LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — After two months spent mostly bludgeoning each other into submission, coaches in the Big 12 are starting to cast a wary eye toward the NCAA tournament.
Many of them are nervous.
While other conferences may have a handful of standout teams, there are usually a few bottom-dwellers that everybody else can use to pad their records. That's not the case in the Big 12, with its grueling double round-robin schedule, where even good teams are piling up losses.
"It's going to be interesting to see how it all plays out," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. "I think these last games are huge for a lot of teams. The fact that the Big 12 is No. 1 in RPI, BPI, whatever three-letter indexes you're looking at will help all the teams."
Still, even though the selection committee takes dozens of factors into consideration for the field of 68, something as simple as overall record can sometimes hold sway.
For instance, no team from the Big 12 has made the NCAA tournament with a losing league record. That would seem to put Baylor and Oklahoma State, two teams that once ranked in the top 10, in jeopardy — both are 18-10 overall but just 6-9 in conference play.
The Bears didn't help their cause Wednesday, when a second-half rally came up short in a 74-69 loss to Texas. And the Cowboys didn't help themselves by dropping all three games without Marcus Smart, who had been suspended for shoving a fan during a game at Texas Tech.
"A week ago, the team that was in ninth place in the league was Oklahoma State. Are you kidding me?" TCU coach Trent Johnson said. "And two weeks ago it was Baylor. Are you kidding me?"
Throw in the fact that Texas Tech has caused indigestion for just about everyone, even with its losing record, and that leaves only the Horned Frogs as a relatively easy draw.
"The bottom line is there's good teams and good players and good coaches, from top to bottom," Johnson said. "With the exception of one team, this league is extremely strong right now."
Through Wednesday night, the league had the top average strength of schedule and best average RPI. Fifth-ranked Kansas was No. 1 in both of those individual metrics, owed partly to a brutal non-conference schedule but also to its success in the conference race. The Jayhawks (22-6, 13-2) have already wrapped up a share of their 10th straight title. They can win it outright with a victory Saturday at Oklahoma State.
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