Four quarters worth money
Thursday could be the most exciting day in Big 12 Tournament history.
That may seem like hyperbole, but it isn’t. For some, it’s the expectation.
Assuming favored seeds advance out of the two first-round games Wednesday, eight teams with realistic NCAA Tournament hopes will face off in four quarterfinal games the following day.
It will be one intriguing matchup after another. Kansas State and Iowa State split their regular-season series. Kansas and Oklahoma State were picked as league co-champions in the preseason. Oklahoma and Baylor have combined to win 13 of 16. And Texas and West Virginia are good enough to sustain local interest in the nightcap.
It’s a perfect day for basketball fans to take off work.
It’s also a daunting challenge for the teams involved. Perhaps that is why Texas coach Rick Barnes sounded as if he was already looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament during the Big 12’s weekly teleconference Monday.
“To put it quite simply, it’s the best conference in the country,” Barnes said. “Once you get outside the league, it’s like a reprieve.”
The ultimate test will come next week, when conferences are measured by their progression in the NCAA Tournament. But, for now, numbers back up his claim. The Big 12 has been the nation’s top-rated conference, according to RPI, for several months. Seven of its teams seem like locks for the NCAA Tournament, with West Virginia hoping a run in Kansas City will force it into the conversation. Seven of its teams have been ranked, and seven have already won 20 games.
“In terms of depth and quality teams,” said Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith, “I have never experienced anything like it.”
That will make for a wide-open conference tournament. Maybe this is finally the year a team will hoist a trophy by winning four games in four days. Only four teams have fought their way out of the opening round to reach the final, and all four fell flat in the championship.
Odds favor the teams with a bye, because they had better regular seasons and benefit from extra rest. But Oklahoma State, which has won four of five, and Baylor, which has won seven of eight, enter the postseason with enough talent and momentum to make some noise.
“I think they can do it,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “The question will be depth. I did it in the Big Ten once (at Illinois), when we won three games and got to the championship, but when we got to the second half we had no legs.... It can happen and they have the talent. There is no doubt.... It’s going to be a difficult task, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those two make a run.”
Quote of the week
“We’re not very good, we’re not very talented and we’re not very deep and we’ve been banged up.” — TCU coach Trent Johnson on his team’s winless Big 12 season.
1. Kansas (23-8, 14-4): The Jayhawks won’t make a deep March run unless Joel Embiid is at full strength.
2. Oklahoma (23-8, 12-6): Ryan Spangler was the biggest all-conference snub. He led the league in rebounding and nearly averaged a double-double.
3. Iowa State (23-7, 11-7): Melvin Ejim deserved to win Player of the Year. His numbers were good across the board.
4. Baylor (21-10, 9-9): Behind Kenny Chery, the Bears are the hottest team in the league.
5. Texas (22-9, 11-7): Losing at Texas Tech didn’t hurt the Longhorns’ Big 12 Tournament seed, but it did hurt their case for a quality NCAA Tournament seed.
6. Oklahoma State (20-11, 8-10): Marcus Smart was suspended for three games and his team finished eighth. He shouldn’t have made the All-Big 12 team.
7. Kansas State (20-11, 10-8): Shane Southwell and Will Spradling can’t seem to play well at the same time.
8. West Virginia (17-14, 9-9): Mountaineers probably need a trophy this week to reach the NCAA Tournament, but two more victories could be enough.
9. Texas Tech (14-17, 6-12): Beating Texas is always a good way to end the regular season for Texas Tech.
10. TCU (9-21, 0-18): The Horned Frogs are the first 0-18 team in Big 12 history.