This was supposed to be a down year for Big 12 basketball. No team from the conference was listed in most top 10 preseason polls.
Texas A&M actually was one of the projected NCAA teams. This was a “down” year for Kansas. Missouri wasn’t in the top 25, viewed as a possible bubble team. Iowa State was an NIT team, Kansas State and Oklahoma State maybe NIT or NCAA.
Turns out the Big 12 has a chance to do some damage in the NCAA Tournament.
The ACC likes to pride itself on being an elite basketball conference but the Big 12 usually is deeper in quality teams and produces its share of Final Four teams, although Kansas is the only one to win a title. But considering how wide the gap is in football it’s pretty narrow in basketball.
You could argue strongly the Big 12 is the best combination of the two sports.
As for this year’s NCAA Tournament, I confess I’ve been momentarily disappointed with nearly every Big 12 team at some point.
But now that the bracket has been released — and maybe it’s because I live in Big 12 country and see the upside of teams — I like the conference’s chances of making some noise.
I’m picking all six teams in the first round. Vegas odds say that’s not too outlandish.
Iowa State (Connecticut) and Texas (Cincinnati) are slight underdogs but I like both matchups enough they’re essentially coin-toss games.
The conference’s other four teams are all 6-point favorites or better, including No. 8 Kansas State which might just keep shooting until the Wildcats score against Larry Eustachy’s solid but flawed Southern Miss team.
I have one Big Eight team advancing to the Final Four. I’ll keep you in suspense a few paragraphs but I have Kansas, Missouri and Baylor all reaching the Elite Eight.
There are some lower seeds many believe are capable of first-round wins.
I’m going with eight lower seeds and will rank them in order of confidence: No. 10 Xavier, No. 10 North Carolina State; No. 12 Davidson; No. 11 Texas and No. 12 Long Beach State.
Not quite as confident: No. 13 New Mexico State; No. 12 (play in) California and No. 13 Montana.
Go with all the No. 8’s.
Long shot but not picking it: No. 13 Ohio over Michigan.
Drum roll for Elite Eight matchups….
South — Kentucky over Baylor.
East — Ohio State over Vanderbilt.
Midwest — North Carolina over Kansas.
West — Missouri over Michigan State.
Title game: Kentucky over North Carolina.
If it plays out that way — granted an optimistic bracket — the Big 12 would finish with 13 wins and three Elite Eight teams.
Collect 10 wins and produce two Elite Eight teams would be more, much more, than anyone anticipated five months ago when practice started.