WBB Conference Tournament Preview: Big 12

Once.

That's how many times Baylor hasn't won the Big 12 tournament over the past nine times that it's been played. In 2017, the Lady Bears made it to the championship game, but fell to West Virginia.

If we made a short list of things we were pretty sure would happen every year in women's college basketball, Baylor being Baylor year after year after year would be near the top.

Is there reason to think that changes in 2021?

No, not really. The Lady Bears lost one game in conference play. The last time they lost more than one conference game? 2014-15. The last time they lost more than two? 2009-10.

But stranger things have happened.

Four Texas schools will compete in this week's Big 12 tourney. Let's break down those four teams, then take a look at the conference as a whole.

Big 12 Conference Tournament

DATES: 3/11-3/14

TEXAS TEAMS: Baylor (No. 1 seed), Texas (No. 5 seed), Texas Tech (No. 7 seed), TCU (No. 8 seed)

WHAT TO KNOW: We'll start with Baylor, the overwhelming favorite here. The Lady Bears lost just once in conference play, falling to Iowa State. It was the second season in a row that this team was 17-1 in conference play with a loss to the Cyclones. The last time they lost to a Big 12 team that wasn't Iowa State? March 2017.

This season started a little rocky as the team tried to find their footing in the post-Lauren Cox/Juicy Landrum world and with DiDi Richards limited early on, but the Lady Bears have been on fire since their early loss to Arkansas.

Baylor has been fueled by NaLyssa Smith, the junior forward who's averaged 18 points per game this year. The Lady Bears frontcourt has also gotten huge contributions from Queen Egbo — is it really a surprise that a Baylor team has been led by a pair of dominant bigs? — which has helped them rank in the 100th percentile in offensive rebounding percentage, 96th percentile in field goal percentage in the paint, and 94th percentile in Hakeem Percentage.

But Baylor isn't just bigs! Moon Ursin has emerged this year as a huge part of this offense, shooting 35.3 percent from three.

And then there's DiDi Richards, who has adjusted perfectly to playing point guard on a full-time basis. Baylor's system emphasizes passing, and despite the fact that Richards is not a point guard, she's run this offense well. And on the other end of the floor, Richards is the most disruptive perimeter defender in America.

Top to bottom, Baylor's just extremely good.

Beyond the Lady Bears, we have Texas, Texas Tech, and TCU.

Texas is led by junior center Charli Collier, who has already declared for the 2021 WNBA Draft and is projected to be the first overall pick. Collier's a great player -- a big who can shoot the ball from all over the floor and can just completely take over against weaker opponents. The problem is that Collier has struggled against the elite teams in the conference, especially Baylor. Players like Joanne Allen-Taylor, Audrey Warren, and Celeste Taylor have tried to pick up the slack in those matchups, but this is a Texas team that's in a bit of a transition phase under first-year head coach Vic Schaefer, who came over from Mississippi State.

The Longhorns are young. In that last meeting with Baylor, they played a six-player rotation. This will be a very good team soon with how Schaefer is recruiting, but we're not quite there yet.

Texas Tech is also a program in transition, making a head coaching change before the season by bringing in former Tech player Krista Gerlich. Gerlich is going to get this program going in the right direction — you can see it just by the fact that she was able to get one of the Big 12's best players, Vivian Gray, to come spend her senior year in Lubbock — but this team was 5-13 in conference play. They did beat Texas in a big upset, but overall it was the start of a rebuilding process. Gerlich's going to recruit this state really well, but Tech making a conference tournament run this year seems unlikely.

Finally, we have TCU. After a strong campaign last year, the Horned Frogs lost a lot of talent to graduation. Senior Lauren Heard has been incredible, averaging 21.7 points per game — and 28.2 in her last five games — plus 5.9 assists, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.6 steals per game. Heard does everything for TCU, though Michelle Berry and Yummy Morris have given this team a boost.

Elsewhere in the conference, West Virginia has the best chance to knock off the Lady Bears, led by Kysre Gondrezick, a WNBA Draft prospect this season. But Baylor also just beat this team 96-73, with Queen Egbo and DiJonai Carrington combining for 48 points.

Iowa State and Oklahoma State both have the high-end potential to beat Baylor, but would need huge showings from Ashley Joens and Natasha Mack, respectively.

PREDICTION: We don't need to waste any time here. Baylor.

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