On Wednesday the Big 12 Championship tournament will tip off at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The disparity between the best in the Big 12 and everyone else was relatively massive this season. The Kansas Jayhawks won the league by two games over Baylor, which finished six games ahead of a four-way tie for third place.
In all, just KU and Baylor finished with winning records in conference play.
Several of those teams behind the Jayhawks and Bears still have a shot at the NCAA tournament, though, with their chances hinging on a decent showing in this week’s Big 12 championship. Here is where the favorites, hopefuls and longshots stand heading into the tournament.
KU isn’t just the favorite to win the Big 12 tournament, its currently the favorite to win the NCAA tournament. None of that is surprising, given the fact the Jayhawks have been the unanimous No. 1 team in the last two AP polls and is on a 16-game winning streak. Udoka Azubuike was named the Big 12 player of the year, Devon Dotson joined him on the all-conference first team and several other Jayhawks received postseason recognition as well.
The biggest roadblock on KU’s path could be one coach Bill Self creates on his own. As Jesse Newell of the Kansas City Star pointed out on 580 Sports Talk this week, given the beating Azubuike, Dotson and junior guard Marcus Garrett have all taken over the course of the season, they could all use rest ahead of the NCAA tournament. If those three spend more time on the bench then Kansas may not take the tournament trophy back to Lawrence. If they play regular minutes, though, KU is the prohibitive favorite.
After spending a great deal of the season as the No. 1 team in the AP poll and on a historically long winning streak, the Bears have slumped recently, to the tune of three losses in their last five games. Baylor may have something to play for in this tournament though, and that’s playing its way back onto the one line in the NCAA tournament.
While Baylor’s been struggling, several other teams around the country (most notably one like Dayton) have been strengthening their resumes for a No. 1 seed. The Bears already have a win over the Jayhawks this year so a championship win isn’t out of the question. At their very least, Baylor could use a couple wins to establish a firm grip on a top seed.
The Mountaineers started the season hot, are currently ranked in the top 25 (22nd) and should be locked into the NCAA tournament. That said, their 9-9 Big 12 record included a stretch of six losses in seven games in the back half of their schedule. West Virginia owns several impressive wins this season, like ones over Ohio State and Baylor, which earns it some sort of benefit of the doubt.
Then again, it’s hard to get over that one especially bad stretch. West Virginia should still be considered slightly ahead of the other 9-9 teams in the league, but the gap between it and the first two teams listed is sizable.
Everyone knew this would be a down year for Texas Tech after it went to the national title game a year ago, but the Red Raiders went from a clear tournament team to one on the bubble. They lost their last four games of the season and now, for a team that spent several weeks ranked, Texas Tech is now considered one of the last four teams in the NCAA tournament by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. A good performance this weekend would solidify the Red Raiders’ postseason future.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Texas’ season and coach Shaka Smart’s tenure looked dead in the water well into the Big 12 season. Then the Longhorns ripped off five straight wins and find themselves firmly on the bubble. Texas likely needs a win just to get into the big dance, which should create a great matchup in the first game of the day on Thursday when the Longhorns play the Red Raiders.
The Sooners have been solidly in the mix for most of the season, if “in the mix” means somewhere in the purgatory between the decent to good teams in the league and the Big 12’s bottom feeders. Just like Texas and Texas Tech, Oklahoma probably needs at least one win this week to guarantee its season continues in the NCAA tournament. For a team that owns bad losses like ones to Oklahoma State and Kansas State, a victory over West Virginia on Thursday could be huge.
Is TCU really in contention for the NCAA tournament? Sure, maybe. It’s seemed at times this season like the Horned Frogs were shoo-ins, but they also own a six-game losing streak and a loss to Iowa State. The last three teams probably need a win to feel comfortable about next week and beyond, whereas TCU needs to beat K-State on Wednesday just to keep any hope alive beyond the Big 12 Championship.
The Cowboys have the same record in Big 12 play as TCU at 7-11, but if you’re comparing the two teams it speaks more ill of TCU than positively of Oklahoma State. Knocking off Iowa State on Wednesday night would be a feel-good win for Mike Boynton’s group, but it won’t get them any closer to the NCAA tournament.
Iowa State wasn’t going to be good this season anyway, but things were guaranteed to be disastrous when star point guard Tyrese Haliburton was lost for the season due to injury. The Cyclones will undoubtedly have a ton of fans at the Sprint Center because they make the pilgrimage to Kansas City like North Dakota State fans do to Frisco, Texas. Unfortunately for them, unlike most years in recent memory, Iowa State probably doesn’t have a full weekend in it this year.
The Wildcats finished this season with a 3-15 conference record and the most losses in a single season in program history (21). They are +15000 to win the Big 12 tournament. Don’t waste your money.