Devonte’ Graham (4) during the first half at WVU Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
I’m a lot like the entire Big 12 in that I tend to be a bit of a homebody.
I don’t really like leaving my house, especially when it turns to winter and gets cold outside. Iowa State can relate. The Cyclones went 0-10 on the road in conference this season. Yikes.
In fact, the whole Big 12 couldn’t get it done in someone else’s building this year, combining to go 28-62 on the road in conference play.
Because home court was so valuable, we saw blowout upsets that, in a vacuum, seemed quite unexpected. West Virginia went to Hilton and lost by 16 to the Cyclones. Huh? Texas Tech went there and lost by 18, too. Trae Young and a then-rolling Oklahoma squad went to Manhattan and got dump-trucked by Kansas State.
So as we head toward the Big 12 Tournament, which most assuredly will NOT be played on any team’s home court (it will instead be in Kansas City), it begs the question: Who can be counted on in this spot?
The answer, as always, seems to be Kansas, which is +203 at 5Dimes to win the tournament at the time of this writing.
The Jayhawks are the only team in the conference to have a winning record on the road in Big 12 play this season (6-3). No one else was even .500.
This was quite a bizarre season for the Jayhawks compared to their usual path to conference superiority. They sustained an unusual number of losses at home, where, for whatever reason, instead of “Beware of the Phog,” it was more like “Always Bet The ‘Dog.” Arizona State won there in the nonconference portion of the schedule. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State did the same in conference play. But compared to its counterparts, this Jayhawks team seems unusually suited to leave the confines of Lawrence and take down a title on a neutral court (which, by the way, is just 42 miles away from campus).
Kansas also has a favorable path to the title. If anything, a rematch against Oklahoma State in the second round, provided the Cowboys get by Trae Young and OU, gives the Jayhawks an opportunity for revenge for both a loss at home earlier, and the the horrible spot they found themselves in this past Saturday. Kansas had basically nothing to play for in its 82-64 loss, and the Cowboys were still gunning for an outside shot at the NCAA Tournament. Before Saturday’s loss, Bill Self had amazingly never been swept by an opponent in Big 12 play, and I find it hard to believe Oklahoma State would get anything less than Kansas’ best effort in a third matchup.
The semifinal round would feature a matchup against TCU or Kansas State, two teams the Jayhawks swept this season. Getting to avoid Texas Tech and West Virginia until the final is ideal. So let’s take Kansas +203 and put it to the side for a minute.
On the other side of the bracket — which consists of Texas Tech, West Virginia, Baylor, Texas and Iowa State — I am interested in pure madness. The talent difference between all of the teams (except for Iowa State) is small. Just three games separated the five schools in the conference standings. And in cases like this, I’m always going to side with the prices that are the most appealing. Two stand out: Baylor (+1300 at 5Dimes) and Texas (+1925).
Aside from the general motivation of playing in a postseason tournament, Baylor needs wins desperately to have a chance at the NCAA Tournament. The Bears’ first opponent, West Virginia, swept both meetings in conference play, but look a little closer and you’ll see that the teams basically played to a draw for 39 minutes in Morgantown until Jevon Carter hit a go-ahead 3 with less than a minute to play. The second meeting was the worst possible spot for Baylor, which had won five in a row and was facing a West Virginia team angry about the free-throw discrepancy in its blown lead to Kansas the game before. Again, the margins here between the teams are small. I will take the big price.
Texas is a little riskier proposition because I’m banking that star freshman center Mo Bamba plays in the quarterfinal round. (He shouldn’t be needed for the Longhorns to beat Iowa State, so I’d expect him to sit out Round 1.) Bamba gives Texas such a different dimension on both ends, and with the Longhorns’ depth issues, he is important to any run they can make.
If the Longhorns make it past Iowa State, they’ll face Texas Tech, which has lost four of its past five games entering the tournament. Texas split its two meetings with the Red Raiders this season, and Tech needed a Keenan Evans game-winner in overtime to force the split.
By backing Kansas +203, Baylor +1300 and Texas +1925, I get the best of both worlds: Two high-upside underdogs and the only trustworthy road team in the conference. Ideally, it’s the Jayhawks vs. the Bears/Longhorns on Saturday in Kansas City, and I can hedge to create even winnings no matter what.
Top photo: Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham (4) and West Virginia forward Sagaba Konate (50); credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports.