Brutal Big 12 tournament promises to be wide open

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 11, 2014 at 5:37 pm •  Published: March 11, 2014
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas coach Bill Self was chatting this week with someone who brought up the possibility that some unfortunate team with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament might have to play its second game against Oklahoma State, which was once considered a Final Four contender.

"I said, 'Just think if that happens in your conference tournament,'" Self responded.

After winning their 10th straight regular-season title, the Jayhawks earned the top seed when the Big 12 tournament begins Wednesday night at the Sprint Center. But the reward is a first-round bye and a potential matchup with the eighth-seeded Cowboys in Thursday's quarterfinals; the two teams split their two meetings this year.

Oklahoma State plays No. 9 seed Texas Tech in the first game Wednesday night. Seventh-seeded Baylor takes on No. 10 seed TCU in the nightcap of a double-header.

"I think we've always had very competitive Big 12 tournaments," Self said, "but I don't know if I can ever remember where if there's a final between whatever seeds there are, it would be absolutely not a major surprise to anybody. It's going to be a pretty special weekend."

The Big 12 has been the runaway leader in conference RPI all season, and some believe that it could land seven or eight teams in the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday.

Just consider the games that will be played Thursday: Along with Kansas getting Oklahoma State or Texas Tech, second-seeded Oklahoma will play the Baylor-TCU winner, No. 3 seed Texas will play No. 6 seed West Virginia, and No. 4 seed Iowa State will play No. 5 seed Kansas State.

"This league," Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith said, "is by far the toughest in the country."

That's why the Jayhawks still believe they can earn a No. 1 seed to the NCAA tournament, despite their 23-8 record. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State (20-11) is teetering around the bubble, and a win over Texas Tech might be enough to push the Cowboys firmly into the dance.

Knocking off the Jayhawks would certainly do the trick.

"We're just trying to worry about the next game," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said, "and worrying about all that other stuff doesn't really do you any good."

In that case, here are five things that fans SHOULD worry about:

BUBBLE WATCH: Oklahoma State isn't the only team on the NCAA tournament bubble. Baylor (21-10) would feel much better with a win or two, while West Virginia (17-14) hopes the momentum it picked up by knocking off Kansas last weekend will propel it to enough wins in Kansas City to make a case on Selection Sunday. "I think if we won two we'd be in great shape," said Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins, "but I think if we can win that first one that we would be pretty good."