The Big 12 men's basketball tournament hasn't sold out yet. And that has to be a first in college-basketball-loving Kansas City. At press time, all-session nosebleed tickets remained available through sprintcenter.com for $195 apiece (plus fees) — bad news for conference officials, KC Big 12 supporters and scalpers, and a reminder of the University of Missouri's Southern secession.
Then again, maybe University of Kansas fans just can't stomach paying to see the Jayhawks wear those ugly Zubaz shorts. Nah. Blame this on Mizzou.
Even without a potential Border War matchup, though, the 2013 Big 12 Tournament has plenty of intrigue. KU and Kansas State share the regular-season crown, and a Sunflower Showdown finale looms as an odds-on possibility.
Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor look to play spoiler to the crimson-and-blue vs. purple-and-silver party. The Cowboys spent the season perfecting a hard-nosed defense. The Cyclones have come on with a dizzying 3-point attack. The Sooners hit KC in need of a win to boost their NCAA tourney résumé. And even the Bears, resting on the thinnest of NCAA Tournament bubbles, might have a shot. And because a tournament championship is a Wonka-like golden ticket to the Big Dance, even Texas, Texas Tech, Texas Christian or West Virginia could turn into Cinderella by somehow pulling off an upset.
If it's individual performance that excites you, the next few days offer what might be your last NCAA glimpses at two of the best players in the nation. Ben McLemore and Marcus Smart could realistically go No. 1 and No. 2 in this year's NBA draft.
All of which means that, even without the gold and black, the Power & Light District should be packed. In honor of this year's tournament, then, The Pitch has compiled its second-annual unofficial Big 12 program. Read on for stats, opinions, and suggestions on where to watch if the Sprint Center sells out.
21 Players to Watch
Jeff Withey, Kansas
The Jayhawks' shot-swatting senior provides interior defense like no other player in the league.
Pierre Jackson, Baylor
The preseason Big 12 Player of the Year is a mighty mite. The senior scores at will (a league-high 19.4 points) but also unselfishly dishes (also a league-high 6.57 assists).
Angel Rodriguez, Kansas State
The shifty point guard became a leader for the Wildcats in his second season. He's also one of the league's top passers (5.48 per game).
Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
The Cyclones' undersized double-double machine leads the conference in rebounding (9.3).
Elijah Johnson, Kansas
Rock Chalkers have had a love-hate relationship with the senior guard, but it's all love after a 39-point effort and win on the road against Iowa State.
Myck Kabongo, Texas
The 6-foot-1-inch sophomore guard was MIA for the majority of the Longhorns' season (missing 23 games due to an NCAA suspension for receiving impermissible benefits) but has returned with a vengeance, averaging 15.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.9 steals, and hooking a 5–3 record.
Romero Osby, Oklahoma
The 6-foot-8-inch senior forward leads the Sooners in scoring (15.7) and rebounding (6.9), and he's playing his best basketball late in the season.
Tyrus McGee, Iowa State
The Cyclones' sixth man is a deep, deep threat from beyond the arc. If McThree gets hot, Iowa State has a shot.
Markel Brown, Oklahoma State
The Cowboys' junior guard may not get the headlines of teammate Marcus Smart, but he led Okie State in scoring (15.6) and has been a consistent force.
Rodney McGruder, Kansas State
The 6-foot-4-inch senior guard leads the Cats in points (15.1) and rebounds (5.2), showing why he is an All–Big 12 selection.
Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State
The 6-foot-7-inch sophomore wing has all the tools to be a future pro, if only he could put them together more consistently.
Steven Pledger, Oklahoma
The 6-foot-4-inch senior guard doesn't have to carry the scoring load like he did last season. His points may be down, but he's still wreaking havoc. And OU is better than it was last year.
Will Clyburn, Iowa State
The lanky 6-foot-7-inch senior forward has pro potential but struggles to score on the road. Still, he can put up points in bunches and leads the fourth-best scoring team in the nation with his 15.2 points per game.
Kyan Anderson, Texas Christian
The hapless Horned Frogs' only hope is this 5-foot-11-inch sophomore.
Travis Releford, Kansas
The 6-foot-6-inch senior guard should be right at home in the Sprint Center. The Kansas Citian is making 57.9 percent of his field goals and averaging 11.9 points.
Jaye Crockett, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders' 6-foot-7-inch junior forward is the best scorer (11.9 points) on the second-worst-scoring team in the Big 12.
Chris Babb, Iowa State
Welcome to Babb Island! The Cyclones' defensive stopper makes opposing players feel stranded.
Shane Southwell, Kansas State
Look out if the junior guard gets hot.
