NCAA Bound Big 12 Teams Have Plenty Still to Play ForPosted by Chris Stone on March 9th, 2016
The Big 12 is in a bit of a unique position heading into the conference tournament. The league already appears poised to send seven teams to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season, so unless something completely unexpected happens, the Big 12 Tournament will have very few, if any, bubble implications this week. The conference’s bottom three teams seem to have their futures largely set in stone as well. Kansas State looks poised for an NIT berth while both Oklahoma State and TCU are largely playing for pride. There will still be plenty on the line in Kansas City this week, as all seven NCAA-bound teams are playing for seeding and geographic considerations. Let’s examine what each of those top seven seeds has to gain over the next five days.
1. Kansas – Although Kansas already owns 14 wins against the RPI top 50, the Jayhawks are still in a battle to be the overall #1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. If they can knock off the winner of Kansas State-Oklahoma State in Thursday’s quarterfinals, they’ll have a chance to pick up a couple more impressive victories on Friday and Saturday. In order to get there, head coach Bill Self will hope for continued consistency from center Landen Lucas, someone who has provided the Jayhawks with quality inside minutes late this season.
2. West Virginia – The Mountaineers are currently slated as a #3 seed according to most bracket projections, but assuming Texas Tech defeats TCU in their play-in game, they could pick up as many as three additional RPI top 50 wins to support a #2 seed. West Virginia enters the Big 12 Tournament on a four-game winning streak during which it has made 38.2 percent of its three-pointers. If the Mountaineers can keep up that pace, they’re a very dangerous team.
3. Oklahoma – With nine RPI top 50 wins, a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is still in play for the Sooners. The primary concern for Oklahoma, though, is being slotted into the Oklahoma City pod for the NCAA Tournament’s first two rounds. Getting Buddy Hield back on track will be the key to making that happen. Hield shot just 42 percent from the field during February as the Sooners lost four of their eight games.
4. Texas – ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently projects the Longhorns as a #6 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. Texas has eight RPI top 50 wins but also suffered a bad loss to TCU in January. For the Longhorns to move up a seed line or two, they would likely need to beat Baylor in the quarterfinals and upset Kansas in the semifinals. The biggest question hanging over Shaka Smart’s team at this point relates to the status of center Cameron Ridley, the team’s best player before suffering a broken foot. Ridley is expected to make it back in time for the NCAA Tournament, but could even return this week if things go well.
5. Baylor – Joe Lunardi also projects the Bears as a #6 seed, putting Scott Drew’s squad in a similar situation as Texas. Baylor only has five wins against the RPI top 50 so they could use the boost that a couple quality wins in Kansas City would give it. Whether the Bears can guard anyone is the primary question — Baylor finished eighth in conference defensive efficiency as Drew regularly shuffled between a 1-3-1 zone and man-to-man defense.
6. Iowa State – That the Cyclones are the #6 seed in the Big 12 Tournament is perhaps the best exhibit of just how good this conference is this season. Iowa State would ideally like to find a way to play its way into a #3 seed, but that would likely require winning the conference tournament for a third straight season. As we head into March, head coach Steve Prohm is going to have to get creative with his minutes as the Cyclones will be frequently playing on short rest.
7. Texas Tech – Tubby Smith’s Red Raiders are going to make the NCAA Tournament but it’s unlikely they can move any higher than a #8 seed. Tech has just one win away from United Supermarkets Arena this season, so while it has done enough at home to earn a berth, it would be surprising if the Red Raiders suddenly become successful outside of Lubbock.
No matter what happens at the Sprint Center this week, the Big 12 should have seven teams representing the conference in March Madness. Despite the lack of drama with bubbles bursting in Kansas City, there are still plenty of storylines related to seeding and location to keep an eye on through this week.