The Big 12 had a fantastic year as a whole. The top teams in the conference were ranked all season. A lot of the middle-of-the-road teams got at-large bids largely from the overall power of the conference.
The Missouri Valley Conference was just a two-bid conference this year. Northern Iowa won the conference tournament and Wichita State is playing in one of the play-in games. The conference wasn’t as strong as in years past.
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Like many other Big 12 teams in this tournament, the Texas Longhorns had a roller coaster of a year. They beat North Carolina in mid-December, but then fell to many of the top Big 12 teams during conference play. They did manage to sneak wins against West Virginia (twice) and Iowa State during the season. Shaka Smart will have his team ready to play in the NCAA Tournament.
The Northern Iowa Panthers are as flawed of a team as any borderline tournament team in this field. Northern Iowa’s big marquee win was beating then-#1 North Carolina Tar Heels in November. They didn’t get another marquee win until beating Wichita State in mid-February. They actually lost six of their first eight conference games. They finished strong only losing once since early-January and won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Shaka Smart’s teams have always been guard-oriented and this Texas team isn’t any different. It would be a nice bonus to have Cameron Ridley up front (if he’s able to contribute any minutes in the tournament). Texas will need to make sure they don’t give up too many open perimeter shots. Northern Iowa’s Matt Bohannon can make a team pay for not covering beyond the arc. I have Texas winning a close contest to move onto the second round.
Prediction: #6 Texas Longhorns
Bobby Roberts (otherwise known as Sweetbob) is the creator of ‘America’s White Boy’ and contributor at Project Shanks. His writing has been featured on ESPN’s ‘SportsNation’, Sports Illustrated’s Hot Clicks, Guyspeed, and various other sites. You can follow him on Twitter at @Sweetbob.