March 20, 2024 

One question facing the seven Big 12 teams in NCAA Tournament

Texas leads the pack as No. 1 seed in the Portland 4 Region

After a wild season that saw 10 different teams post AP Top 25 wins, the Big 12 Conference will send seven programs to the NCAA Tournament. Tournament champion Texas leads the way as the No. 1 seed in the Portland 4 Region, and Kansas State is the No. 4 seed in the Albany 2 Region.

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Both teams will host a pod for the first two rounds. Here is one question for each team ahead of the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

The No. 1 Texas Longhorns: Can they stay healthy?

Texas starters missed 45 games this season, the bulk of which came after a season-ending injury to Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year Rori Harmon in December. The Longhorns could not have asked for a better substitute with Big 12 Freshman and Co-Player of the Year Madison Booker stepping in at point guard. She averaged 20.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game in conference play and shot 48 percent from the field.

DeYona Gaston and Taylor Jones have also battled injuries this season but put up big minutes in the team’s Big 12 Tournament title run. Though Vic Schaeffer typically coaches a contender, this team has come as a bit of a surprise, dropping just four games –all against tournament-bound teams– in conference play. Texas will face No. 16 seed Drexel at home in the first round.

The No. 4 Kansas State Wildcats: Can they find a balance for Ayoka Lee’s scoring?

Ayoka Lee was phenomenal in the Big 12 Tournament, scoring 47 points across two games and shooting 64.5% from the field. That was just slightly higher than her already impressive season average of 21.1 points and 62.2% from the field. She was also a force on the boards with 21 rebounds, 18 of which were offensive helping to extend possessions for the Wildcats.

Serena Sundell also had a great performance in Kansas City, but she is the only other Kansas State player averaging double figures in scoring. Assuming that teams scout Lee, the four-time All-Big 12 First Team selection, the Wildcats will need to make sure they have players like Eliza Maupin and Gabby Gregory ready to step up when the double team hits. The Wildcats will face No. 13 Portland in their first test of the tournament.

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The No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners: Can they capitalize on their experience?

The Sooners played one of the nation’s toughest schedules, with 15 of their 31 games against teams that made the NCAA Tournament. That included a season sweep of Texas in Big 12 play. With that kind of resume, the fifth seed seems surprising. However, two of the team’s three losses in conference play came in their last five regular season games, before losing to a white-hot Iowa State team in the Big 12 Conference semifinals.

The Sooners have plenty of powerful players including Big 12 Co-Player of the Year Skylar Vann and Newcomer of the Year Payton Verhulst who led them with 14.7 and 12.9 points, respectively. Sahara Williams also had an impressive showing at the Big 12 Tournament leading Oklahoma with 16.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Oklahoma is headed to Bloomington, Ind., to face 12th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast University.

Sarah Andrews and Baylor are a five seed. (Photo credit: Baylor Athletics)

The No. 5 Baylor Bears: Can they survive the Portland 3 Regional?

The Bears await the winner of Columbia and Vanderbilt, who meet Wednesday night in a First Four battle. If they advance from there, they face a brutal field in the Portland 3 Regional which includes freshman phenom JuJu Watkins and top-seeded Southern California, as well as Ohio State, UConn and Virginia Tech which advanced to the Final Four in 2023.

Baylor presents a pretty balanced attack with three players averaging double figures in Dre’Una Edwards, Sarah Andrews and Darianna Littlepage-Buggs. Bella Fontleroy and Aijha Blackwell also stood out in the Big 12 Tournament adding to Nicki Collen’s offensive arsenal. Andrews brings some extra experience having played on Stanford’s 2021 national championship squad.

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The No. 7 Iowa State Cyclones: Can the Cyclones go on a run?

The Cyclones are one of the most exciting teams given their ability to flip the script and go on a decisive run at any point in the game. This is largely due to their high production from beyond the arc, where they average 8.5 per game, elite point guard Emily Ryan and powerful freshman forward Audi Crooks who is averaging 18.9 points per game. With her in the post, Iowa State is able to spread its offense and set up scoring opportunities quickly.

They are also one of the youngest teams, boasting their “Fab Five” freshman class, which has adapted alarmingly well to one of the toughest conferences in the country. The Cyclones, who are coached by NCAA veteran Bill Fennelly, put together a commanding performance at the Big 12 Tournament knocking off Byalor and Oklahoma on their way to the title game. Iowa State will face Maryland in the ever-dangerous 7-10 matchup with the winner posed to face second-seeded Stanford in the second round.

The No. 8 Kansas Jayhawks: Can this senior class keep the dream alive?

The Jayhawks won the WNIT Championship last year and returned four starters from that squad. Now, they are preparing for the NCAA Tournament and a first-round matchup with No. 9 Michigan. Kansas appeared to hit a midseason lull but won nine of its last 11 games to end the year on a high note. Their 11 conference wins included Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma.

The Jayhawks are led by veterans Taiyanna Jackson, Zakiyah Franklin and Holly Kersgieter as well as standout freshman S’Mya Nichols. Franklin and Kersgiester are both super-seniors making this the end of an era for the Jayhawks, who won their first Big 12 Tournament game since 2019. Kansas is in Baylor’s bracket meaning the Jayhawks would potentially face top-seeded Southern California if they advance to the second round.

The No. 8 West Virginia Mountaineers: Can JJ Quinerly lead a lockdown defense?

The Mountaineers are set to face Princeton in the first round of the Albany 2 Region with a star-studded Iowa squad awaiting the winner in the Round of 32. West Virginia is led by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year JJ Quinerly who averages 2.94 steals per game. The junior guard has helped to pace the West Virginia defense which held opponents to an average of 57.8 points per game and forced an average of 24 turnovers per game.

Quinerly is not a player to ignore on the other side of the floor, either, averaging 19.6 points per game. Other players to watch on West Virginia include Jordan Harrison, Lauren Fields and Kyah Watson. In total, 10 of the league’s 14 teams will participate in postseason tournaments.

The Big 12 will also send BYU and TCU to the inaugural Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament. Cincinnati will also compete in the WNIT.

Written by Kathleen Gier

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