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During a season in which no college team has taken the reins atop the polls, the Big 12 has offered two potential heirs to the throne: Kansas and Baylor. Those schools are easily the favorites to win the conference tournament this week.
But with so much parity up and down the Big 12, is there value beyond the heavyweights when picking which team will cut down the nets in Kansas City?
West Virginia +900
West Virginia could certainly make a run in the NCAA Tournament, but it's built perfectly to win its conference tourney. Out of 32 collegiate conferences, the Big 12 ranks 28th in free-throw rate, 29th in efficiency, 30th in turnover rate, and 30th in pace. That adds up to plenty of wasted opportunities on offense, but not enough possessions overall to recover.
Enter the Mountaineers, who lead the conference in offensive rebounding rate (40.9%) and defensive rebounding rate (27.4%) and rank second in defensive turnover rate (23.4%). Translation? West Virginia will almost certainly win the volume game, so opponents must be efficient enough on each possession to overcome that.
Baylor couldn't do it on Saturday, and the Bears will be the biggest roadblock in the Mountaineers' path to the Big 12 title game. West Virginia was once a top-15 team in the polls and has the makeup of a tournament champion.
Shaka Smart knows he could be coaching for his job this week, and his Texas team is just frisky enough to threaten for the Big 12 Tournament title and an ensuing NCAA bid.
The Longhorns have posted the worst offense in the conference on a per-possession basis, but their 3-point shooting creates enough volatility to pull off an upset or two in the tournament. So does their defense, which clogs passing lanes, prevents open looks from three, and forces opponents into unforced errors.
Defense was key to Texas' recent five-game winning streak, which included 10-point victories over West Virginia and Texas Tech, the Longhorns' opponent Thursday. Volatility is value when betting long shots in March, and Texas has shown enough of a ceiling to merit a speculative wager this week.
Kansas might be the best team in the country, but it's far from the best bet on the board here. The Jayhawks are likely assured of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament - and maybe even the top overall seed - even without a conference tourney title. Additionally, a 4-3 record against ranked teams suggests vulnerability in a bracket full of such teams.
If these odds were closer to 2-1 or 3-1, this would be a different story. But laying near-even odds in a tournament with Baylor and West Virginia on the other side? Hard pass.
C Jackson Cowart is a betting writer for theScore. He's an award-winning journalist with stops at The Charlotte Observer, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Times Herald-Record, and BetChicago. He's also a proud graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and his love of sweet tea is rivaled only by that of a juicy prop bet. Find him on Twitter @CJacksonCowart.