Eron Harris, West Virginia
The 6-foot-2-inch guard is trying to provide scoring to an offense that ranks 210th in the nation.
Cory Jefferson, Baylor
The 6-foot-9-inch power forward is second only to Jeff Withey in shot blocking.
Amath M'Baye, Oklahoma
The 6-foot-9-inch transfer forward was picked as the preseason Newcomer of the Year. He's helping the Sooners win, which is all that matters.
Four Freshman Phenoms
Ben McLemore, Kansas
KU fans must be wondering: If Ben McLemore had been eligible last season, would the Jayhawks have toppled Kentucky and won a fourth national title? The 6-foot-5-inch shooting guard has shown true moments of greatness in his first season, lifting the Jayhawks on his back, which included banking a 3-pointer to send a home game with Iowa State to overtime. (KU won 97–89, and McLemore finished with 33 points, including six 3-pointers.) The St. Louis native, averaging 16.7 points and 5.3 rebounds, is a top-five pick and No. 1 on some draft boards.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Marcus Smart lives up to his last name. The 6-foot-4-inch, 224-pound point guard is as complete a player as you'll find. Voted Big 12 preseason Freshman of the Year, Smart averages 15.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists. But most impressive is Smart's defense. He's a thief, averaging three steals a game. He's worthy of an early lottery pick.
Isaiah Austin, Baylor
Isaiah Austin was one of the top recruits in the nation. The 7-foot-1-inch, 220-pound center needs to bulk up his physique to match his goggles. But the Texan has put together a solid freshman campaign, averaging 13.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. He could use more college seasoning, but NBA general managers are salivating over his potential and 7-foot-4-inch wingspan.
Georges Niang, Iowa State
Georges Niang is a gem of a find for the Cyclones. Niang is an inside-outside forward. You gotta be to exist in the Cyclones' three-chucking offense. Niang wasn't as heralded as McLemore, Smart or Austin, but he's making an impact for the Cyclones, averaging 11.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and a three.
Oklahoma (20–10, RPI 35, SOS 17)
The Sooners are booming. Oklahoma boasts home wins over Oklahoma State and Kansas, and a first-round win over Iowa State would leave no doubt. They need it after a bad loss to TCU. Don't be fooled: The Big 12 will get at least five teams in, and the Sooners' résumé is good enough.
Iowa State (21–10, RPI 47, SOS 64)
The Cyclones come into the tournament in good shape, with quality wins over Oklahoma State, Kansas State and fellow bubble-squatter Oklahoma. Had a botched no-call charge against Kansas been whistled, Iowa State likely would have been perfect at home. The Clones' biggest weakness: road games and blown late-game leads. A first-round win solidifies their case.
Baylor (18–13, RPI 61, SOS 21)
No team needs to have a good showing in the tournament more than the Bears, who bolstered their case by blowing out Kansas. With a .500 record in the conference, Scott Drew's crew must win out and claim the automatic berth.
Big 12 Tournament Champions
Best Tournament Records
Oklahoma State 20–13
Texas Tech 12–15
Kansas State 9–15
Iowa State 7–14
Texas A&M 5–15
Championship Game Records
Oklahoma State 2–1
Iowa State 1–0
Texas Tech 0–1
Kansas State 0–1
No Ticket? No Problem
Sharks Billiards (10320 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Shawnee, 913-268-4006)
Kansas City Catbackers go to this Johnson County pool hall during the football season for watch parties, so purple Kansas basketball fans should feel at home, too.
The Cashew (2000 Grand, 816-221-5858)
The Cashew is the longstanding Crossroads home of KU watch parties.
Sports Cave Bar & Grill (11440 West 135th Street, Overland Park, 913-814-0140)
Sooners' "official" home away from Norman in the metro is this bar and grill.
Kelly's Westport Inn (500 Westport Road, 816-561-5800)
Bar Louie (101 East 14th Street, 816-841-9100)
Big Eight–era Cyclones call Kelly's home, and the bar returns the love by leaving Iowa State banners hanging year-round. Closer to the Sprint Center, Bar Louie is I-State's "official headquarters."
Nica's 320 (320 Southwest Boulevard, 816-471-2900)
Fox and Hound (10428 Metcalf, Overland Park, 913-649-1700)
Cowboys and cowgirls claim Nica's in the Crossroads. They also Boot Scoot in this Johnson County refuge.
Johnny's Tavern (1310 Grand, 816-268-2260)
Bear backers are setting up camp in this satellite location of the Lawrence original.
Texas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Texas Christian
You don't need a TV. Go directly to the Sprint Center. You'll be able to find a ticket to Wednesday's games for around $5 — and a good one for about $20.