KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas stands as the Big 12 Tournament favorite.
Choose anyone else at your own risk, although the Jayhawks' tournament success (five of the past seven titles) isn't as impressive as their stronghold run of nine straight league regular season championships.
Still, conference coaches — including KU's Bill Self — agree that this year's event could be more competitive than ever, with as many as six teams capable of getting hot and carrying off the trophy.
“I've never seen the league better, with more teams that can win your league tournament, than we have now,” Self said.
“Not very often do you go in and say, ‘Well, I think that team can positively win three games in a row.' And there are six teams that can win three games in a row.”
Optimism runs rampant, with Oklahoma State and Oklahoma among those hoping to provide some Sprint Center magic.
Kansas State, after tying the Jayhawks for the regular season crown, Iowa State and even Baylor all appear in play. The Bears, who face OSU in the Thursday late game, arrive on the heels of an 81-58 rout of Kansas on Saturday.
“All season long, I've said there is parity in college basketball,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “Our team can beat anybody in the nation, and as everybody has shown in college basketball, anybody can lose to anybody.”
Why not OSU?
The Cowboys at one point were the hottest team in the Big 12, winning seven straight conference games. They closed the conference regular season by winning 11 of their last 13, entering the conference tournament among the teams to beat.
Reasons to believe
*In recent years, OSU rolled into Kansas City needing a mini-miracle to advance, let alone make it to the title game. This time, no miracles are necessary, only consistent strong play. During the course of the season, the Cowboys beat every team in the league at least once. And their win over perceived tournament favorite Kansas came in Lawrence, so while a pro-Jayhawk crowd in the Sprint Center is a given, it won't approach the atmosphere in The Phog. As Brian Williams said recently, they fear nobody.
*Maybe more than any team in the league, the Cowboys can rely on a variety of guys to carry them on the offensive end. Markel Brown. Marcus Smart. Le'Bryan Nash. All can — and have — led the way in big wins this season.
*While many teams have already peaked, the Cowboys continue to improve. Nash has never played better on a consistent basis. Michael Cobbins is gaining confidence and productivity after an early season injury, as does Williams, who just recently returned.
Reasons to worry
*Of all the teams in the field, first-round foe Baylor may pose the worst matchup for the Cowboys. The Bears' size and athleticism with 7-footer Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson in the post poses a problem, with Philip Jurick somewhat marginalized. The teams split their regular season series, but both games were grinding struggles.
*While the Cowboys have grown up rapidly and impressively this season, this will be a new experience for many. Not so much veteran-led teams like Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor.
Why not OU?
Oklahoma basketball is having its best season since Blake Griffin ran the court for the Sooners.
Their 20-10 overall and 11-7 league records include victories over then-No. 5 Kansas and Oklahoma State, as well as bouncing back from all but one of their losses with a victory. The Sooners are the fourth-best team in the league. They beat every team at least once, except for Kansas State. The Sooners swept Texas Tech, West Virginia and Baylor.
Toward the end of the season, Oklahoma has played some of its best basketball, according to Sooners coach Lon Kruger. The Sooners could continue to shock people in the postseason.
Reasons to believe
*They could be due: In their last nine games they've won two, lost one, won two, lost one, won two and lost one. If history continues to repeat itself, OU's due for back-to-back victories — and maybe they can pull out a third for the championship. OU's longest win streak this season was five.
*What hasn't happened this Big 12 season that's been a surprise? Upsets and unpredictable outcomes are the heartbeat of postseason college hoops.
Reasons to worry
*Could the Sooners repeat the way they played Repeating the way the Sooners played in the first half against TCU during their final regular-season game?
*Cyclones' 3-point dominance: Oklahoma opens the bracket with a game against Iowa State. The teams split their regular season matchups with the Cyclones taking the first by 19 points and Oklahoma winning the second by 17. The Sooners could get stopped by Iowa State's dominance from beyond the arc.
*Say OU beats Iowa State and Kansas beats the winner of West Virginia/Texas Tech. The Jayhawks might have faltered in early February to Oklahoma, when they were in the midst of a three-game losing streak, but they have returned to national prominence … until that Baylor loss that ended their regular season.