Roll call time at the Big 12 Tournament: all teams feeling completely comfortable with your current postseason possibilities, let's have a show of hands …
OK, Kansas State, as the surging conference champion, we see you.
Now, who else?
Oklahoma State might hesitantly stick a hand in the air, and Oklahoma might sheepishly reach about head high, yet résumé work remains for both as the tournament begins Thursday, following a one-day delay out of respect for the Moore tornado victims. And for everyone else, there's presumably only one path into the NCAA selection committee's heart — claim the league's automatic berth by hoisting the tournament trophy Sunday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
Like never before at the Big 12 Tournament, every team is on high alert: win or else. And that includes the Wildcats, who are securely positioned in the postseason, yet so want to solidify coveted status as one of 16 NCAA Regional hosts.
So there's a call to win for every club.
A need to win, which promises to ramp up competitive levels over the next four days.
“All of us have a lot to play for, certainly,” said Cowboys coach Josh Holliday.
Beyond K-State, Holliday's squad seems to be in the best shape, with a 39-14 record and second-place finish in the Big 12 regular season and a No. 33 RPI. All of the college baseball bracketology counts the Cowboys as in.
Still, go 0-3 in the tournament — now possible with the pool-play format — and you're putting yourself in the hands of the committee.
“Our approach will be to win them one at a time the best that we can,” Holliday said.
The Sooners are also looked upon favorably, but considered a bubble team after losing their final three Big 12 series and 14 of their last 23 overall, resulting in an RPI of 51 that rides right along the dividing line.
“We know we have to exhaust our efforts this weekend,” said OU senior outfielder Max White.
Added Sooners catcher Anthony Hermelyn: “You want to win every game. We know we need to win some games to help our cause. If we can get another quality win against a team like K-State, it would help. But you try to win every game. We're looking to make a run.”
Baylor is considered an NCAA Tournament outsider, although an RPI of 64 hints of hope. Still, like the other remaining teams — West Virginia, Kansas, TCU and Texas Tech — the Bears' best bet remains a run to the tournament title.
That would put the Big 12's best-case scenario for NCAA Tournament teams at four, which would match last year's total — the league's lowest since the conference's debut season in 1997.
The conference routinely produced a minimum of five teams for the postseason over the past decade, with several serving as Regional and even Super Regional hosts. In 2009, a record eight Big 12 teams made the NCAA Tournament, putting the league on par with the best in the country.
Now, nobody beyond the conference footprint looks at the Big 12 the same.
How did the Big 12 get here, with a perception problem placing them among the Sun Belt, Big Ten and Big West?
It started with a cumulative rough run through the nonconference schedule, where Big 12 teams were beaten regularly in major matchups. And that's not all. The conference was also losing to mid-major leagues, going 1-5 against the Sun Belt, 9-10 against the Big West, 3-8 against Conference USA and 1-3 against the Big East.
When the season started, four Big 12 teams were ranked and two more were receiving votes. Now, only K-State and OSU are in all four major polls, while OU appears in two.
Baylor coach Steve Smith said the Big 12 is getting a bad rap.
“This is not a down year in the league,” Smith said. “This is actually the strongest our league has ever been. The ninth-place team in our league is Texas.
“Would Texas have finished ninth in the SEC? Would Texas have finished last in the ACC? Would they have finished last in the Pac-12? I think the answer to that is a resounding, ‘No.'”
There's no way, of course, to prove that.
Instead, it's on the Big 12 clubs to prove they're better than perceived.
And it starts this weekend.