Still good enough
Every Big 12 team that has qualified for the NCAA Tournament shares at least one thing in common.
None had a sub-.500 conference record.
That could change in a few weeks.
Two teams with ugly conference records are currently pushing for a spot on college basketball’s biggest stage. Baylor (18-9, 6-8 Big 12) has won four straight and is coming off an impressive double-digit victory at West Virginia. Some bracket projections think the Bears will comfortably make the field of 68. Oklahoma State (17-10, 5-9) ended a seven-game losing streak over the weekend when Marcus Smart returned from a suspension and led the Cowboys to an easy win over Texas Tech. Many think they will narrowly make the tournament.
Both teams are in the midst of disappointing seasons. A month ago, both teams were ranked in the top 10. Today, they are hoping strong finishes can save their seasons.
A trip to the NCAA Tournament would certainly serve as redemption. They are in position to get there. Both teams own quality victories — Kentucky, Kansas State and Colorado for Baylor and Memphis, Texas and Colorado for Oklahoma State — and both teams flaunt a top-50 RPI.
The main thing holding down their resumes: a losing conference record. Of course, there is nothing in the NCAA Tournament manual that says a team must own a winning record within its conference to receive an invitation. Teams from other conferences have been earning at-large bids with losing records for years.
The Big 12 has never been this strong. Heck, a handful of teams have made the NIT with winning conference records. That won’t be the case this season.
“There is precedent for that,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “When you look at the best league in America, the Big 12, that is going to happen. You are going to get some strange-looking records in there, because there is some really good basketball being played. But if you look at the overall picture, we are still very strong.”
The Cowboys may want to win a few more games, to be sure. They close with TCU, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State. Three victories would boost their odds significantly. Two wins would leave them with work to do at the Big 12 Tournament.
Baylor is in better shape, but it has work to do, too. It finishes with Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech and K-State. Three victories would clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“When you start to lose and people start pointing the finger, that doesn’t help anything,” coach Scott Drew said. “The upperclassmen and the leaders on the team never did that. They said, ‘We need to get better and work harder.’ They practiced a little big longer and a little bit better and never became divided. That’s the only way you can turn around a season when you start losing.”
The turnaround is underway. It may not require a winning conference record to reach completion.
Quote of the week
“I think we should give a refund to the fans. Topeka YMCA probably would have given them a little better game.”
— Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes, following Saturday’s 31-point loss at Kansas
Excluding Monday’s games
1. Kansas (21-6, 12-2): The Jayhawks are once again the class of the Big 12. Should Bill Self win coach of the year?
2. Oklahoma (20-7, 9-5): Lon Kruger has the Sooners headed toward a second-place finish.
3. Iowa State (21-5, 9-5): Who is the better league player of the year candidate: DeAndre Kane or Melvin Ejim?
4. Texas (20-7, 9-5): Once again, it looks like the Longhorns peaked too early.
5. Kansas State (18-9, 8-6): Home warriors. Road wannabees.
6. Baylor (18-9, 6-8): Baylor is a new team with Kenny Chery back in the lineup. The Bears have won four straight.
7. West Virginia (15-12, 7-7): Mountaineers playing their way off the bubble while others are playing their way on.
8. Oklahoma State (17-10, 5-9): Marcus Smart can still lead the Cowboys to the NCAA Tournament.
9. Texas Tech (13-14, 5-9): United Spirit Arena has become a tough place to play.
10. TCU (9-17, 0-14): Will the Horned Frogs become the first Big 12 team to go 0-18?