Big 12 teams face hurdles in tourney
Plenty of roadblocks await Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia
The Big 12 is well represented in the NCAA basketball tournament, but the teams face formidable hurdles, Tim Cowlishaw writes.
In its own proud way, the Big 12 stands alone as March Madness gets set to commence. Could all that madness conclude with the conference claiming its first title in a decade?
It seems unlikely, although Kansas’ 3-point shooting eventually finds its mark in each game and has allowed the Jayhawks to represent the league as a No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. And I defer on all Big 12 basketball matters
to local guru Fran Fraschilla, who insists that a now healthy Texas Tech team is just as capable of working its way from the No. 3 seed it brings to Dallas on Thursday night down the road to San Antonio for its first Final Four.
If only football were this simple.
This conference spends a lot of hand-wringing time trying to figure out how to get a representative into the College Football Playoff each fall. The league’s just 2 for 4 in what should be about an 80 percent proposition although one could argue that the mad love for the SEC renders this calculation slightly lower for all the “power five” conferences that don’t feature Alabama.
Basketball will never get the love that football generates in these parts — I’m not referring to Allen Fieldhouse as these parts naturally — but the quality of play in this conference is approaching an all-time high.
What Chris Beard and Jamie Dixon have done to restore the hoop game at Texas Tech and TCU is magical. As a result, despite what Oklahoma State fans feel was a snub by the selection committee (although a snub mostly because rival Oklahoma was picked), 70 percent of the Big 12 made the bracket.
The ACC might have nine teams and the SEC eight but no other conference can make the 70 percent claim. With teams seeded at the one (Kansas), three (Tech), five (West Virginia) and six (TCU) slots, the Big 12 has more clubs among the top 24 of this field than the Pac-12 has in the entire 68-team field.
Since when did the folks around here surpass the Ucla-arizona-oregon crowd at the hardwood game?
So everyone should take a collective bow. And then, well, it might be time to take a seat because I don’t have any Big 12 squads traversing the road to San Antonio.
And you know how special my brackets have been, right?
(Skip that question).
Obviously, the Jayhawks have a chance as any No. 1 seed should. But the amazing job that Bill Self pulls off in winning this league year after year — 14 straight? Seriously? — seldom transfers with strangers met in March. Yes, the Jayhawks won it all right there in the Alamo City a decade ago. Framed photos of Mario Chalmers launching that 3 over Memphis (technically now over “Vacated”) can be found on any Lawrence street corner.
The committee did Kansas no favors by plopping Duke and Michigan State in the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds. The Jayhawks have reached four of the last 20 Final Fours. The Blue Devils and Spartans have been to 12. And while all three of these coaches have visits with the FBI in their future, Tom Izzo’s team seems most likely to survive the hurdles of the next two weeks.
The Red Raiders are a wonderful story filled with local basketball talent, and it’s not hard to see this team escaping Dallas with wins over Stephen F. Austin and perhaps Florida. But Tech has never made it to an Elite Eight, and getting out of Boston with Villanova and Purdue in line to be there as the top seeds might be asking too much.
But I love the wild-card nature of West Virginia, both the Huggins style of play and the senior guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles who led the team past Tech in Kansas City last Friday, then gave Kansas a good scare in the title game. The committee did the Mountaineers no favors as a 5 seed, meaning that — assuming high seeds prevail — West Virginia will have to knock off Wichita State, Villanova and Purdue to escape the same East Region.
Who knows? How about a Tech-west Virginia rematch in Boston? A 3 vs. 5 isn’t out of the question.
And for a conference that catapulted 70 percent of its teams into the big dance, one more Tech-west Virginia battle would mark a heck of a way to send a team to San Antonio.