When asked what he thought would happen in the upcoming Big 12 men’s basketball tournament, Baylor coach Scott Drew had a one-word response: Anything.
After a highly competitive regular season, there’s no reason to think the same kind of parity won’t carry over into the postseason. While Kansas coach Bill Self won his 14th straight conference championship, even Jayhawk wins weren’t a foregone conclusion like many past seasons.
They went 7-2 in Big 12 games at Allen Fieldhouse, a place where they’re usually unbeatable.
“The parity is the best it’s ever been in my 15 years in the league,” Self said. “I would say from top to middle because there is no bottom. Nine teams have a chance to make the NCAA tournament which is remarkable. That speaks to the depth of the league and the difficulty of the double round-robin schedule.”
The Big 12 coaches hope the NCAA tournament selection committee doesn’t penalize them for beating up on each other for the past two months.
“Some of us have more bruises than others, but I think the Big 12 is the strongest conference from top to bottom in America,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton. “And I’m not sure if it’s close.”
It appears the Big 12 will land seven or eight NCAA tournament bids. The top five teams – No. 1-seeded Kansas, No. 2 Texas Tech, No. 3 West Virginia, No. 4 Kansas State and No. 5 TCU – appear to be locks.
But the next four seeds – No. 6 Baylor, No. 7 Texas, No. 8 Oklahoma State and No. 9 Oklahoma – could use some wins in the Big 12 tournament to strengthen their case. All four teams finished 8-10 in the Big 12, which puts them squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble.
“You’ll have teams playing harder than they have all year long, and it’s been a hard playing league,” Self said. “I think it’s going to be off the charts good as far as the competitiveness we’ll see in Kansas City.”
The Big 12 tournament opens Wednesday at Kansas City’s Sprint Center with Oklahoma State facing Oklahoma at 6 p.m. and Texas facing No. 10 Iowa State at 8 p.m.
Thursday’s quarterfinals will feature Kansas State playing TCU at 11:30 a.m., Kansas facing the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State winner at 1:30 p.m., Texas Tech meeting the Texas-Iowa State winner at 6 p.m., and Baylor facing West Virginia at 8 p.m. The semifinals will be held Friday beginning at 6 p.m., and the championship game will be Saturday at 5 p.m.
Drew said the Bears will go into the Big 12 tournament with the mindset that they need to win it. The champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, which would make Sunday’s NCAA tournament selection show a lot less stressful.
“It doesn’t matter what I think as far as if we’re in or out,” Drew said. “But what I do know is we control our own destiny as long as we’re still playing. We have an opportunity to play until we’re beaten. It’s a great opportunity to play in the No. 1 RPI conference in the country with a chance to win three games and win a Big 12 tournament championship for the first time in Baylor history.”
Drew is glad the Bears don’t have to play Wednesday because they would need to win four games in four days to capture the tournament championship. They almost pulled off that feat in 2014 when they beat TCU, Oklahoma and Texas before losing to Iowa State in the championship game.
“It’s huge from the standpoint that winning three games in the Big 12 tournament is tough enough but winning four is even tougher,” Drew said.
The Big 12 has never placed eight teams in the NCAA tournament, but the conference has placed seven teams three of the last four years. Six Big 12 teams made the tournament last year, including a Kansas State team that went 8-10 in the conference regular season and beat Baylor in the Big 12 tournament.
The Wildcats landed a No. 11 NCAA tournament seed and won a First Four playoff game against Wake Forest before losing to Cincinnati.
The Big 12 coaches are hoping multiple teams with 8-10 Big 12 records will get into this year’s tournament.
“This is the best conference I’ve been in one through 10,” said Kansas State coach Bruce Weber. “We’ve been through a double round robin and the Big 12/SEC Challenge, so we’ll see how the selection committee respects that. If we’re fortunate to get all the teams we think should be in, we’ll need to back it up in the NCAA tournament.”
BEAR FACTS -- Baylor senior Terry Maston was named the Big 12’s best sixth man in a poll of the conference coaches. Guard Manu Lecomte was named second-team all-Big 12 while forward Jo Lual-Acuil was a third-team selection. Kansas senior Devonte Graham was named player of the year in a unanimous vote of the coaches while Kansas’ Bill Self and Texas Tech’s Chris Beard were co-coaches of the year.