KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas won the Big 12 regular season. Again.
And the Jayhawks must be considered the Big 12 Tournament favorite. Again.
Yet even before the Jayhawks lost game-changing center Joel Embiid to a balky back, these four days in Kansas City shaped up as potential free for all, with at least seven teams projected for the NCAA Tournament and the past 10 weeks providing upsets and upheaval from top to bottom.
Well, almost bottom.
TCU never won a game, but ninth-place Texas Tech took down Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma — all teams pegged for the postseason — and took KU to the limit in Lubbock before falling 64-63.
OSU finished eighth, yet toppled Kansas among its eight wins. Seventh-place West Virginia also beat the Jayhawks, as well as five of the top six seeds in the tournament.
“Teams that you wouldn’t expect to win are winning. Teams you wouldn’t expect to lose are losing,” said Cowboys guard Marcus Smart, a first-team All-Big 12 selection who was also named a member of the All-District VI team by the United States Basketball Writers Association. “That just shows you how tough and how talented the Big 12 Conference is.”
So while the league boasts three top 20 teams, the Big 12 isn’t just top heavy, with strength in the middle and bottom, too, which is why it’s the No. 1 RPI conference in the country. The Big 12 had a nation’s best 79.7 winning percentage in nonconference play and posted the best record, by far, in nonconference games against the Top 25, going 8-9.
Inside the league, teams just beat up on themselves.
“To be in the mix with that group two through eight or nine is nice,” said Sooners coach Lon Kruger, whose team was picked for a tie for fifth, but finished second. “Those are pretty interchangeable. There’s not much difference between those teams.
“To be the No. 2 seed, these guys have worked hard and they’ve earned it. It’s a compliment to be in the mix with those other teams. We know how tough they are.”
West Virginia, which went 9-9 in the Big 12, currently is the only team in the top eight not projected for the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re going to have opportunities to really help our RPI and get quality wins,” said Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins. “We’ve just got to go win some games.”